When a Nigerian president takes the oath of office, amongst the things that he solemnly swears to do are preserving, “the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution…” and doing “right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will” and defending the Constitution. It was in this spirit that the declaration of the current holder of the office that he belonged to everyone and that he belonged to no one was warmly received. Nearly three years later and with election season about to commence, the indications are that this president has scant regard for any of these things.
The Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy are in the second chapter of the constitution. They include the prescriptions that Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice and that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. Expanding on the principles of social justice, section 17 provides that “every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law” and further that it is the duty of every citizen to abide by the constitution and “respect the dignity of other citizens and the rights and legitimate interests of others…”
It is doubtful that anyone, apart from the media aides of the president, who recently made an absolute Pyongyangesque shambles of revealing his so-called softer side, can say in good faith that the president is doing his part to preserve these objectives and principles.
Here is a man who regularly laments his inability to summarily jail suspects, unlike his first time in office as a soldier. Here is a man who, when all that Nnamdi Kanu did was speak hatefully, deployed the army in a reptilian waltz to dance Kanu away, reprimanding leaders from Kanu’s region of the country for not calling him to order. Now, confronted with the massacre being perpetrated in Benue and brazenly owned up to by a group from his region of the country, he has been Trumpesquely (‘there were good people on both sides’) tepid in his response. The constitution guarantees the right to own immovable property (such as land), but the government seems unwilling to defend these rights when they are violently violated by pastoralists.
We also have an administration that has scant regard for the rule of law. While the constitution guarantees the independence, impartiality and integrity of the courts of law, the executive branch of government is extremely selective about when it permits the judiciary’s independence. There are currently two citizens of Nigeria who the courts have repeatedly granted bail, but which the administration has illegally kept incarcerated for nearly as long as it has been in existence. Their names are Mohammed El-Zakzaky and Sambo Dasuki.
Staying with justice, the President’s attorney-general recently applied for an injunction to restrain the National Assembly from investigating a matter which, by his own admission, implicates him to an extent. The attorney-general, serving under a president whose singular campaign issue was corruption, admitted to meeting a fugitive former pensions boss abroad shortly before said fugitive was surreptitiously reinstated and purportedly promoted in the civil service. His application to the court, which he attempted in the first instance to move ex parte, asks the court to determine if the National Assembly has the right to probe issues relating to “employment, attendance at work, disengagement, reinstatement and or promotion of a civil servant.” This is despite the clear provisions of the constitution empowering the National Assembly to carry out investigations to “expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws.”
Again, the Fundamental Objectives and Principles of the constitution stipulate that the composition of the government or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria. However, the president has found it fit to appoint the National Security Adviser, Minister of Defence, Minister of the Interior, Director General of the Directorate for State Security, Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Chief of Army Staff, Inspector General of Police, Chief of Air Staff and the head of the Customs Service, to mention a few, from the same region, broadly speaking, as he comes from. The president cannot claim ignorance of either the provisions of the constitution or the pattern of his appointments, so the irresistible conclusion is that he does not care. One can only hope that the coincidence of their origin, together with that of the chairman of the electoral commission, has not resulted in a foregone conclusion for 2019.
This piece first appeared in the Guardian Newspaper of