By Dele Sobowale
“But far more numerous [is] the herd of such, who think very little and who talk too much.” John Dryden, 1631-1700.
VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 245.
The report appeared in several Nigerian newspapers with a verbatim excerpt from a letter sent to the Federal Government of Nigeria which reads as follows:
“I, as the Prosecutor General of the Islamic Republic of Iran, urge the Nigerian judicial authorities (to take steps) in line with their judicial independence and support for a captive citizen, and provide the ground for his release and transfer him to the Islamic Republic of Iran for treatment.”
For those who might not be conversant with “diplomatese” – a language understood only by diplomats and envoys — permit me to interpret that statement and spell out some of its frightening implications for insecurity in Nigeria. The Islamic Republic of Iran (note that they call themselves Islamic; so nobody will claim that Christians are fanning the embers of religious disharmony) has just openly intervened in what hitherto had been presented as a strictly domestic affair. Some of us knew all along that it has always had an international dimension to it. Perhaps now those in the Federal Government, especially in the Presidency, who had brought Nigeria to this situation will now pause and listen
The Islamic Republic of Iran is not Obasanjo, Afenifere, Ohanaeze or Dele Sobowale who can be dismissed by the powers-that-be. Even our well-educated southern brothers inside the Rock have joined the powers-that-be as will be demonstrated shortly given a statement credited to one of them. But, first let us focus on the Iran connection to the unfolding El-Zakzaky drama in Nigeria.
The letter is actually directed at the judiciary in order to lay the groundwork for charging the third estate of the realm with complicity with the executive in perpetuating injustice against “a captive citizen”. Perhaps unknown to the FG and Nigeria’s security forces, but, revealed to me by a credible source, El-Zakzaky has dual citizenship. He is a citizen of Nigeria as well as Iran. The Iranian Prosecutor General, in effect, has written to Nigeria on behalf of a citizen of Iran. That call to the Nigerian authorities, if ignored, will lead to unpleasant consequences. It will provide Iran the excuse it needs to more openly intervene in the brewing Islamic sectarian conflict between Sunis and Shiites in Nigeria.
“Martyrs do not build churches [ or mosques]; they are the alibi or the mortar.”
Albert Camus, 1903-1960. Nobel Prize Winning French philosopher.
For those who might treat that letter with levity, let me ask them to find out what has happened to a lot of Syria, especially a place called Alepo. Then, they will discover what lies in store for Nigeria if fanatics and would-be martyrs take up arms to defend, not El-Zakzaky anymore; but the right of Shiites to practice their brand of Islam as freely as Sunis. Iran, as the headquarters of the Shiites globally, stands ready at all times to defend the rights of its members in every country in the world at all costs – including with violent uprisings. That is what makes ignoring the written request so dangerous.
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Buhari cannot and should not ignore it. Even mighty United States of America is finding Iran to be a tough adversary. No official statement by the Islamic Republic is ever dismissed with a wave of the hand. All are treated with seriousness and respect. The Ayatollah seldom speaks, and when he does, he does not joke. Having now openly intervened, Iran intends to have the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, released or there will be a price to pay. The FG and Nigeria’s security chiefs must understand that what we have received is an ultimatum couched in diplomatic language and wrapped as defence of a citizen’s (their citizen) rights to freedom to practice religion which is guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution itself.
“Let justice be done; though the world perish.”
Emperor Ferdinand I, King of Bohemia, 1506-1564.
The worst aspect of this unfolding tragedy lies in the fact that the FG is the cause of it. According to a report in PUNCH, July 26, 2019, “Back in 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, of a Federal High Court ordered his [El-Zakzaky] unconditional release from jail following a trial, but so far the government has refused to set him free.” That, by any stretch of the imagination is executive lawlessness. The FG ought not to have gone to court if it does not want justice done. To have gone to court, and to have lost the case and refuse to abide by the verdict of the court brings into question the claim to integrity by all those still holding El-Zakzaky.
Rex non debet esse sub homine sed sub Deo at lege lex facit (Latin);
English translation: The king [or President] himself ought not to be subject to man but subject to God and the law, because the law makes him king [or President].” Bractor, 13th century English Philosopher. VBQ, p 120.
Buhari is President because the constitution and laws of Nigeria make him President. It is legally unethical for any President in a democracy to want to pick and choose which laws he will obey and which he will disobey. The Nigerian National Assembly, NASS, allowed Obasanjo and now Buhari to violate the law with impunity. Obasanjo seized funds belonging to Lagos State and refused to release them despite a Supreme Court judgment. The PDP-led NASS did not impeach him for what amounted to a major act of lawlessness. Senate President Nnamani and House Speaker Na’ Abba established a precedent by allowing Obasanjo to get away with it. Buhari started the current confrontation with IMN during his first term. Saraki and Dogara also allowed him to get away with it.
“A precedent embalms a principle.” William Scott, 1745-1836, VBQ p 198.
In all of these, our lawmakers from 1999 till now collectively forgot the warning by William Scott. They were establishing precedents. In each case, the NASS was made an accomplice in executive lawlessness. Instead of performing their constitutional duties and calling the Presidents to order, they preferred to be loyal party men – even if their actions were unpatriotic.
While Obasanjo’s violation did not result in the death of fellow Nigerians, Buhari’s refusal to obey court order is leading to anarchy. Once the courts cannot be the last refuge of the common man; once the executive disregards the law, it establishes a precedent which invites every man to do the same. IMN members have taken to the streets because the courts have been rendered impotent by the FG. In fact, no court would now have the moral right to jail those arrested. The FG bringing them to court has demonstrated its contempt for the law which gave it legitimacy.
Two distressing aspects of the current crisis is the revelation of how far people in government will go to betray the principles they once upheld and to make fools of themselves. One of the President’s spokespersons was in the news recently. Asked why the FG cannot just release El-Zakzaky and stop the carnage, the replied that the FG had appealed Justice Kolawole’s verdict and that that was the reason he was still being held. That was bad enough. He went further to say that not being a lawyer, he did not know if that was a good explanation or not. That was inappropriate.
The presidential adviser ought to have realised that before making an official statement on a matter setting the nation ablaze, he should have called two or three lawyers; especially the Vice President who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a professor of law, and he would have been told what Femi Falana, SAN, released to the media. Filing appeal against a lower court ruling does not amount to stay of execution. Almost two years ago, the FG released El-Mustapha, Abacha’s National Security Adviser, NSA, from jail when the Court of Appeal ruled in his favour. Lagos State has filed an appeal, but El-Mustapha is out. Incidentally, Osinbajo was Lagos State Attorney General when El-Mustapha was charged for murder. Buhari’s spokesman could have asked instead of justifying executive lawlessness and encouraging the continuation of the carnage we now experience.
The second person inside the most famous rock in Nigeria whose silence is intriguing is the Vice President, Osinbajo. He was the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General in Lagos State when Obasanjo illegally seized local government funds allocated to the state despite a Supreme Court order that the funds be released. Governor Bola Tinubu, Osinbajo and everybody in the progressive camp had called Obasanjo’s refusal illegal, and unconstitutional. If that was a principled statement, why is the VP not so forthright in condemning the same constitutional breach by his own government?
“Politics without principles.” Mohandas Gandhi, 1869-1948. VBQ p 245.
The founding father of modern India had identified seven things that would destroy any nation. He placed “Politics without principles” at the top. Nigerian politicians with very few exceptions practice “Politics without principles.” That is why it is easy, for them to switch from one camp to another effortlessly and without remorse. That also explains why none of the leaders of Action Congress who carpeted Obasanjo for disobeying court order has spoken up against the latest demonstration of executive lawlessness. The hypocrisy, when they pretend to uphold principles, is nauseating. Invariably, one finds that it is not the crime they oppose, but the person perpetrating it. The minute the perpetrator becomes “one of us”, then excuses have to be found or silence follows.
The problem now is that while Lagos State government was willing to ignore the violation of the people’s rights under lawless OBJ, the IMN and Iran are not going to accept the continuing violation of their leader’s right under Buhari without a fight. Those about to start this one better realise what the consequences will be. We, the people who will also be in line of fire, better realise that the FG has now pitched Nigeria into the midst of the Islamic sectarian war ravaging the Middle East.