Sylvester Udemezue

In the morning of Sunday, September 09, 2018, I had posted on a WhatsApp forum, some three legal essays, one each written separately and at different times in 2015 by FESTUS KEYAMO (SAN), SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE, and JITI OGUNYE. Each of the three legal articles was obviously written, one in response to another.

Eminent Learned silk, Festus Keyamo had in his commentary published on May 15. 2015, argued that he Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) had no obligation to appoint up to 36 or 37 Ministers at the same for the Federal Republic, provided that the President ensured that before the end of his four-year tenure, he had appointed at least one Minister from each State of the Federation. According to the respected learned Senior Advocate, it does not matter if the President of the Federal Republic chooses to appoint some Ministers today and to remove them or some of them tomorrow, just in order to be able to touch all the States in the Federation during his tenure, in obedience to the provisions of the Constitution. His words:

“The long-held notion in Nigeria that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is under an obligation to appoint at least thirty-seven (37) Ministers into his cabinet is not correct after all – at least by a holistic appreciation of the spirit and letters of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”  (See http://theeagleonline.com.ng/constitutionally-buhari-does-not-have-to-appoint-37-ministers-by-festus-keyamo/).

In a rejoinder first published on November 04, 2015 in the Sun Newspapers, among others, under the title, “Why Nigeria Must Always Have A Minimum of Thirty-Seven (37) Ministers For the Government of the Federation,” SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE argued that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) had an obligation to appoint at least one Federal Minister from each of the 36 States of the Federation and also another one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and that all these thirty-seven (37) Federal Ministers must be appointed simultaneously, so that they, all and each, would have the opportunity of sitting, consulting and deliberating together in the (Federal Executive Council (FEC) or) the Executive Council of the Federation (ECF), in a manner that ensures that the Executive Council of the Federation reflects at all times ”the Federal character of Nigeria  and  also guarantees 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.” (see: https://www.newsheadlines.com.ng/latest-sun-newspapers/2015/11/04/why-nigeria-must-always-have-37-ministers-1/)

Mr Udemezue further argued that it was mandatory for the President to appoint at least one Minster from among indigenes of Abuja (the FCT) since section 299 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), as amended, requires that “the provisions of the Constitution shall apply to the FCT, Abuja as if it were one of the States of the Federation.” (see UDEMEZUE’s opinion:  http://adviceafrica.blogspot.com/2016/07/why-nigeria-must-always-have-minimum-of.html?m=1).

Then, in a separate, well-researched contribution, published on November 06, 2015, distinguished legal giant, Mr Jiti Ogunye, apparently disagreeing with Mr Udemezue’s position, insisted, inter alia, that the President was not under any constitutional obligation to appoint any indigene or Abuja as a Minister.

(See https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2015/11/06/must-nigeria-have-at-least-36-ministers-in-the-government-of-the-federation-ii-by-jiti-ogunye/)

All this was in 2015. And then, on January 15, 2018, a little over two years after these legal debates, and following an appeal in a court action earlier initiated by an Abuja-based Legal Practitioner, Muss Panya-Baba, who was said to have been in the forefront of advocacy for indigenous peoples of Abuja, whose ancestral homes and land were taken by the Federal Government in FG’s bid to relocate Nigeria’s Federal Capital from Lagos to Abuja, legal justice came for the Abuja indigenes. While ordering the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) to immediately appoint an indigene of Abuja as a Minister of the Federal Republic, the Nigerian Court of Appeal in a unanimous judgment (delivered on January 15 2018) reportedly declared as follows:

“The FCT Abuja Indigenes are entitled to Ministerial representation in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) as provided by the combined provisions of Sec. 147(3), 299, 14(3) & 42 of 1999 Constitution. The Persistent denial and refusal of past Presidents and current President to so appoint an Indigene of FCT Abuja as a Minister in the Federal Executive Council since May 1999 is tantamount to a gross violation of the said Constitutional rights including fundamental right against discrimination.”

This landmark judgment of the Court of Appeal is in total agreement with the earlier opinion of yours sincerely (Sylvester Udemezue) on the matter. Indeed, the lead judgment in the case completely agrees with Mr Udemezue that it is constitutionally mandatory to have appointed as a Minister at least one indigene of the FCT, Abuja. The judgment confirms also that the mandatory minimum number of Federal Ministers the Federal Republic of Nigeria must have at any time is thirty-seven (37).

(See https://everyday.ng/2018/01/15/appeal-court-orders-buhari-to-name-minister-to-represent-abuja/) (see also https://www.pressreader.com/nigeria/the-guardian-nigeria/20180121/281767039642434)

Abuja indigenes hailed the judgement and saw in it a ray of hope in their legal struggles. (see https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/256024-abuja-indigenes-hail-courts-decision-ministerial-representation.html). Then on Tuesday, January 22, 2018, some indigenes of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), called on the Federal Government to implement the judgment of the Court of Appeal by immediately appointing at least one Minister from among FCT indigenes. Mr Kamal Shuaibu, Coordinator of the Coalition of FCT Indigenous Associations (COFCTIA) who led the Coalition on a protest march to the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigerian then called on the members of National Assembly to also prevail on the Federal Government to ensure that the judgment of the Court of Appeal was immediately implemented.  (See https://thepress.ng/2018/01/fct-indigenes-call-for-implementation-of-court-judgment-over-ministerial-appointment/).

Thereafter, nothing was again heard about developments on the issue, not until Sunday, September 09, 2018, when the issue was brought up on Legal Practice Discourse (LPD) Forum, Discuss Nigeria Forum (DNF) and on Legal Minds, with a call on LPDites (members of the Legal Practice Discourse Forum), DNFites  (members of Discourse Nigeria Forum), and  Legal Minds to have a look again at the arguments earlier advanced (in 2015) on the matter by FESTUS KEYAMO, SAN, SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE and JITI OGUNYE as well as the January 2018 judgement of the Court of Appeal on the matter. And to assist the proposed discussions, all the three separate arguments from these learned friends as well as a news report on the affected Court of Appeal judgment were reproduced as earlier published. The matter was however scarcely discussed.

Nigerians, and indeed the entire world, woke up the following day, Monday, September 10, 2018 to behold these shocking news headlines:

The Leadership Newspaper report went thus:

“Some natives of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja under the platform of Coalition of FCT Indigenous Associations (CFCTIA), have claimed responsibility for last week’s earth tremor that occurred in some parts of Mpape community and Maitama district in the nation’s capital. A statement signed by the spokesman of the group, Yunusa Ahmadu Yusuf, warned residents to expect more of such disturbances in parts of the territory, unless the federal government addresses the injustices and marginalisation against the FCT natives. Yusuf stated that the presidency, especially the Aso Villa should expect an unprecedented earth disturbance, “if between now and October, 2018, an indigene of the territory is not appointed as a minister.”

Mr. Yunusa Ahmadu Yusuf continues:

“Some recent time past, the Abuja Original Inhabitants had threatened to invoke the spirit of their ancestor in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to join us in this genuine struggle to liberate our people from the dungeon of marginalization by the federal government.”

(see: https://leadership.ng/2018/09/10/we-are-responsible-for-abuja-earth-tremor-natives/).

Naija.ng, in its version, quoting Mr. Yunusa Ahmadu Yusuf, continued thus:

“We have cried enough and we may have to divulge to other alternatives to agitate for our exclusion in the scheme of things. So, the FCT native’s ancestors are responsible for the recent earth disturbance in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) ….. the natives have always maintained peace, with utmost believe in every central administration, but this peace offer has been neglected and abused. It is very regrettable that since our ethnic consensus to allow free government operation in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the government has not returned back the gesture, but rather have sought different means to squash and alienate us in our ancestral land. Today, we the Abuja original inhabitants wish to reiterate categorically that the struggle is not yet over and we will not relent until deliberate efforts by the FG are visibly recorded, which includes the appointment of an FCT native as a minister,” (see: https://www.naija.ng/1191243-we-responsible-abuja-earth-tremor-residents-expect-natives.html#1191243)

 Some Nigerian scientists have however tried to offer empirical explanations for tremor. Listen to Prof. Mosto Onuoha, the President of Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS):

“Persistent and uncontrolled blasting of rocks through the use of powerful explosives could lead to earth movements…. rock blasting may be responsible for the earth movements in Mpape and parts of Maitama, Abuja. The use of explosives to break or blast rocks would have vibrating power and ability to the last end of the rock. It will get to the stage that could be seen visibly and to the bottom of the ground where we cannot see but where the rock has ended. When this action is continuous, the vibration from the rocks blasted with explosives will be transmitted to the body-like water that is already settled under the ground. The release of the vibration in form of energy back to the earth will lead to earth-shaking.”(see http://dailypost.ng/2018/09/08/abuja-earth-tremors-scientists-reveal-responsible-say-earthquake-likely/)

Earlier, in a statement released on September 6, 2018, the Federal Capital Territory Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had tried to explain out the tremor, saying:

“…..the earth shaking could be as a result of earth tremors; a sign of seismic movement within the earth which can be caused by sudden breaks along a fault line releasing energy that cause the shaking. It also said that the movement could also have been caused by stress in underground rocks due to blasting and mining activities in an area.” (see: https://www.naija.ng/1191243-we-responsible-abuja-earth-tremor-residents-expect-natives.html#1191243)

Notwithstanding the explanations offered by scientists for the earth tremor, I personally, respectfully, think the reported claim by FCT indigenes have thrown up some legal issues which I feel are urgently deserving of serious considerations with a view to finding a lasting solution to the lingering one-Federal-Minister-from-Abuja controversy:

  • Are there any legal, social and security implications of the continued non-implementation of the Court of Appeal judgement on appointment of a Minister from among the FCT indigenous people?
  • Could there really be any reasonable link between the recent Abuja earth tremor in Abuja and the controversy relating to appointment of a Minister from the FCT, as claimed by the Abuja indigenes?
  • Put differently, to what extent (if any) could it be correct (as claimed) that the earth tremor which reportedly recently occurred in Abuja was prayer-answered for the Abuja indigenes who now claim that the tremor was in response to their long-standing prayers and invocations to their ancestors for intervention on their behalf, to bring calamity upon the FCT, with a view to compelling the powers that be to show them justice which they claim they deserve?
  • If it true, as Abuja indigenes want us to believe, that “our ancestors have now assumed the position of enforcers of court judgements, dispensers of justice and punishers of injustice, in this instance, in behalf and on behalf of the FCT indigenes, then what responsibility or task does the Nigerian State have, and how should the Nigerian Government contribute, towards assuaging the feelings of Abuja indigenes in this respect and towards appeasing their ancestors, so as to avert any further catastrophe for the nation, especially residents of the FCT? Should we not investigate further the veracity of these claims with a view to determining if a new vista has not emerged in the area of judgment enforcement of, implementation of , and adherence to, Rule of Law, in Nigeria.
  • If explored, and found true, could such (ancestors’ involvement) be part of a God-given or gods-driven solution to the clamour that Rule of Law must count in our private and public affairs?  So that, as an example, if in future, Mr A obtains a judgment against Mr B and Mr B fails to obey the orders of court, Mr A could instead on relying/waiting on orthodox court enforcement agencies, invoke the spirit of his ancestors for a quicker realization of the ends of the judgment that’s in Mr A’s favour?
  • On the other hand, to what extent does it not appear unfeeling for Abuja indigenes to have claimed that a seeming natural calamity bedevilling their fellow Nigerians was at their own instance and was indeed their own way of seeking redress for injustice allegedly being meted out against them?
  • Would an immediate implementation of the directives of the Court of Appeal with respect to appointment of a Minister from among Abuja indigenes bring any succour to all and sundry in this wise, to put an end to the lingering controversy, which has apparently now taken a metaphysical dimension? Has the Court of Appeal not shown us the way out?

Anyway, while I leave us to ruminate, mediate, evaluate, cogitate and excogitate on all the afore-listed legal issues, I respectfully appeal to FG with respect to the issue of a Minister of FCT extraction, to please consider the adage, “to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and to not stop in this direction until, as Martin Luther King Jr. suggested, “justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” If these mysterious claims of FCT indigenes are anything to go by, then it boils down to the famous declaration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963), American politician and the 35th President of the United States of America: “the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

In the meantime, and this needs also to be emphasized, the FCT indigenes who rejoice over (and even claim responsibility for) ordinary natural calamities that have befallen their fellow FCT residents and Nigerian citizens ought to have a re-think in their so-called prayers and supplications to the spirits of their ancestors which, to them, is a form of last resort in their bid to get what they believe is their due in the Nigerian Federation, its governance and government. The following questions are specifically for FCT indigenes to urgently consider and consult on: (a). Are the direct victims of the reported earth tremor any contributories in the injustice allegedly perpetrated against FCT indigenes, in having denied them an opportunity of having one of their own sitting as a member of the Executive Council of the Federation (ECF) to make or take executive policy decisions affecting Nigerians, including indigenes of the FCT?  (b) To what extent do these FCT indigenes think that their threat to draw down on FCT residents more “unprecedented earth disturbances if between now and October, 2018, an indigene of the territory is not appointed as a minister in line with the Court of Appeal judgment” would not also adversely affect even their own people.

Anyway, as ordinarily Nigerians, to which I belong, would usually say, I have said my own!  He or those who have ears, let him or they hear. But, honestly, as experience has shown, our problem in not hearing is not that we do not have ears; it is just that most of us do not use them! This could be a part of the reason Craig D. Lounsbrough, Licensed Professional Counsellor in the State of Colorado, USA, once queried: “Do we forget, or, is it that we just refuse to remember?”

Thank you for listening, nay, reading.

Respectfully, I am,

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (UDEMS), udemsyl@hotmail.com(12/Sept/2018)

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