Boko Haram: Nigeria is at War – Omoruyi

The debate is unending, and different perspectives have continued to emerge as the twin issues of the nature of Nigeria’s federal system and the need for restructuring of the country continue to dominate national discourse. These issues, expectedly, came to the fore at the recent 215th inaugural lecture of the University of Benin delivered by Ikponmwonsa Osahon Omoruyi, a professor of International Law, who lamented that though there are 68 items under the 1999 Constitution on which the federal government can legislate as against 12 by states, “yet, the fact that state competence in these matters depend on their not passing laws inconsistent with federal laws, makes it potentially federal list.” 

Ikponmwonsa Osahon Omoruyi Photo
Ikponmwonsa Osahon Omoruyi

In his lecture entitled “Advancing the Law as an Instrument of Human Development and Human Protection: Municipal and International Perspectives”, Omoruyi asserted that the unitary nature of the Nigerian Constitution is accentuated by the blatant emasculation of the states in favour of the central government in its division of powers. And contrary to the common view that there are three tiers of government in Nigeria, Omoruyi contended that there are indeed two federating units – the central government and the states while the local governments are supposed to be administered by the state governments.

To buttress his position, Omoruyi singled out Section 153 of the Constitution which provides for the establishment of certain federal executive bodies like the National Judicial Council, NJC, and Section 7 (6) (a) which empowers the National Assembly to statutorily allocate public revenue to all local government councils in the federation. He believes that these provisions are anti-federalism. Citing Paragraph 21 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the constitution which spells out guidelines for the appointment and removal of state high court judges as well as funding of the Judiciary, Omoruyi noted that this provision thus gives power to a federal executive body appointed solely by the federal government to play a key role in the appointment and removal of State Judicial Officers as well as control and disburse funds to the state judiciary. While submitting that these powers are too wide such that “they make nonsense of the principles of Federalism,” he expressed concern that “we have the NJC controlling everything with regards to the judiciary, even at the state level, and I believe that that is anti-federalism and cannot be a proper federalist system.”

Expressing similar views on local government administration in the country, the acting deputy vice-chancellor (Administration) contended that the federal government has no business with local governments. In his words, “I have also interrogated the constitution on the creation and control of local governments and I do not owe anybody apologies for this; I believe in federalism. I believe that the local government is state matter. In my work, I drew examples from several countries; I do not see why the federal government should fund local governments directly. That is not federalism”.

Positing that “there are no three tiers of government in a federal system – two tiers – the central and the States; that is what we have”, Omoruyi said that local governments, as he had stated in his works, “are organs in the hands of the state governments to take development to the grassroots and so, the issue of uniformity of local governments across the whole of Nigeria, in my view, doesn’t make sense”. The law teacher insisted that there is nothing that says that local government system must be uniform. The state legislature is empowered by the constitution to make laws with regards to local governments and the way it should function. It is there in the constitution. And this is my candid opinion in this matter”.

In the last few weeks, state governors across the country have been at loggerheads with the federal government over some guidelines issued by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, intended to check corruption and protect the financial integrity of expenditure by local governments. The new policy has the potential of freeing the local governments from the stranglehold of state governors who control their funds through the State/local government Joint Account System.

The worrisome state of insecurity in Nigeria also engaged the attention of the inaugural lecturer. So germane this is to him that he said he would not conclude his lecture without touching on it.  Omoruyi identified the ongoing non-international armed conflict in North Eastern Nigeria, also referred to as Boko Haram insurgency” as “the most obvious challenge of human protection in Nigeria today”.  He noted that since 2009, Nigeria has been faced with combating this menace. Reeling out some disturbing statistics of casualties so far recorded, he stated that “this conflict which has been characterized as a non-international armed conflict, shows that Nigeria has been at war”, stressing that “we here might not know, but under international law, Nigeria has been at war”.  He blamed the conflict on the lack of focus on human development with poverty everywhere.  “All sorts of vices; the state has not been able to direct the law towards enhancing the status of the people and so what do we find? Insurgency, kidnapping, armed robbery and so on”.

According to him, the Boko Haram crisis has resulted in negative impacts on virtually every aspect of the livelihood of people in the affected states, with food security, nutrition, health, education, as well as water and sanitation, being most affected. He regretted that a large number of citizens in these states could not exercise their franchise during the 2019 general elections, thus impacting negatively on the exercise of their democratic rights. “This crisis, just like many others”, Omoruyi asserted, “clearly demonstrates the relationship between human development and human protection” emphasizing that “the failure of human security and protection has led to the failure of human development indices, which in turn perpetuates the negative state of human security and protection”.

While pointing out that the state of belligerency between Boko Haram and the Nigerian state and the international forces, having been characterized as a non-international armed conflict, is regulated by international humanitarian law and international human rights law which compliance is being monitored by international agencies as well as non-governmental organizations, Omoruyi believed, however, that “the solution lies in the ability of the Nigerian state to address the root causes of the crisis, which I submit, lie in social and economic discontent”. He said with extremely high rates of poverty, illiteracy, and disease, it was only expected that the society would somehow pay the price for the years of neglect.

“The non-justiciability of the provisions of Chapter 2 of the Constitution has not helped matters. Contrary to the government position that Boko Haram has been decimated, it is submitted that Boko Haram and other such organized insurgencies cannot be totally vanquished by the force of arms, partly because of the fact that organizations like Boko Haram are hydra-headed. The destruction of one head does not tantamount to the destruction of the entity. This is where the law comes in”, Omoruyi submitted. He believes that the enforcement of internationally-recognized socio-economic and cultural rights is what is needed to tackle the problems of the utter neglect and low level of human development, not only in the North East but in the entire country.  While positing that the protection of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry is primarily on that state, he was quick to add that “when the state fails, or neglects, or cannot guarantee this protection, then, there is residual responsibility on the international community”.

In conclusion, Omoruyi submitted that human development and human protection are mutually-dependent, and averred that any society, whether municipal or international, that takes one seriously, is likely to enjoy a high level of the other. In his words, “law is the indispensable instrument for achieving both. It is hereby advocated that our legislators and policymakers should begin to pay special attention to the fact that law is a tool for human development and human protection and reflect the relationship in policy formulation, implementation, and legal development. This should be the case both at the municipal and international spheres.  

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