Mr. President, history beckons fast

Mr. President, history beckons fast

PUNCH: June 23, 2014 by Eze Onyekpere

Guarantees of fundamental rights in constitutions are made to safeguard the liberty of the individual, entrench best practices in the relationship between the state and the individual and ensure good governance. They are the minimum guarantees a state gives to its citizens and residents within her borders. They are not the maximum freedoms and rights enjoyable in any jurisdiction as the state is at liberty to increase the space for more liberties. Within the context of fundamental rights and liberties, there are also grounds for derogation from certain class of rights while others are held sacrosanct as having joined the league of peremptory norms of customary international law recognised by all civilised humanity as jus cogens and from which no derogation is permissible.

The clouds have been gathering in Nigeria for some time now and the guarantee of human rights is under threat from an elected civilian government. It started as isolated events but the violations are gathering steam and may lead to an explosion because the cover is still on the boiling pot. When in the last two years, for reasons that were not quite clear, Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi’s plane was grounded, the federal government still enjoyed the benefit of some doubt as it seemed the aviation regulatory authorities were doing the right thing. Some weeks ago, it was reported that the aircraft had been released and allowed to start flying. Last year, Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s chartered aircraft was also recalled to the airport after it had taken off in circumstances that were clearly nebulous. Fast forward to the last two weeks, the same Amaechi flew into Kano and the authorities either declared the chartered aircraft unfit to fly him back to base or closed down the airport and even attempted to lock him inside the airport. Governor Nyako Murtala of Adamawa State was also allegedly prevented from using the Yola airport for reasons that are not clear. And just last week, the authorities at the Akure airport reportedly denied landing rights to the aircraft conveying some governors on their way to the All Progressives Congress governorship rally in Ekiti State. Oshiomhole’s aircraft was also refused the right to take off from Benin on his way to the rally. To crown it all, it was reported that Amaechi was disallowed from entering Ekiti State for the rally.

These reports of facts can only be interpreted as violations of fundamental rights and they have not been denied by the authorities. Neither have they come forward with any reasonable explanation on the circumstances that warranted these infringements. It is like Nigeria is under a state of war and every arsenal can be deployed to defeat the enemy, now defined as the opposition. The derogable provisions of the fundamental rights chapter of our constitution permit derogation under a law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons. The officials violating these rights are not claiming powers under the authority of any known law that can be justified under the forgoing crucibles. They are simply playing God and arrogating powers not given to them by law.

Considering the high social ranking of the victims of these violations, it is frightening to think of what will befall the ordinary person if the powers that be are determined to deal with him in violation of the law. If elected governors could have their right to freedom of movement constrained with impunity, based on the so-called orders from above, then Nigeria is headed for anarchy. Pray, when a low-ranking government official, whether in uniform or not, says that he has orders from above to violate entrenched rights of individuals, the question in the minds of every reasonable person will be; where is this above? Does “above” signify the gates of heaven or the pits of hell? We had mistakenly thought that violations of rights based on orders from above would be gone with the military era. But we were mistaken as it is slowly and speedily creeping back on us. It is pertinent to remind those who pursue vainglory that they are acting on orders from above that whenever the victims of these infractions decide to approach the law, it will be no defence that the immediate violator of rights was carrying our superior orders. The person who gave the order and the person who carried it out will both be found guilty of the violation.

In the circumstances, those who have suffered these violations should not simply go home and lick their wounds. The judicial system should be used to reassert and reaffirm these violated rights. Damages should be claimed by the victims under the maxim of ubi jus ibi remedium so that the courts can have the opportunity to ward punitive damages and set precedents to be followed in future. It will be sad if they resort to self help which will introduce anarchy in the land or simply waive off the violations.

In the final analysis, there is an elected President in Nigeria who swore to uphold the constitution and the laws of the land. He is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. It appears that the dogs of war are being unleashed one after the other as the build-up to the 2015 elections gathers momentum. Even if the President did not know of the violations before they occurred, as a leader, it is the expectation that he should publicly disown rights violators, investigate their conduct, exercise disciplinary powers over them, get them to apologise to their victims and give guarantees of non-repetition. The basic expectation is that he should put the dogs back in chains and sheathe the sword. There is no need to use the powers at the disposal of the Presidency to undo fellow citizens because of differences in political affiliation.

It is pertinent to remind the President that there will be years after 2015 or 2019 and Nigeria’s history is an ongoing project. It will include a history of his tenure and how he used the powers at his disposal. On which side of history he will be remembered will be a product of his actions and inactions and how he related to Nigerians. Once more, Mr. President, it is apt to conclude this discourse by stating; history is being made and, there will be history.

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