By Nnamdi Ojiego
Former Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Monday Ubani, in this interview, interrogates the legal angles of the banishing of former Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II. This interview was conducted a day before the former Emir was freed from detention.
What do you make of the banishment of former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II?
The Attorney General, AG, of Kano State, has denied that Sanusi was banished. He told the whole world that what they did was to remove him as the Emir and never banished him. But from the look of things, he was confined in one particular village in Nasarawa State. So, I don’t know what the man meant by saying they never banished him.
Don’t you think Kano State government was trying to save its face, after the barrage of criticisms that trailed their action?
Maybe. But they are still holding him hostage and it’s clearly unconstitutional. If you look at the provisions of the constitution with the issue of freedom of association, freedom of movement, and personal liberty, if you consider all they have done to him (Sanusi), it is clearly a violation of those rights as enshrined in our constitution.
And it is good that his lawyers have taken steps by instituting legal action against the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Director General, DSS, the Attorney General of Kano State for the illegal detention of Emir Sanusi in Nasarawa. On this issue, I believe that the judiciary will be able to look at it favourably because it is a clear violation of his fundamental human rights.
Abuse of power
The constitution has always envisaged that government officials may want to abuse powers and that is why they made provisions for those rights and their enforceability. We cannot underrate what government can do because power corrupts and when power becomes absolute, it corrupts absolutely. Government officials some times, want to trample on people’s rights.
That is why the constitution made provisions for enforcement of fundamental human rights of citizens. Now that it has happened, he has no other recourse other than the judiciary. There is nothing wrong with him going to the judiciary for relief or redress for wrong done to him. It is unfortunate but the most important thing is that he has recourse to the judicial system and for the resolution of the issue.
Is it right for state governments to have absolute power over traditional institutions?
Most states’ laws have provisions for enthronement which is always done by the state executive. They also have powers to remove any of these traditional rulers. It is there in most of the states’ laws governing chieftaincy affairs.
Now, what you will ask is whether the provisions of the laws were duly followed by the state governor. From what I heard that happened in Kano, the law provides that before you can remove an Emir, you have to issue a query and when the query has been answered by way of giving him a fair hearing, you have to now hold consultation with the council of state chiefs. That is the council of chiefs in the state. There was no report on whether those provisions of the law were followed before the removal of the Emir. But as for enthronement and dethronement, the governors of the states have powers to remove any traditional ruler. Some of the laws have such provisions but they must be removed based on the provisions of the law but if they didn’t comply with the provisions of the law, that is where the court comes in.
The next thing is the issue of banishment, whether there’s any law that allows it and they have recourse to old traditional practice where when you dethrone, you banish. But that can only happen when there is no constitutional democracy. If we are operating a constitution, in this our dispensation, you cannot banish any person under our law. Under the present system, you cannot.
The law Kano State government relied on in dethroning the former Emir was said to have been amended in 2019 when Emir was already having running battles with the Governor. Don’t you think that the law was amended to give the governor more powers to remove the embattled former Emir?
That is what the court will look at. If you enacted a law when you already have a problem in order to give yourself powers to deal with your perceived enemy, it is wrong. The court will have to look into this if at all Sanusi himself wants to challenge the powers of the governor in court. However, it is very important that he challenges it but if he does not challenge it, there is no way we can begin to appreciate the position of the judiciary over things like this because, as already pointed out, that law was amended in 2019 when the problems with the governor had already started. You can’t in anyway enact a law because of a particular incident or because of a particular individual.
Looking at the role Kano State House of Assembly played in this saga, do you think the lawmakers did enough in checkmating the governor?
There is no State Assembly in Nigeria that is checkmating the governors. The governors are institutions unto themselves and they act in abusive manners. The state institutions like the House of Assembly that is supposed to checkmate them are not doing that. There is nowhere in the country, even at the federal level.
That was why the Senate President and the House of Representatives Speaker said whatever President Buhari brings to them, they would approve it without going against it. What we have today is rubber stamp Houses of Assembly all over the country. It is not in Kano alone. It is the same thing in Abia, Anambra and other places. In fact, it is unfortunate that it is the same sad story all over the country. There is no independent State House of Assembly today in Nigeria that checkmates what the governors are doing.
What does such a situation imply?
We are not practicing true democracy. If we really want to practice democracy, there are many things we need to put in order. One of them is getting strong institutions. We must have institutions that work. We must also ensure that our electoral system is free, fair and credible. If we don’t get the kind of leadership that can effect those changes, nothing will happen.
Our electoral system is very faulty. We have not been able to get it right and as long as we don’t get it right, we can’t get good leaders and if we don’t get good leaders, we can’t get strong institutions that will work for the country. It is a whole lot of job that we have to do as a nation but for now, that is how it is and that is how we roll.