Emeka Nwadioke

Civil rights lawyer, Mr. Emeka Nwadioke has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to rescind his notice to award some of Nigeria’s highest honours to the acclaimed winner of the June 12 Elections, Chief M. K. O. Abiola among others, describing the proclamation as “illegal and of no moment.”

It is recalled that President Buhari had in a statement made known his intention to bestow the national honour on Abiola and his running mate, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe as well as deceased human rights icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN). The president also made known his intention to change the Democracy Day holiday from May 29 to June 12.

But Nwadioke lampooned the decisions as “illegal,” adding that “National honours cannot be bestowed on deceased persons.” He contended that “Article 2 (1) and (2) of the National Honours Act Cap N43 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 is very clear on the subject. Only Nigerian ‘citizens’ and foreigners may be awarded such honours. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a ‘citizen’ as ‘a member of a free society possessing all the rights and privileges which can be enjoyed by any person under its Constitution and government, and subject to the corresponding duties.’ Clearly, this does not accommodate deceased persons.”

Nwadioke further notes that the emphasis on the currency of such citizenship is also found in Article 2 (1) which directs that a person shall not be eligible for the honour “unless he is a citizen of Nigeria.”

According to Nwadioke, “Given that it is notorious that the rank of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic is reserved exclusively for Nigeria’s presidents, Mr. President even negated his own proclamation when he addressed Chief Abiola as the ‘presumed’ winner of the June 12 Election. Clearly, Nigeria’s highest national honour cannot be awarded based on arbitrariness or a mere conjecture.”

The activist-lawyer noted that sundry provisions of the Act especially those dealing with acts that may lead to deprivation of the award “point conclusively to the fact that the honours are not to be bestowed on our deceased compatriots, notwithstanding that they may be highly deserving of same.

“To put the matter beyond debate, while the Honours Warrant part of the same Act is profoundly silent on the award of the ranks to deceased persons, this is not the case with the Honours (Armed Forces) Warrant (L. N. 27 of 1966) which clearly states in Article 3 (1) inter alia that the Nigeria Star medal ‘may be awarded posthumously.’ We need not go further to evince the intention of the law-giver in this regard.”

Nwadioke also faulted the declaration of June 12 as a national holiday, arguing that “The recognition of May 29 as Democracy Day is settled, given the provisions of the schedule to the Public Holidays Act, Cap P40, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

“Indeed, it is my considered view that a presidential proclamation is incapable of altering May 29 as a public holiday. The Public Holidays Act bars Mr. President from altering the holidays set out in the schedule to the Act, given the unambiguous wording of the enabling provision which enacts that any such holiday by the president must be ‘in addition to the days mentioned in the Schedule to this Act.’ The only option open to the president as of right is to declare June 12 as an additional public holiday.”

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