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Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Atiku: Politics Of Nigerianness By Ray Ekpu

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The ruling party, APC, and President Muhammadu Buhari’s lawyers have filed court papers in response to Atiku Abubakar’s claim that, it is he, not Buhari who won the last Presidential election in Nigeria. He asked the Election Tribunal to either declare him elected or cancel the election entirely and direct INEC to do it again.
In the papers filed before the Tribunal APC and Buhari claim that Mr. Atiku Abubakar is not a Nigerian by birth and therefore was not qualified to contest the election. It also, flowing from this, means that he has no locus standi to query the outcome of the election. It would be interesting to learn something from the lawyers on both sides of the battle line. But whatever is the eventual outcome, we have witnessed before a similar case in our political history, the case of someone, a politician, accused of non-Nigerianness. On January 24, 1980 the ruling party, National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had deported a GNPP leader in Borno State (now Borno/Yobe), Mr Abdulrahman Shugaba Darman, saying that he was a Chadian, not a Nigerian.

Shugaba, as he was better known, was a gifted grassroots politician with great oratorical skills and he used these assets effectively to the discomfiture of the ruling party, NPN. He was in fact, a thorn in the side of the NPN, so they thought the best way to deal with him was to take him out of the Nigerian political system with the charge of non Nigerianness. While he was in Chad nursing his political wound, his party, GNPP challenged his deportation in court. In its defence, the NPN brought an old woman they said was Shagaba’s biological mother from Chad. The woman wept uncontrollably in court, saying she wanted her lost son brought back to his fatherland, Chad. It was pure theatre. The coaching of the woman was perfect. She dramatised her alleged loss and pain expertly as if she was trained at Hollywood. No real mother could have done better. But Shugaba punctured the balloon of lies by telling the Court that the woman was not her biological or step mother and that his mother, a well-known community leader, lived in Maiduguri. The Court believed him and revoked the deportation order and awarded damages of N350,000 against the Federal Government. The government went on appeal but lost the case both at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Shugaba returned to Nigeria triumphantly.
Atiku’s case is slightly the same as Shugaba’s and also slightly different. Both of them are politicians. Both of them are in the opposition. Both of them are articulate in their campaign against the two ruling parties. However, Shugaba was deported but Atiku is not.
The worst that can happen to him is a loss of the ongoing election petition.
Atiku was born in Jada, Adamawa State, worked in the Nigeria Customs Service for 20 years before retiring into private business and politics. He was a Presidential aspirant of the Social Democratic Party. He won the Governorship election in Adamawa State before Chief Olusegun Obasanjo picked him as his Vice Presidential candidate in the 1999 election. He won the election to that office twice and his opponents raised no objection to his candidacy. However, the APC politicians and lawyers seem to have stumbled on a section in the 1999 Constitution that looks like their trump card.
Section 131 of the Constitution says, “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth”. Is Atiku a Nigerian by birth? That is the question. The APC says that where Atiku hails from is not a part of Nigeria. For the office of Governor of a State and President of the country, the person must be a Nigerian by birth. It is true that some parts of present day Nigeria such as Taraba, Borno and Cross River States were in an area that was then known as British Cameroons. A referendum was held on February 11, 1961 to determine whether the territory should join neighbouring Cameroon or Nigeria.
The Moslem majority of Northern Cameroons decided by a 60% majority in favour of joining Nigeria while the Christian majority of Southern Cameroons decided by 70.5% to integrate with Cameroons. Northern Cameroons became officially part of Nigeria on June 1, 1961 while Southern Cameroons became part of Cameroons on October 1, 1961. So Jada where Atiku was born on November 25, 1946, was part of the old Northern Cameroons until the plebiscite of 1961.
Some people have suggested that anyone who joined Nigeria by virtue of the plebiscite of 1961 was considered citizens of Nigeria by birth. That is a position that lawyers have to thrash out. The other question that yearns for an answer is whether or not the report of the plebiscite was registered with the United Nations because under the UN Charter, any plebiscite conducted must be duly registered for validity. If it was registered at the UN, then it is valid. If it was not registered, then legally and technically it is invalid. That, too, is a point that the lawyers have to deal with in the course of the case.
But there are more issues that the Atiku matter can throw up. It means that if he does not have the same privileges as other citizens that were born in Nigeria, then the plebiscite has very limited value and those people are not full, bona fide, citizens of Nigeria. In that case, why should their votes be recorded as valid votes if they can only vote and not be competent to vie for the highest office in the land. What that says is that one of them who chooses to vie for the Presidency of the country is ab initio disqualified even though the plebiscite ought to convey on him the same privileges as other Nigerians. At present, there is a secession crisis in the Amazonia territory in the English speaking Southern Cameroons for perceived injustices and the search for self-determination. The crisis has been brewing for some years now. I hope the claim that Atiku is not fit to contest the election by reason of his perceived non-Nigerianness does not create a situation where people from the three States of Taraba, Borno and Cross River feel that they are being discriminated against and they should make their own move for self-determination.
Already, we have been trying to cope with the agitation within the South East region for succession. It has not gathered as much momentum as the agitators expected but it is still a distraction for the government that fought a bitter 30-month war to kill Biafra and its ghost. That ghost has risen again based on the perception of the campaigners that they are not wanted in Nigeria.
I am sure that some lawyers may also argue that the issue of Atiku’s non-Nigerianness is a pre-election issue which should have been raised before polling. In the same way, other persons may also contend that Buhari’s certificate issue which Atiku has raised is also a pre-election issue which Atiku failed to raise before the election. So are we in a situation of tit for tat, a kind of, if you Daboh me, I Tarka you?
Politicians all over the world try to exploit any and every loophole they can find in the election arsenal of their opponents.
When Mr. Donald Trump contested for the American presidency a few years ago, he made the alleged non-Americanness of Mr. Barack Obama his battle cry. He alleged that Obama was not born in America and Obama had to produce his birth certificate which confirmed that he is an American by birth. He also accused Obama of being a Moslem, thinking that the allegation would resonate negatively with the American people because of the alleged crimes of Osama bin Laden. Ironically, it was under Obama that Osama bin Laden was hunted down and destroyed.
It will be interesting to see how the Atiku matter will end but it is good to note that it goes beyond mere constitutionalism because the people of these territories have rights that should not be trampled upon.
If they are throttled, there are also consequences we must worry about. There are too many battle fronts in Nigeria. We certainly do not need more.
Ray Ekpu, a veteran journalist, prose craftsman, prolific writer, renowned columnist, analyst and informed commentator. He is a co-founder of Newswatch Publications.

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