I have always admired the current Governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai, mainly for his diligent and intellectual approach to work, especially when he was the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and later the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory during the pendency of the Obasanjo administration.

I had the opportunity of directly benefiting from his intellectual sagacity when our company law and practice lecturer in the Abuja Campus of the Nigerian Law School invited him to be a guest lecturer in 2002. He spoke on the then ongoing privatization programme of the Federal Government. I was so intellectually enriched by his lecture that I had to recount our experience during the lecture to the whole nation in an article that I titled “When Mr. Privatization Visited the Law School,” published at page 42 in The Guardian newspaper of September 22, 2002 and in the Vanguard newspaper of December 4, 2002. I had the opportunity of relating more closely with him when he came to speak during an annual lecture at our branch, the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, years after I was called to the bar.

But, unfortunately afterwards, the nation seems to have since been witnessing some hitherto unknown or unnoticed trait in Mr. el-Rufai. What appeared to have been the first symptom of el-Rufai’s disrespect for Nigerians, their representatives or constituted authority was first noticed in 2004 when the Minister responded to a Senate inquiry into his handling of the Abuja master-plan by remarking that “Silence is the best answer to a fool.” The remark was widely regarded as so rude that President Olusegun Obasanjo had to write a letter of apology on his behalf to the Senate. But such a disrespectful and aggressive trait in him seemed to have distinctly manifested on the Nigerian Television Authority on February 8, 2018 as the Governor made the following threatening statement, thereby desecrating his hallowed office and the image of Nigeria before the international community, while speaking on foreign election observers in the forthcoming general elections: “Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that will come and intervene. They would go back in body bags.” But for his similar antecedents and the do-or-die approach of many politicians to elections in Nigeria, one could have downplayed that as a case of a man merely finding it difficult to distinguish between the international law concepts of foreign election observation, intervention and interference. Intervention is the lawful or unlawful use of force by a foreign country or an international organization in the internal or external affairs of another sovereign country. Interference is similar to it but is almost all the time unlawful. But can an informed person honestly say that an election observation involves the use of force or that it is tantamount to interference?

For the avoidance of doubt, the European Union (EU), African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), among others, have always sent election observers to their development partners or member States, including Nigeria. Among the 28 foreign observer groups that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has accredited for the forthcoming elections are the EU, AU, ECOWAS, Commonwealth, US Embassy, British High Commission, Canadian High Commission, African Bar Association, Nigerians in Diaspora, French Embassy, Japanese Embassy, Korean Embassy and the Egyptian Embassy. There is nothing aberrant in this under the international law and the municipal law applicable in Nigeria. In this regard, section 19 (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended provides that Nigeria’s “foreign policy objectives shall be –promotion of international cooperation for the consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect among all nations.” Article 3 of the Constitutive Act of the AU, of which Nigeria is a key actor, similarly provides that the objectives of the Union shall be to (g) “promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance” and to (h) “promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.” It has to be noted that the Supreme Court of Nigeria has given judicial flavor to the justiceability of the African Charter in Nigeria in Fawehinmi v Abacha (2000) NWLR (Pt 660) 228; (2000) 4 SCNJ 400. Thus, Governor el-Rufai’s violence outburst has no legal or moral basis. If investigation is carried out, you are even likely to find out that his administration has enjoyed development aid progrmmes from these foreign countries or organizations since he became Governor in 2015—a clear case of a person trying to take advantage of a legal and moral benefit without taking the corresponding legal and moral burden.

If you do not have any hidden agenda or skeleton in your cupboard, you have no need of being afraid of local or foreign election observers, who like the good people of Nigeria, are yearning for peaceful, free, fair and credible elections in the country on February 16 and March 2, 2019. May be Mr. el-Rufai needs to be informed that Nigeria has always done what is even far more than sending election observes abroad. Nigeria has sent soldiers and the police to maintain peace or monitor and ensure free and fair elections in foreign countries in recent years, examples being Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Gambia. Why did not el-Rufai protest then that the Obasanjo administration, part of which he was, was intervening or interfering in those foreign countries’ domestic affairs? Why did he not cry against the real case of foreign interference when a battalion of presidential delegation from Niger Republic led by two Governors recently came to campaign for his political party in Kano?

Governor el-Rufai’s outburst was all the more unwarranted because it came from a Governor leading a State of Northern Nigeria that is highly diverse and volatile on the grounds of ethno-religious diversity. It is a notorious fact that thousands of people have been killed by religious fundamentalists and herdsmen in Kaduna State since the commencement of this democratic dispensation in 1999. Therefore, one would have expected an informed Governor in Mr. el-Rufai’s caliber to have launched a genuine healing process since coming to office in 2015. Unfortunately, the man seems to have been compounding matters in the State. Just recently, he broke off with the political convention in the State by appointing a fellow Muslim as his running mate in the forthcoming governorship election. And he has called the bluff of the concerned media and the people, including a notable Muslim leader in the State, Sheik Ahmad Gumi, who said what he has done was not in the interest of peaceful co-existence and mutual trust in the State. While no letter of the Nigerian law specifically dictates to a Governor a person of whose race or religion to appoint as his running mate, it is certain that Mr. el-Rufai’s choice in the volatile State does not advance the spirit of section 14 (4) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution which provides that 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 recognise 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.” Section 15 (2) and (3) (d) of the same Constitution similarly lays on our public officers the duty to promote “national integration” across places “of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties” and “promote or encourage the formation of associations that cut across ethnic, linguistic, religious or other sectional barriers.”

Mr. el-Rufai’s latest gaffe in the form of the unwarranted threat against the foreign election observers could in no way promote national integration; it could only worsen things or even precipitate political, ethnic and religious violence in his Kaduna State and Nigeria in general during the elections. There is indeed a permutation that the man resorted to the threat because he was jittery over an election defeat, which may be impending or inevitable as a result of his own choice. But, no matter his egocentric interest, under no circumstances should a leader be seen to be purveying hate speech or inciting his supporters into violence. We should not be quick to forget the cold murder of innocent Nigerians, including youth corps members, as a fallout of the 2011 presidential election in Kaduna and some other Northern States. Those who want to treat the forthcoming elections as a do-or-die affair should be reminded that not just the Nigerian criminal law but international criminal law instruments as the 1998 Statute of Rome and the International Criminal Court (ICC) have established supranational mechanisms for dealing with them. The world has passed the stage wherein a ruler or his supporters can perpetrate or incite violence, war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity and try to get away with it by turning round to hide under the plea or excuse of the doctrines of sovereignty and non-interference. Those who want to treat the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria as a do-or-die affair should also be reminded of the former President Charles Taylor of Liberia, a fellow West African country. Incidentally, he was arrested in Nigeria before being taken into international prison custody for trial by a United Nations-backed Special Court that sat at The Hague in the Netherlands. He was in September 2013 sentenced to 50 years’ jail term for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The election trouble-makers and their sponsors should also remember the former President Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire, another fellow West African country. He was arrested after refusing to relinquish power despite losing a presidential election. He only recently got off the hook after his trial by the ICC. Even the junta of General Sani Abacha of Nigeria had to pay dearly for the atrocities it perpetrated under the excuse of ‘no foreigner can query me.’

The whole world has become a global village, especially in this era of globalization. If the international community keeps aloof on the Nigerian elections, thereby giving room for riggers to have their way, and violence follows, would not the international community be effected in one way or the other afterwards? Even without any conventional war in Nigeria now, the US and the UK, among others, have been overwhelmed by the influx of legal and illegal Nigerian immigrants into their counties. Instead of learning to do things right so as to stop such embarrassing emigrations, we are always quick to blame or overreact to the current American President who says that we need to get our act (including our elections) together, failing which issuance of visas to our nationals would no longer be business as usual. And now that they want to assist us, will it be wise to selfishly threaten them? The foreign observers should not kowtow to any threat or blackmail. No political office holder is greater than all Nigerians, let alone the international community. Demographically and politically, Nigeria is so important in Africa that the world cannot pretend that events as general elections are not happening here at this time. It is shocking that erstwhile beneficiaries of the rule of law or due process, especially in the 2015 general elections, are now fiercely opposed to it. But, whether they like it or not, the aspirations of the people—whether the ruling party or the opposition–must be allowed to prevail in the elections. Democracy must be allowed to thrive here. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition must be allowed to win by hook or crook. The officers of INEC, the police and other concerned law enforcement agencies should realize that their loyalty in the elections must be towards the Federal Republic of Nigeria, rather than any political office holder, politician, political party or candidate. I also appeal to our judiciary to diligently, justly and fairly handle the election petitions that will certainly follow the announcement of the results. Justice has no political, tribal or religious affiliation.

God bless Nigeria!

Anthony S. Aladekomo is a law lecturer in the Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti.

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