Nigeria has not been devoid of its peculiar problems to national development. Accusations by various sections of the country to subjugate them has been an age-long practice. The way and manner of marginalisation claims can sometimes be bereft of reasonableness. General Olusegun Obasanjo (retd) got the shock of his life when his kinsmen accused him of marginalising them. He must have wondered how his people could have accused him of marginalising them. Cries of marginalisation could sometimes be deployed as a weapon for renegotiation and wake-up cry for the leader to do the needful.
The resort to claims of marginalisation did not start today; it is as old as Nigeria. When Chief Anthony Enahoro moved for the granting of independence from the British colonialists in 1953, the Northern Premier and Sardaunan Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, resisted the moves, insisting that the North was not ready for self-rule. The opposition against independence as moved by Enahoro was to avoid marginalisation of the North in running the country. The bottom level education in the region, when compared to others, was a clear prognosis of an incoming political domination by others.
Arising from the fact that the North was then not seen as a leech, other regions resolved to postpone the granting of self-rule to 1960. It was obvious that, unlike today when the North has now become a theatre of the absurd and greed for power on the altar of pecuniary interests, others saw rationality in waiting for the North. All that changed when the British flag was lowered as competing interests by various regions almost ruined the country. After several decades of military rule, punctuated by intermittent civilian governments, the present unbroken democracy now in its 22nd year has proven that constitutional government can survive the odds and grow to symbolise national goals.
As a country, Nigeria may not have reached the envisioned destination, but we have made progress in our slow but tortuous journey towards our land of promise. The beauty of democracy is founded on the irreversible fact that though problems may abound, nevertheless, the people are provided with unfettered access to resolve their problems through their representatives.
Like in every government that has been inaugurated since May 1999, the drumbeats of marginalisation has never waned. Even Obasanjo whose patriotism for the country remains uncontestable was accused by core Northerners of marginalising them. There has been no Nigerian leader, living or dead that has shown an uncommon capacity in carrying rancorous ethnic nationalities in building a united nation. Without contestation, Obasanjo remains a reference point in how leadership can be deployed in a nation despite a cacophony of tongues and tribes.
Since the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) in 2015, cries of marginalisation have assumed a deafening level. Against the normal practice and expectation that all appointments must be in consonance with the policy of federal character, the Buhari-led administration has been accused of appointing people from particular regions and faith to man key federal appointments. If indeed these appointees were selected on the basis of their competences, as we are made to know, why are the problems they were appointed to resolve still unresolved?
To many Nigerians, including yours sincerely, it does not matter if our security chiefs are all Muslims and from the North. The resort to cries of marginalisation becomes imperative when despite alleged competences of these appointees, citizens are still enmeshed in a deep hole of despair, with no signs of light appearing at the end of the tunnel.
Last Monday, June 22, 2020, Southern and Middle Belt leaders formally approached the court and demanded, among others, to determine “whether it was not ‘reckless and adverse to the interest of Nigeria,’ for President Buhari to obtain a loan facility from the Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, the World Bank, China, Japan, and Germany amounting to $22.7 billion (USD), for infrastructural development, only to allocate the bulk of the fund to the Northern region.
They are also seeking a declaration that the “loan facility purportedly for infrastructural development wherein less than 1% of the amount is to be allocated to the South East Zone of Nigeria for specific infrastructural development, violates section 16 (1) (a) (b) and S16 (2) (a) (b) (c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
In the suit filed by their counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, the group, led by 16 elders, also accused President Buhari of contravening the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Federal Character Principle. Listed in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/595/2020 include Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Dr John Nnia Nwodo, Dr Pogu Bitrus, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Alaowei Bozimo, Mrs Sarah Doketri, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife and Air Commodore Idongsit Nkanga (retd).
Apart from urging the court to award N50 billion against the Federal Government to represent punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages to the marginalised constituents of the Plaintiffs for the illegal, wrongful discriminatory and unconstitutional acts committed by Buhari, the leaders of the ethnic nationalities also requested the court to determine “Whether the power to appoint Nigeria’s Armed Services Chiefs, other Commanders or top officials of the respective Armed Forces Higher and High Commands’ General Staff; namely the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) and Chief of Air force Staff (CA8); the other statutorily established Nigerian National Security agencies or services, namely: The Inspector General of the Nigerian Police (1GP), the Directors General (DGs) of the State Security Service (SSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); the Heads of National Security Associated Federal Government (FG) establishments, namely the Nigerian Civil Defense and Security Corps (NCDSC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigerian Customs and Excise Service, the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS), the Nigerian Correctional Services (NCS), the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), the National Youth Service corps (NYSC), the National Security Adviser (NSA), the Ministers of Defense, Interior, Police and the respective National Security ministries’ Permanent Secretaries’ which is vested in the 1st Defendant, has been lawfully exercised by the 1st Defendant since the inception of his administration and whether these appointments are in compliance with 81(2), 814(3)(4), 8217(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
The resort legal option by Nigerian leaders of ethnic nationalities is not only commendable, but also a watershed in history. Embracing a legal course to resolve issues is absolutely in line with all democratic tenets. Apart from expanding and improving on our nation’s jurisprudence, it is capable of laying a strong foundation upon which attempts at subjugating or marginalising any group could fiercely be resisted.
Beyond the sum of N50 billion they are asking the government to pay, the suit opens a new vista of hope for oppressed citizens groping in the dark. A positive adjudication on the matter is capable of unchaining the potentials of millions of Nigerians whose destinies have been cupboarded through political decision. No one chose where they came from and, therefore, should not be discriminated against on the basis of where they are coming from.
It’s a pity that Nigeria has enthroned national hypocrisy as an enviable monument. Those mandated with the sacred duties of ensuring our democracy are now only alive to the pursuit of their pecuniary interests. Democracy can only thrive when both leaders and electorates accept that they are all equal before the law. For that to happen, the sanctity of the ballot must be the anvil upon which the growth and sustenance of democracy must be anchored.
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