February 15, 2001
Chief Bola Ige, SAN
Attorney-General and Minister of Justice
Federal Government of Nigeria
Dear Chief Bola Ige:
The Suit by the Federal Government of
Against the Littoral States of Southern Nigeria
on the Issue of Resource Control Is Immoral
Urhobo Historical Society wishes to address you on your recent suit, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria, against the eight litoral states of Nigeria – namely, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ogun, Ondo, and Rivers – which seek to control and develop resources in their states. We would like to introduce to you our organization and to say why it is involved in this matter. Urhobo Historical Society is primarily an organization that is dedicated to the study and promotion of Urhobo history and culture and to safeguarding the welfare and the environment of the Niger Delta in which Urhoboland is implicated. Needless to add, Nigeria’s political welfare is paramount for achieving these aims of Urhobo Historical Society. We have chosen to address this letter to you not only because you are the author of the suit in question but more importantly because many members of our Society regard you as a decent man who will be amenable to reason in ways that many chiefs of the Federal Government of Nigeria are not.
We note that the legal suit which you filed on February 7, 2001, is ostensibly against the thirty-six states of the Federation. We fear that joining in this suit the other states of the Federation, other than those whose lands produce oil resources and revenues, is disingenuous and is for the sake of mischief-making. Worse, we fear that it could be a ploy to dilute paying attention to the dire situation which Niger Deltan lands face from spoilation that has been caused by decades of reckless oil mining by the Federal Government of Nigeria in their territories. For those in the Niger Delta, this is a matter of the physical survival of their world. We will, therefore, be particularly concerned with the issues of the Niger Delta in this letter. Even so, the Federal Government’s suit against the eight littoral states raise wider questions of law and morality that we should address.
LAW AND MORALITY AND
NIGERIA’S POLITICAL WELFARE
Sadly, laws have become a matter of sheer technicalities in Nigeria, thanks to prolonged military rule. After years of decrees under military rule, even lawyers seem to accept questionable decrees that have no relationships to society’s morality. Good laws are grounded on society’s morality. That is why laws are made by the people’s representatives in legislative assemblies. We fear that the laws on which the Federal Government of Nigeria is basing its suit against the eight litoral states are all morally flawed because they were decrees which were maliciously made at the whims of a few military men. We want to go over these matters with you.
The Nigerian Constitution of 1999. You have based your suit on the so-called 1999 Constitution. There are no moral grounds for accepting that Constitution as Nigeria’s fundamental law. It was a decree that was secretly drawn up by military men who did not represent any legitimate interests of the sections of Nigeria that you now sue to the Supreme Court. There were no women in that body. No one in General Abdulsami Abubakar’s Ruling Military Council was up to sixty years of age. It was a team of soldiers who had a lot of muscle. The Niger Delta was hardly represented in it. That Constitution was decreed at a time when Nigerians were pleading with General Abdulsami Abubakar, the reigning military ruler of Nigeria, to convene a Constitutional Conference, to no avail. It was the expectation of most Nigerians who voted for Olusegun Obasanjo for the country’s post-military Presidency that he would remedy the situation by allowing the people to play a role in the construction of their own Constitution. Sadly, the current Federal Government of Nigeria appears determined to prevent the people from making their own Constitution.
In these circumstances it is immoral to base a suit against the southern states on a Constitution in which their people had a minimal role in making. This suit appears to be an immoral attempt to give some legitimacy to a morally flawed document by asking the Supreme Court to recognize it. We appeal to you as a Nigerian patriot to understand that the implications of so doing by the Federal Supreme Court are far-reaching. It will endow false legitimacy on a Constitutional document in which the people have no hand in constructing. That, in our opinion, is the acme of immorality.
The primary function of the Supreme Court is to interpret the laws of the land as formulated by the National Assembly, and other legislative assemblies, and as defined in the Constitution. The National Assembly has not formulated any laws on the "onshore/offshore" ownership of natural resources in the littoral states, and neither is this issue specifically defined in the so-called 1999 Constitution. By praying the Supreme Court to rule on the "onshore/offshore" dichotomy, the Federal Government is requesting the Supreme Court to adjudicate on an issue outside the Court's jurisdiction. The proper place to discuss this question is either in the National Assembly, where a fresh request for legislation may be submitted by your Government, or at a National Conference on the drafting of a new Constitution by the people of Nigeria and their representatives. If the Supreme Court arrogates to itself the power to adjudicate on this issue, it will only be worsening the crisis of governance that currently exists in Nigeria because the people do not trust their government.
The Land Use Decree of 1978. We must also alert you to our view, and that of millions of your fellow Southerners, that it will be a total betrayal of the South if you were to invoke the “Land Use Decree” in your presentation of this suit before the Supreme Court. That decree was enacted by General Olusegun Obasanjo’s Government in 1978 against the wishes of the South. Frederick Lugard had abandoned any effort to confer on the government ownership of lands in the South, as it was in the North, during his Amalgamation exercises of 1914-18. That action of resurrecting Lugard’s failed mandate was one of General Obasanjo’s worst mistakes in government. We fully expect that it will be expunged from all future Nigerian Constitutions made by Nigerians, not by military rulers. We therefore believe that your action should not at all be based on that anti-South Land Use Decree. In any case, it would be immoral to do so.
Petroleum Decree of 1969. The Onshore/Offshore problem was invented from another immoral military decree, this time under General Yakubu Gowon. It is said to be a consequence of internal military dispute between the Military Governors of Midwest and Rivers States, on the one hand, and General Gowon’s Central Military Government, on the other. An act of peevish proportions, that decree was made on the spur of a moment, without consultation with anyone in the affected areas. Should that be the basis of law? We hope that your suit will avoid basing its case on such terrible decrees which represent the worst face of military rule.
EQUITY AND FEDERALISM
The survival of any nation and of its government must be related to trust that there will be equity in the prosecution of laws, especially the laws based on the Constitution of the land. As the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of the Federation, you have a special responsibility that such equity prevails. If a situation exists where a section or sections of the nation feel aggrieved because it is unfairly treated, that nation’s existence is in danger. This is particularly the case in a federation.
We must state here that we in the Niger Delta feel aggrieved by the actions of the Government in which you serve. This suit brings to the fore once more the unfairness of your Government’s actions in obvious attempts to punish the Niger Delta while dealing with other regions with kid gloves. We must also remind you that the South feels aggrieved that your Government appears so harsh in handling matters of law and order in the case of government functionaries in Southern states while appearing powerless in dealing with entrenched interests in Northern Nigeria.
Sharia and the Quest for Resource Control. In normal circumstances, it would seem bizarre to compare the actions of State Governments which want to control their own resources for the welfare of their people and State Governments that seem to exact such a foreign mode of punishment on its citizens in which they are maimed. We think one is a moral action while the action of cutting off a thief’s hand appears to us to be severe.
However, in the apparent view of your Government both the act of Southern Governments in seeking resource control and the enactment of Sharia laws by the Emirate States are unconstitutional. Both you and President Olusegun Obasanjo forcefully objected to Sharia laws when they were first initiated in Zamfara State and elsewhere in Emirate Northern Nigeria. However, those State Governments simply ignored you and the rest of the Federal Government and proceeded to enact Sharia laws which can only breed constitutional chaos in Nigeria.
Because they feared that such chaos posed a serious danger to the very survival of the Nigerian state, many counseled the Federal Government to get a judicial determination on the constitutionality of the actions of the Sharia states from the Supreme Court of the country. The Federal Government not only rejected this suggestion, it actively and publicly discouraged those who sought to secure such a determination from the courts from doing so. In view of the delicate political circumstances in the country, it reasoned, political dialogue, rather than a judicial proceeding which would necessarily produce winners and losers, would be a more salutary approach. In view of this stance, we can not but wonder why the Federal Government has decided, in this instance, to institute legal action against the states of the South, and seek a judicial determination of what it wrongly thinks is an unsettled issue. Could it be because it is confident that it does not have much to fear from the states of the South emerging from the process as losers? We are, of course, well aware of the fact that the law suit lists all thirty six states as defendants. But we also know that this is simply an attempt at being disingenuous. The real party defendants are the states of the South, specifically the oil producing states of the Niger Delta.
Our questions to you are as follows: Why do you consider it fair and equitable to sue the Southern States that you say are violating the 1999 Constitution while running away from the actions of the Emirate states? Is that because it is easier to pounce on Southern States? Would the Federal Government of which you are Attorney-General dare to take the Emirate States to the Supreme Court for the determination of the constitutionality of Sharia laws? We suggest to you, sir, that the disparity in Federal Government’s action with respect to the Emirate North, on the one hand, and the Southern States, on the other hand, is liable to breed contempt for its authority.
The Invasion and Destruction of Odi. We want to
reinforce the above view regarding the unfair ways that your Government
has treated Niger Deltans. The invasion and destruction of Odi will forever
be a problem in the history of governance in Nigeria. As you well know,
on November 20-24, 1999, Nigerian military forces razed to the ground a
town that has no dispute with the Federal Government. We invite you to
see the documentation that Urhobo Historical Society
has provided on this disaster in our web site at http://waado.org/Environment/FedGovt_NigerDelta/BayelsaInvasion/EntryToDocumentation/Entry.html.As a fair-minded man of great integrity, we ask you to examine the evidence with respect to the reasons for the invasion. We are certain that you will reach the conclusion that agrees with the Government’s military spokesman who said that the purpose of the invasion was to teach Niger Deltans a lesson. Yet, the Federal Government behaved differently when similar situations of law and order arose in the Yoruba West and in Northern Nigeria.
We suggest to you that these disparities are unfair. The current suit reminds us of Odi and how unfair your Government has been in its relationship with the Niger Delta.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR ACTIONS
OF GOVERNMENT’S FUNCTIONARIES
Among the numerous graffiti left behind at Odi by invading Nigerian soldiers are the following two: “We were sent by government to kill and burn your community, take heart” and “Odi people, no be our fault na ona government.” The soldiers who did the deeds of destroying Odi apparently believed that they were obeying Government’s orders and that they were thus justified. Their commander who supervised the destruction mission was shortly after the invasion promoted to the rank of full colonel, clearly for his reward. If he had done exactly the same deed in Yugoslavia, he would be hunted down by NATO troops and tried as a war criminal at the International Tribunal on War Crimes at The Hague. Clearly something is wrong in Nigerian justice whereby people in Government can do evil things with impunity.
We must ask for accountability in the present suit against the Southern states. Let this not be regarded as another instance of doing just what the Government has ordered to be done. Let those who prosecute this case be sure that it is the right thing to do. What is at stake is far too high to be treated as a matter of little consequence. Those who engage in this law suit must take full responsibilities for their actions.
It is on the above grounds that we must appeal to you as a decent Nigerian with a good record not to soil your name by prosecuting this case. You have many admirers who will be watching you. Indeed, we assume that Chief Obafemi Awolowo, your mentor, would counsel you against being an advocate for an evil cause that seeks to hurt the littoral states politically. We believe the suit brought by the Federal Government against the Niger Delta States and their littoral neighbors is immoral. Nonetheless, we do allow that you, as a good and decent Nigerian, will carefully weigh this matter and see whether it is an issue that your conscience will bear.
SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
The Niger Delta contributed handsomely to the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Sadly, his Government has persecuted the Niger Delta in its policies. It appears to observers of the President’s relationship to the Niger Delta that he sees the region solely as an area where the nation should harvest its wealth. He seems to be quite spiteful of the claims of Niger Delta that his Government’s policies are hurting the peoples and the environment of the Niger Delta. Many people in the Niger Delta have come to see President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Government as the worst thing to have happened to Niger Deltans. The suit against their Governments confirms such an impression in many minds in the Niger Delta.
We all pray so that God may give the President enough courage to change his policies toward the Niger Delta. However, some human intervention may aid such Divine guidance. We understand that you are the President’s confidant. Please advise him that he is widely perceived in the Niger Delta in unfriendly terms. We would want to extend the hand of friendship to the President. But he must change his policies in order to earn the trust of Niger Deltans.
Finally, please permit us to copy this letter to the President
of the Union of the Niger Delta and to the Governors of the littoral states.
Because this is a matter of great public interest, we assume that you will
understand the need to make this letter public. We intend to release it
to the public.
Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.
Chair, Urhobo Historical Society
Igho Natufe, Ph.D.
Deputy Chair, Urhobo Historical Society
Secretary, Urhobo Historical Society
cc: Chief Senator David Dafinone
President, Union of Niger Delta
Governors of Littoral States