Nigeria was awash last week with the news of the visit of some Igbo elite to the detained leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. In fact, it was a very welcome development for the Igbo cause, which, until lately, had been viewed as agitation by louts and touts. That for once, the likes of former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Charles Soludo, Professor Pat Utomi and former head of National Human Rights Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, among other eminent Igbo could openly voice their concern about the parlous state of the Igbo in the Nigerian estate is very ennobling. It is a challenge to those Igbo cringing behind cheap lucre to come out and demand that the Igbo be given their proper place in the Nigerian affairs. It is also a wakeup call on the Nigerian authorities that the music has changed, as the Igbo agitation is not diminishing but rather sweeping higher stakes. This is even more so with the emergence of the new leadership of resurgent Ohanaeze under Chief John Nnia Nwodo, who has vowed to go all the way to protect the Igbo and right the wrongs against the people.
It must be stated unequivocally that the outcry against Igbo ruination is not about Biafra. Biafra is a mere offshoot of this agitation since the hegemonic Nigeria has remained impervious and unrepentant in their determination to decimate the Igbo ethnic group. That was why Chief Ralph Uwazurike led some Igbo folk to resuscitate the Biafra republic so that the Igbo will have a place of refuge for their heads since Nigeria was (is) not welcoming o them. Opinions vary as regards the correctness of that agitation but Uwazurike was within his rights to so agitate, especially with the nonviolence tinge of his struggle. Overtime, splinter groups have broken out of Uwazurike’s Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, one of which is Kanu’s IPOB whose style is markedly different from MASSOB’s.
The truth is that not every Igbo identifies with the clamour for Biafra. Having gone through that terrible route of civil war before, many Igbo loathe the thought of being goaded onto such expensive enterprise. So, it is wrong to view every agitation for the restoration of the Igbo as demand for Biafra republic, which is actually an attractive idea foisted on the people by Nigeria’s scorching policies against the Igbo, who cannot but crave for self-preservation in a Biafran dreamland.
No matter how much we may hide the truth, its pregnancy must show. The Igbo have not been fairly treated. But for those who miss the point, touted Igbo presidency holds special appeal. However, discerning minds would quickly tell that the Igbo do not need the presidency to thrive. After all, what have the Igbo gained from its sons that occupied high offices before? What the Igbo need is an egalitarian society where every citizen has a right to flourish without being segregated on the basis of tribe and religion irrespective where the president comes from.
The message from the visit to Kanu is clear enough. Kanu, much as many may not like his style or mission, is a prisoner of conscience. That the Nigerian authorities still keep him in jail, after he was duly released by competent court, is inexcusable. There is even the talk that the judge that released him is today being put through harrowing times because of that ruling. The government keeps changing charges against Kanu, determined to keep him until they get a judge that will be favourably disposed to their intents, even going for secret trial.
Nevertheless, it is not about court judgments but about the seeming helplessness of the Nigerian courts. Why would the courts continue to be in session when the authorities scoff at their decision considered unfavourable? In the Kanu case, for instance, as in the case of Col. Ibrahim Dasuki, former National Security Adviser, among several others, why do courts continue to sit over the cases when earlier rulings have not been obeyed? Can’t the courts be shut until earlier pronouncements are obeyed and the dignity of judiciary restored?
This is a challenge for the newly confirmed Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. He admitted during his screening by the senate that flouting court orders was impunity and a threat to independence of judiciary. Nigerians await him then to reinvent the judiciary and ensure that it is not made an appendage of the executive a truly independent arm of government. The fault is with the constitution or the judiciary itself but all vestiges that make the judiciary subservient to the executive must be done with. That, perhaps, was why Onnoghen passed the buck to the senate to tinker with such aspects of the constitution.
The case of Sheik Ibraheem Zakzaky, leader of Shi’ites, under the aegis of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, and his wife, Malama Zeenatu Ibraheem, detained since the ‘massacre of the Shi’ites in Kaduna, is also worth mentioning. Justice Gabriel Kolawole of Federal High Court, Abuja, on December 2, 2016, ordered their unconditional release within 45 days and awarded cost of N25 million each to husband and wife. Neither of the couple has been freed nor received a dime of the money awarded to them. Instead, government waited till expiration of the court order before filing notice of appeal against it. Such flippant treatment of the courts by the executive is revolting.
The excuse of rearresting a bailed detainee on the premises of new charges is not tenable and without conscience. It does not really matter what government may feel about a person, not even what evidence it has. What matters is that once that cannot convince a judge and he goes ahead to free a suspect, so be it; that is the law, especially in a democracy. The only option open to government is to appeal against any judgment it is not satisfied with.
The Nigerian constitution spells out clearly in Section 287 that court rulings are binding on all, governments, individuals and institutions. It negates the spirit of the constitution and the principle of the separation of powers and rule of law for the executive to dictate what judgments to obey or ignore. If respect for the courts were untenable, Nigeria would do well abolishing them since the common man’s hope in the courts’ salving powers would be akin to trusting a perforated balloon.
All loopholes being exploited by the executive to make nonsense of the other two arms of government must be expunged from the constitution. It, therefore, behooves the legislature, as Onnoghen rightly pointed out, to revisit such areas; then and only then will Nigeria enthrone a populist society free from rancour and acrimony.