A new gazette by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) has amended the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007, removing the requirement for the stamp and seal of the Nigerian Bar Association on court processes. Without the stamp, a lawyer could not submit any document or letter to the court and its sale has been one of the NBA’s major revenue sources, allowing it to remain independent of various political interests. However, with the amendment of the process by Malami, the use of the stamps is no longer necessary. This also implies that persons who are not members of the NBA, including non-lawyers, are allowed to submit court processes. This move has drawn a lot of criticism from lawyers because it was done without any consultation and only the General Council of the NBA can amend the Rules of Professional Conduct. This also occurs mere weeks after the formation of a ‘New NBA’ made up of Northern chapters of the NBA, which broke away from the main body after Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, was disinvited as a speaker at the NBA Annual General Conference. 

The Presidency attacked former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, over his recent statement that Nigeria is becoming a failed and divided state under President Muhammadu Buhari. Mr Obasanjo had told a consultative dialogue attended by various socio-cultural groups including Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum, Northern Elders Forum, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo and the Pan Niger Delta Forum that he had never seen the country in such a bad state, and blamed the current state of affairs on the poor management of the country’s diversity. “Today, Nigeria is fast drifting to a failed and badly divided state; economically our country is becoming a basket case and poverty capital of the world, and socially, we are firming up as an unwholesome and insecure country. And these manifestations are the products of recent mismanagement of diversity and socio-economic development of our country,” the former president said. He also described the proposed review of the Nigerian constitution as a money-gulping activity and veritable source of waste without end. In reacting, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu called Mr Obasanjo a “divider-in-chief” and said Nigeria’s president from 1999-2007 “attempts to divide the nation while President Muhammadu Buhari continues to promote nation-building and the unity of Nigeria.” Shehu contrasted President Buhari’s recent statements warning fellow West African heads of state against extending their term limits to Obasanjo’s infamous attempt to seek a third term in 2007.

The Okun ethnic nationality in Kogi State has demanded relocation from the North-Central geopolitical zone to the South-West. They have also asked for a separate state made up of the Okun people and the core Yoruba speaking part of Kwara. Their demand was contained in the memorandum sent to the Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 constitution through the Okun Development Association. It read in part: “The Okun people of Kogi State reaffirm their Yoruba origin. It is incontrovertible that their culture and values are the same as those of Yoruba in the South-West of Nigeria with whom we share territorial contiguity and economic relations. We, therefore, put forward as our core demand, the readjustment or relocation of Okun people’s political and land boundary from the North-Central zone to the South-West. In joining the South-West, we demand that Okunland be incorporated as a state (Okun State) since we have all it takes to be a viable one.’’ In another development, some prominent leaders of the North Central region have pulled out of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to form a new group, the North-Central Peoples Forum. The leaders said the new group is a part of efforts to tackle the challenges confronting the region. The forum, which launched in Abuja on Wednesday, named former minister and senator, Jerry Useni, as its chairman of the board of trustees, with the former junior health minister, Gabriel Aduku, appointed as interim chairman. Aduku said the North Central region was facing unprecedented security and development challenges and the new organisation’s leaders “are no longer interested in the unending theories about the killings, but that they must stop.”

Cote d’Ivoire’s top court on 14 September cleared the path for President Alassane Ouattara to seek a contentious third term, as protests turned violent in several cities and fears grow of a repeat of the conflict that claimed 3,000 lives in the country a decade ago. The Constitutional Council also barred former President Laurent Gbagbo and former rebel leader-turned-Prime Minister Guillaume Soro from standing in next month’s presidential election. It cleared only four of the 44 candidates for the October 31 presidential election. The other candidates cleared were former president Henri Konan Bedie from the historically dominant PDCI party, Gbagbo’s former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, and Kouadio Konan Bertin, a dissident from Bedie’s party. Ouattara, who has been in power since 2011, had previously committed to not running again, but changed his mind after the sudden death of his anointed successor, prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, from a heart attack in July. He initially postponed his decision to run for a third term to mourn and pay respects to the late prime minister but eventually filed his bid which had not been validated by the council.

Commentary

  • The Attorney General has done something that may actually be popular, that is emphasising the rights of citizens to enjoy legal representation of all kinds. But we always caution that no matter how popular a policy stance is, it must follow due process. Otherwise, the same spirit in which the procedural breach was implemented will be used to shove down oppressive and unpopular things down the collective throat of the general public. A government official must never be allowed to make such changes unilaterally. The method for change in a democracy is not fiat, but consultation, negotiation, consensus and an eye on precedent. The alternative is open to abuse and accusations of bias, and this is where many critics of this move come in. Mr Malami’s move has been interpreted by some as an attempt to weaken the NBA since its seal and stamp will no longer be needed to file court processes or execute legal agreements in Nigeria, implying that lawyers can choose to not be part of the association to practice in the courts. It robs the association of a major source of revenue which has helped it stay politically neutral and not dependent on handouts from politicians. The move comes after the NBA stirred the hornet’s nest by withdrawing the invitation it had given the Kaduna governor, Nasir El-Rufai to be on a panel at its annual conference last month. Although Mr Malami’s unilateral approach is flawed, we must point out that a former predecessor of his, Mr Bayo Ojo utilised the same approach in 2007 in amending the Rules of Professional Conduct to introduce the seal and stamp policy in the first place. That development alone proves our point – Further down the line, nothing stops a future Attorney General of the Federation from reversing Mr Malami’s move with a similarly unilateral decision, building on shaky precedence.
  • This is not the first time that Obasanjo has criticised President Buhari. A number of criticisms came in quick succession as the 2019 elections approached. This is also not the first time Obasanjo has criticised his successors. His letter to Goodluck Jonathan in 2013 gave impetus to the (then) APC opposition. We can safely predict that there will be more criticism. Like before, a lot of the responses from the Presidency have been focused on Obasanjo’s person rather than his accusations, with the predictable emphasis on his ill-fated third term attempt. A key point to note is that the reactions to Obasanjo’s statement have been distinctly regional, with far Northern groups and supporters of the government castigating him, while Middle Belt and Southern groups have generally supported his assertions. But let us, unlike the Presidency, focus on the substance. The fact remains this – Nigeria is in a dire security situation. For many, travelling between urban centres, especially in the north where most of Mr Obasanjo’s castigators come from, has become risky and restricted to mainly daylight hours. Kidnapping, already a huge problem in the North, has started seeing a resurgence in the South-South. All major economic indicators are trending downwards with even steeper declines on the horizon. Political uncertainty remains uncomfortably high. Mr Obasanjo’s views have also been reiterated by Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, who has gone as far as saying that Nigeria is close to extinction. It is unlikely, however, that the comments from the former president will have any impact on the governing style and policy approach of the Buhari administration. They will sadly only provide renewed material for an ever noisier political discourse and fodder for endless newspaper columns.
  • The Okun ethnic nationality is far from the only one seeking a realignment. Various submissions to the Senate have sought the creation of new states out of Abia, Adamawa, Anambra, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Niger, Ogun, and Oyo, and in seven of these, a total geopolitical realignment. The demand of the Okun to be relocated out of the North-Central geopolitical zone seems sensible on the face of it, but on deeper reflection is lacking in substance for one simple reason: geopolitical zones in Nigeria aren’t defined by law even though they are used in every “equitable” sharing formula across the country, both in the public and sometimes in the private sector. It is a practice that has become enshrined by convention and largely follows the two super regions – North and South – that were amalgamated to form Nigeria in 1914, and subsequent state creation exercises up until 1991. This is why despite Okun being Yoruba-speaking, they are in the North-Central and not the South-West. It is the same with Jigawa, which geographically is closer to the North-East, but classified as being in the North-West, Southern Kaduna which is in the North-West despite being more culturally aligned with the North-Central, Taraba which is more Middle Belt than North-East, the Delta North Senatorial District, which is linguistically Igbo but is in the South-South, and Kwara Central and South senatorial districts which are dominated by ethnic Yoruba people, but are in the North-Central. The Okun demand for a state is also unlikely to happen – and this is not because of any situation unique to Okun people – because of sheer practicality. Although there is a constitutionally defined process for state creation, it is almost impossible in reality to create a new state as it will need a constitutional amendment, which can only be achieved not just by a simple majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives but also by the assent of a majority in 24 state Houses of Assembly. Nigeria’s regional politics means it is almost impossible for a state creation request to receive such broad-based support as it will realign the regional politics across the country. With state creation requests from almost every state in the country (in 2012, there were 72 requests in total during the last attempt by the National Assembly to amend the Constitution), it means that no request will eventually come through. Lastly, history shows that all state creation exercises took place under military governments which did not need any constitutional amendments (the only exception was the creation of the MidWestern Region, now Edo and Delta states, in 1963 as part of a regional compromise during Nigeria’s transition from an independent constitutional federation to a parliamentary republic) but simple executive fiat. It does seem though, that the action of the Okun ethnic nationality and the creation of the North-Central Peoples Forum is a desire by minority ethnic groups in the North-Central to create a distinct political identity rather than being lumped in with the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Northern Elders’ Forum which is perceived to largely represent the Hausa/Fulani interests predominant in the NE & NW. While we understand the drivers of these sentiments, we must reiterate that this is attempting to solve a fundamental problem with a mere salve. More states will not solve the problems of inclusion and justice that Nigeria sorely lacks. It will rather create more unsustainable sub-national units that will further strengthen the centre and sustain the warped unitarism masking as federalism that Nigeria currently practices. The solution begins with restructuring Nigeria as it is currently constituted, devolving power from the centre and returning resource control to the communities in which these resources are found.
  • The disqualification of Mr Gbagbo, who has been living in Belgium since an acquittal on war crime charges by the International Criminal Court, and Mr Soro who is living in exile in France after being convicted  in absentia by an Ivorian court for 20 years, means that Mr Ouattara will face no formidable opposition come election time and is near certain to obtain a third presidential term. Mr Ouattara had initially decided to step aside in support of the late prime minister, Gon Coulibaly, who died in July, just two weeks after his return from France where he had received heart treatment. With the death of Mr Coulibaly, Ouattara reneged on his commitment to hand over power. However, the growing protests in the country are all too reminiscent of the conflict that started in 2010 after Mr Gbago refused to concede defeat to Mr Ouattara in that year’s election. On the economy, Mr Ouattara has a decent record, having taken the country from a GDP growth rate of -4.4% in 2010 to a high of 10.7% in 2012 and maintained it as high as 7% up to 2018. However, his attempt to perpetuate himself in power could plunge the country back into anarchy. Although Mr Soro and Mr Gbagbo have been disqualified by the Constitutional Court, their supporters have filed papers for them to run in the elections. Mr Gbagbo, on his part, is seen to be in an alliance with former president Henri Konan Bédié, and though Bédié still has a large support base, Mr Ouattara retains the power of incumbency and can deploy state forces to suppress opponents. A reignited conflict could increase the instability in a West African region that is still trying to stabilise Burkina Faso, return Mali to democracy and manage conflicts in Niger & Nigeria while working to contain a low-level Islamist insurgency in the Ivorian north and east which has emboldened jihadist groups to use the area as a staging ground to launch attacks in other, more unstable countries. So far, it would appear that there isn’t any international involvement in the elections, but France, the former colonial power which still wields a lot of influence over the Ivory Coast, as well as ECOWAS, will be watching very closely to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.
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