“If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?”-Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE).
The logical scope of this Augustinian syllogism goes to the very essence of the human system of government. It goes also to the realm of the processes and mechanisms that political actors wielding power should activate to be able to deliver services to the citizenry.
This Augustinian affirmation is the foundation from which our presentation will flow.
Writing about Nigeria will inevitably begin from the existential challenges confronting democracy in our nation state.
Nigeria is said to have experimented with democracy for about two decades since 1999 when the military dictators bowed to global pressure to return the country to the path of civil rule.
In the last two years, governance has been heavily weighed down significantly by a number of factors which threatens the essence of democracy.
Some of these threats to the enjoyment of democracy includes some polices and actions by the Presidency and the state administrations which clearly hampers the advancement of democracy.
Basically, democracy is threatened with extinction if there is no good governance standards embeded in the framing and implementation of policies by the government of the day.
The summary of all the existential challenges confronting the deliverance of good governance basically created by the current administration is the deliberate failure to erect a governance process that is characterized by Justice and equity.
A situation whereby certain sections of the Country nurses a sense of marginalization and alienation doesn’t create the enabling environment for social justice, fairness, equity and equality of rights to be externalized.
This therefore brings us to the question posed by Augustine of Hippo who wisely asserted that government that practices injustice is not better off than a bunch of criminals. Saint Augustine’s affirmation brings us to the political undercurrents playing out in the South East of Nigeria. South East of Nigeria is home to the Igbo speaking nationality.
The Igbo speaking nationality make up a part of the Tripod of the major ethnic groups. Even by the estimation of the heavily distorted and unfavourable census figures of 2006 conducted by the Niger State born bureaucrat, the Igbo speaking population of Nigeria within the statistical region of 50 million. Amongst this huge chunk of the Nigerian population is a feeling of deliberate alienation by the current administration.
There is a general consensus of opinion that President Muhammadu Buhari through his words and actions has shortchanged the Igbo speaking people of the Southeast of Nigeria.
This neglect is signposted by the failure of president Buhari to respect the constitutional principle of Federal character in the area of appointments into the national defense council. The ugly reality that about 50 million people have no representation in the most strategic military institution known as the National Defence Council is an unfathomable crime. It is a major case of systematic and systemic imbalance in the political configuration of the current administration which if not remedied is disconcerting and torally unacceptable. This is also a constitutional issue as can be gleaned from the relevant sections of the Supreme law to be adumbrated here below.
Section 14(3) & (4) of the 1999 constitution states clearly that; “(3) The composition of the Government of the Federation 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 and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”.
Then subsection (4) of section 14 says: ” The composition of the Government of a State, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such Government or council, and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognize the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the Federation.”
The failure to respect this constitutional provision and the latest decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to deploy armed security forces to the South East of Nigeria is therefore frowned at and viewed as an illegal military occupation.
Although President Muhammadu Buhari wields national power but under a federation, the states enjoy some levels of political autonomy. The President under sections 217 and 218 of the Constitution in conformity with legislative frameworks can deploy military forces to any part of the Federation in aid of civil authority especially if the situation that would allow for law and order is imperiled.
But without any clearly discernible reason for military action, any deployment of armed military forces is assumed to be a military occupation. The Chief of Operations of the Nigeria Army told joirnalists at a recent press conference that the Army will start what it calls operation python dance 11 and that it was meant to checkmate crimes and criminality including aggressive agitation. These reasons adduced for the latest python dance can’t stand the test of rationality. This is because the South East of Nigeria is peaceful and the agitation for self determination by the Indigenous peoples of Biafra (IPOB) is peaceful and non-violent. The people of South East of Nigeria have therefore branded the military deployment as a forceful occupation by the Army.
Military occupation is defined by Oppenheim as “invasion plus taking possession of enemy country for the purpose of holding it, at any rate temporarily.”
It is thus a by-product of war in a postwar situation, but it is more than an action or a situation, it is a legal corpus.
Military occupation law, as codified in the Hague Regulations 1907 and complemented by the Fourth Geneva Convention 1949 and Additional Protocol I 1977 the author argues constitute the legal corollary of two periods in which military occupation law was first conceived to protect sovereignty and the interests of the ousted government, later to protect population.
The writer reminds us that the United Nations Charter reinforced the functions of occupation law by preventing the acquisition of territorial rights by the use of force and recognized the increasing role of human rights, permeating the Fourth Geneva Convention in the shaping of a “standard of civilization.”
Historically, After World War II, a new breed of occupations strained the main elements of the legal regime of occupation: prolonged occupations exceeded the limits of the powers of the occupants, superseding the conservationist principle that protected sovereignty.
Voices, the writer said, were raised to ask for a model that adjusted to the new circumstances, a new transformative or humanitarian occupation that suited a practice in which the unilateral use of force and the Security Council Resolutions went way beyond occupation law after the occupation of Iraq.
Asking the question of what the future of occupation law is, the author reminds the readers that divergent approaches point in different directions: to a change beyond the traditional structure of occupation law in order to avoid its petrification and ensure its humanization.
“Alternatively, others urge the enforcement of occupation law as it now is in the 21st century but with an interpretation that meets 21st-century standards of civilization. This improved enforcement would prevent occupying states from violating or ignoring the law or from promoting changes in order to conceal violations”.
The author continued thus: “the debate has been ignited with proposals that support either a future convention or an updated model of occupation law involving the international institutions with the Security Council more committed to enforcement.”
“On the other hand, a case-by-case approach has been put forward that would promote transformation and state-building because it is now argued that the sovereignty of the occupied state could be suspended in order to achieve democratic changes. “More honour’d in the breach than the observance” (from Hamlet, Shakespeare).
The writer argues further: “occupation law needs to be respected and enforced, both by international institutions and above all by occupant states. This seems obvious, but the disagreements as to the interpretation of this law by the occupant authorities, often upheld by domestic courts, have resulted in a denial of justice in most occupations”; (MILITARY OCCUPATION by Teresa Fajardo).
Professor John Keane in his book ‘The life and death of democracy” made some pretty good points which reinforces the convinction that military occupation is antithetical to constitutional democracy.
He took a comprehensive assessment of the practice of democracy that originated in old Athens stated that accountability and participation of the people in their own government is imperative.
Hear him: ” Are we to evaluate-more than two million years later- the work of the assembly, widely considered as the sovereign body of the whole Athenian democracy? During the two and half centuries that democracy survived in Athen, did ‘the people’ manage to keep their government under tight rein? What exactly did the words ‘equal sharing of power’ mean in practical terms? Did they mean anything at all?”
“There is a long history of praising Athens, often lavishly, as the first experiment in ‘direct democracy’ or ‘pure democracy’. Fine words. But do they amount to anything? Modern friends of the ancient world answer that when all things are considered Athenian democracy puts to shame our so-called ‘representative’ democracies because in Athens democracy was genuinely a form of government not only of the people and for the people, but also by the people- and to a far greater extent, and much more meaningfully, than is possible in today’s large states and non-governmental organizations”.
Such thinking, Keane argued is traceable to the eighteenth- century Geneva-born political thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78).
‘Among the Greeks,’ he claimed, ‘all that the people had to do, they bid themselves. They were not greedy. Slaves did all the necessary work. The people’s main concern was with their own liberty.’
Such praise (never mind the slavery , or subordination of women) and deep nostalgia for the good old days of pristine democracy should be treated with extreme caution. Fans of ‘direct’ or ‘ participatory’ democracy usually overlook a point, developed at length in this book, that a ‘people’ cannot govern itself unless it relies upon institutions that in turn have effect of sundering ‘the people’.
“So despite the fact that they may try to imagine themselves to be standing shoulder to shoulder, face to face, seeing eye to eye, a body that is made up of different individuals and groups interacting through institutions that materially shape not only how they make decision and what they decide, but also who they are as a ‘people’.”
From the totality of the above, it is clear that the forceful occupation by the Army of the South East of Nigeria will in a big way affect the enjoyment of the fundamental human rights as enshrined in chapter four of the Nigerian Constitution.
The federal government is hereby advised to call of this ongoing military operations in the South East of Nigeria because of the need to alloe the peaceful people of the South East to to exercise their freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and movement.
Written by Emmanuel Onwubiko, head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)