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Any law to ban ex-military rulers?

Posted by By Duro Onabule on 2005/07/07 | Views: 335 |

Any law to ban ex-military rulers?

It is not clear if we should dignify the absurdities going on at the so-called political reforms conference at Abuja. This is partly because the jamboree has no legal instrument to back up its efforts and whatever conclusions.

It is not clear if we should dignify the absurdities going on at the so-called political reforms conference at Abuja. This is partly because the jamboree has no legal instrument to back up its efforts and whatever conclusions.

Secondly, the National Assembly, whose duty is to amend the constitution would have none of the so-called political reforms conference and openly took that stand but yet, only the same National Assembly is the sole authority for the final say on even anything worthy that may emerge from that talk-shop.

On the other hand, a tiny but vocal number of the crowd at the Abuja conference are simply opportuned to rehabilitate themselves from their economic/political crimes of the recent past. Hence, the irony of the hypocrisy they exhume from the place. Therefore, to ignore them is to allow the fellows to continue taking the country and Nigerians for a ride.

Incidentally, the media this time must be acknowledged for their unusual distinction in virtually ignoring or outrightly criticising a recommendation of the conference that former military officers who staged coups in the past should be banned from contesting elections. Noticeably, these people at the so-called political reforms conference have nobody’s mandate for whatever they are doing.

Worse still, they have even strayed from their assignment by showing no sense of history or logic and paying no attention to law and constitution. Except a possible revised revenue allocation formula, whatever else is the outcome of the conference will rest in peace at the presidency, in the light of the undisguised stiff opposition at the National Assembly and various states Houses of Assembly depending on conflicting various vested group interests.

For example, is it logical to expect General Obasanjo to endorse the recommendation that ex-military officers who, in the past, staged coups, should be banned from future elections? This will not happen because Obasanjo himself, after a similar coup-infested military past, returned in 1999 to contest presidential elections. At any rate, eventually, the Nigerian factor will eventually rear its head, and quite rightly too, that if a Yoruba ex- military coupist could thereafter take part in presidential elections, why must other non-Yoruba ex-military coupists be denied the same electoral/constitutional rights?

Both because of and despite that prospect, Obasanjo at any rate, will delete the ban proposal and by the time he does, the rabble rousers behind that proposal, will come up with the cheap blackmail that Obasanjo has tinkered with their final document. Their only reason for such mob reaction is to justify the millions of naira each of them benefitted from the jamboree in either personal allowances or travel expenses.
Meanwhile, there is hardly one of the hundreds of delegates at the so-called delegates at the political reforms conference who did not benefit from military coups in the past – permanent secretaries at federal and state levels? Federal ministers and state commissioners?

Ambassadors? Traditional rulers given staff of office by state military governors? Federal and state university vice-chancellors? Special advisers and special assistants to military heads of states and state military governors? Former heads of government parastatals under the military? Former military governors themselves now playing to the gallery? Former military service chiefs? Former key stakeholders in the private sector who advised successive military governments on the nation’s economic advancement who thereafter exploited same to ruin the national economy? These and others comprise the membership of the conference now moralising on coup plotting, and expect Nigerians to take them seriously.

And if at all, the recommendation to ban military officers who took part in coups in the past is to be accepted, this is possible ONLY if it is assumed that the officers concerned committed criminal offences to warrant such a ban. It is even worse without that assumption since they would have been punished for nothing. But we can trust the proponents of the ban to defiantly insist that the military officers concerned in fact committed treason.

That is fine. But those who want such officers to be banned are not so humane not to want the military officers to be tried.
In which case, there is a laid down due process (that phrase again.) These military officers must be accused, arrested, interrogated, tried and given the necessary verdict. If found guilty, only then and only then could they among other sanctions, be banned from future politics. By the time this legal and constitutional procedure is followed, what is certain is that quite a number of the same gang at Abuja now calling for these military officers to be banned will end up at the trial as accessories to the fact of the crime.
A more important aspect is that it is not the function of such an unconstitutional political reforms conference at Abuja to carry out this function if due process is to be strictly adhered to as the right of the Nigerian on trial.

Fortunately, Nigeria is blessed with a constitutional wizard, Ben Nwabueze, who stressed this point as the solicitor for Plateau State Governor, Joshua Dariye. In a submission on behalf of his client, Ben Nwabueze seriously admonished Cross River Governor Donald Duke, to keep away from the dirty job given him by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to probe alleged financial misconduct by Governor Dariye.

Professor Nwabueze cited a supporting legal authority which remains unassailable. Published in Sunday Sun, March 27, 2005 page 36, paragraph eight, Ben Nwabueze submitted that ‘Under section 36 (4) of the constitution, nobody other than a court can inquire into, investigate, make findings on, or otherwise exercise functions in relation to an accusation of crime, levelled against anyone. The Supreme Court in Sokefun Vs Akinyemi (1981) 1 NCLR 135 is quite emphatic upon the point…”

Professor Nwabueze then quoted the then Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Fatayi Williams’ exact words in furtherance of the above ruling: “It seems to me that once a person is accused of a criminal offence, he must be tried in a court of law where the complaints of his accusers can be ventilated in public and where he would be sure of getting a fair hearing.
“…No other tribunal, investigating panel or committee will do.”

Beyond every doubt, Professor Nwabueze, in paragraph eleven of the said Sunday Sun publication of March 27 page 36 further quoted the Supreme Court ruling delivered by Justice Fatayi Williams in the same Sokefun case as saying “… the jurisdiction and authority of the courts of this country cannot be usurped by either the executive or the legislative branch of the Federal or state government under any guise or pretext whatsoever…”

Surely, in the light of the above 1981 Supreme Court ruling, the illegal and unconstitutional political reforms conference currently at Abuja cannot also usurp functions of the courts to purport to ban ex-military officers from future politics.
And was it for nothing that despite the typhoon which recently swept off the erstwhile national working committee of the PDP, the party leadership, enlightened by Professor Nwabueze’s brilliant submission, deliberately if tactfully, left Governor Dariye alone and allowed the Governor Duke probe committee to freeze.

Justice Fatayi Williams’ monumental judgment ably cited by Professor Ben Nwabueze should be a creed for every journalist. For too long, the media had inadvertently endorsed the illegalities of Federal and state governments on such matters. Otherwise, the void and nullity of the so-called ban imposed on former military rulers by the Abuja conference should have served as weapons to expose proponents of the so-called ban on a fruitless exercise.

There is this other aspect. If the past military rulers are to be tried, it will be on the basis that such officers had committed illegality by their actions. If so, as my friends (Mike Ozekhome and Chris Akiri) will say, ‘No legality can spring from illegality.’ That is, once a law or authority is unlawful or null, all actions or decisions from such law or authority cannot be sustained.

In that case, all decisions and appointments made by past military rulers will automatically lapse. And these are such key appointments like eighty percent on the bench from the incumbent Chief Justice downwards, elections organised by the military in 1999 will be void and this will also nullify the 2003 elections organised by a government installed by the military in 1999. Even the political reforms conference, an offshoot of the 2003 government becomes dead. The national and state assemblies become unconstitutional.

Of course, such prospects appear very remote and indeed impossible as the judges are expected to cite the principle of public necessity. Other lawyers will counter that such ruling is self-serving for the judges only to keep their jobs and themselves in office and indeed probably save themselves from trials as accomplices in being sworn in by treasonable felons.
The judges will keep their jobs while those who appointed and swore them in will go to jail? The prospects of the tension therefrom are frightening to contemplate.

Then, who and who among the coupists will be tried? Worse still, who will order the arrests? Who will carry out the arrests? The same military chaps and police or other security personnel most of them appointed by the same military officers to be tried? Will Obasanjo be tried as a major beneficiary of past military coups? He was Federal Commissioner of Works under General Gowon and Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters under General Murtala Mohammed and later military head of state himself.

Oh, Obasanjo enjoys immunity under the constitution. General Gowon will then be put on trial? More by accident than by design, all the others will then be northerners. General Buhari was a military ruler. General Babangida was a Chief of Army Staff after a military coup and later a military ruler himself. General Abdulsalami Abubakar was Divisional Commander, a Chief of Defence Staff and later a military ruler himself all after one military coup or the other.

We are saying without such trials, the ban on ex-military rulers from politics cannot be enforced. Yet, such trials will create anarchy.
The saving grace is that like General Obasanjo, all the intended targets enjoy immunity under the constitution. On that technical ground alone, any proposed trial to meet legal and constitutional requirements aimed at enforcing the ban on ex-military rulers from future politics will easily be dismissed.
Those determined to enforce the ban on past military rulers from future politics may then try to amend the constitution to remove the immunity of past military rulers. How much support do these unelected fellows command in the National Assembly to garner the necessary two thirds of the membership of each of Senate and House of Representatives? Can they also secure the support of the membership of each state House of Assembly in at least 24 states to amend the constitution?

Even if they can, all such efforts will be immediately rendered worthless by chapter 1, part 2, second schedule of the Nigerian constitution which states clearly: ‘Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the National Assembly or a House of Assembly shall NOT in relation to any criminal offence whatsoever have power to make any law which shall have retrospective effect.’

In short, any such amendment aimed at banning coupists from future politics, can only apply to military officers who may stage coup in the future. So, Nigerians need not be bothered by the recommended ban even though it was surprising that among the lot at the Abuja conference, not one among the lawyers could boldly point out that under Nigerian law and constitution, the proposal is null and void.

On his part, Obasanjo is surely familiar with such Nigerians looking for short cut to victory especially by targeting laws for particular individuals. In 1978, Obasanjo innocently handpicked similar Nigerians to review a draft constitution. What happened, just like the crowd at Abuja, those selected to review the proposed 1979 constitution inserted a clause which only stopped short of naming Obafemi Awolowo to be banned from contesting elections in Nigeria and expected that to be signed into law.
Of course, realising the mischief of the sponsors, Obasanjo deleted that clause aimed at Papa Awo before signing the draft constitution.

Neither could he (Obasanjo) have known that in such statesman-like gesture, he was only saving himself similar mischief 19 years ahead because in 1998, these same political savages also wanted Obasanjo to be banned from contesting the presidential elections on account of his past as a military head of state. At that time, I had to remind them in the column (on the pages of the National Concord) that if Obasanjo could reject attempts to ban Papa Awo in 1978, the same Obasanjo could not be banned.

On their part, do the ex-army officers need our sympathy? They created these same ingrates as contractors, ambassadors, ex-judges, fraudulent big money people who cornered the nation’s wealth in commerce, politics, industry especially for their family and now brag openly about their business acumen as if each of them has a mint in his backyard and other Nigerians are lazy.
Rather, we should pity ourselves as Nigerians that these same ingrates, no matter their tiny number, have been saddled to produce a political plan for the future.
•Next week: Is Siasia a non-Nigerian?

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