THE CULTURAL BEDROCK FOR A NON-EXTRADITION PROVISION IN THE NEW NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION
As discordant as governance is in Nigeria especially at the Federal Level, it was encouraging to read that the senate is making progress in drafting the frame work of a new constitution.
The ideal though would have been first, to call a Sovereign National Conference because of the peculiar nature of the Nigerian Polity, comprising different nation states, who have never had the opportunity to determine and delineate the parameters of co-existence under one Polity. It would have afforded an opportunity for the Nation States of the Polity to enter into a new social contract with their government, freely given, leading to an amelioration of the sound of grinding axes heard in present day Nigeria.
Drafting a constitution from the top down without any meaningful input from the Nation States of the Polity will be fraught with acrimony, dissension and instability since it does not reflect the ethos and Dogmas of deeply held beliefs of this Nation States.
That said, if this is the best that we can do for now, the present effort is to be commanded if it will move the Nation to a more harmonious co-existence than what is presently attainable.
Far from it, I do not believe that we are a Country frustrated by picturesque ignorance and limitless in efficiency. In our short history as a Nation, there has been spurts and fits of good governance and efficiency and this might just be another one of them. The trick is to put in place, structure that will comport and allow that to become the norm.
It is imperative that as outside the norm as this process is in drafting this document, that we endeavor to draw up and inclusive constitution that every nation state of the country can claim ownership. That is, as a sine qua non, the constitution reflects our cultural sensibilities as the fulcrum on which it stands. A Bedrock on which it draws it legitimacy.
Constitution are written based on the cultural ethos of a country and reflect who and what the people are since there is no dominant culture whose structure and strictures animate the Nigerian State, it will serve as well if we can find some cultural strand prevalent in the Nation's State of Nigeria in a draft provision an article in the constitution resting squarely on those cultural strand that we all share.
This will act as rallying fulcrum for an identification with the nation by all those who consider themselves citizen of the Nation. It will in gender a sense of pro-perception, a sense and understanding of where one is and where one is oriented.
The great Pan-Africanist Edward Blyden (1832-1912) declared in 1903 that “every race has a soul, and the soul of the race finds expression in its institution, and to kill those institutions is to kill the soul ------ No people can profit by or be helped under institutions which are not the outcome of their own character”. Let us heed his exhortation and find a strand that runs through our character as a nation.
There is one cultural strand that runs through most African societies and is prevalent in most of the nation states of the Nigerian polity. This is a custom borne out of our cultures, of being a protector of a guest or someone who has crossed your transom seeking refuge with you. African societies have a custom borne out of their cultural sensibilities of protecting their guest and also of protecting and pleading the cause of a member of their community on a wrong footing with a stranger, an antagonist or an enemy.
A cultural trait so pervasive in African Societies that both the Arabs and the West took advantage of this in their dealings and interactions with Africans all across the continent to dispossess them of their land and resources in the process. (It has been noted by some eminent ethnographers that this cultural trait was a major contributing factor to the subjugation and conquest of Africa by strangers welcomed in as guest.)
This trait is so innate in the African psyche that even with the treachery suffered at the hands of foreign guests, we still retain that spirit of hospitality and will not turn out a stranger if he or she is running for his or her life and seeks refuge with us. Actually it is an abomination to do otherwise and pollutes the land when it occurs. An admirable quality to be proud of that speaks to our humanity. Though we h ave paid dearly for retraining it, I wouldn't change a thing.
I realized early on that this trend does not run the gamut of the human race, but is a rather unique African trait. Because the child has sought his protection and it is incumbent upon him to take up the mantle of defense for the child. To do otherwise will be an abomination and an offense against the land and a serious violation of the norms of society.
In African cultures, we protect the weak, the infirm and the vulnerable among us, There is a presumption that one seeking refuge is vulnerable or else he or she would not be running toward refuge.
In the same vein, when someone has offended a stranger, or gotten on a wrong footing, and runs home to his people, a flight to safety, they do not hand him over to his antagonist but rather assume the responsibility of making it right by intervening to sort out the problem and dish out the appropriate punishment or make restitution to the satisfaction of both sides.
There is actually no greater abomination that to hand over your son o daughter to his or her enemy wen he or she is seeking refuge in his or her ancestral land or turn out a stranger seeking shelter under your roof. An act like this is greeted with great condemnation from both man and God.
It is desecrating, land pollution act with repercussions transcending the physical world because as a people, we are tied to the land and our humanity and being emanates from that source. That attachment obviates the sense of rootlessness and gives meaning to our being.
That said, and since most Nation States of the Nigerian polity subscribe to this cultural norm, it is imperative to have, enshrined in our constitution, the provision that nigeria will not extradite her citizen to any foreign land because it offends our cultural sensibilities and is an abomination that we can never make amend for.
We cannot afford to pollute and desecrate our ancestral land to satisfy the whims and caprices of other nations. Our survival as a people depends on it. In our cosmogony and world view, to attain balance, we have to maintain the reverence that is accorded to our fore fathers and ancestors.
Cultures have norms that reflect centuries of shared beliefs and ideals. We should not expect to scoff at shared beliefs and ideals. We should not expect to scoff at such things with impunity without any adverse consequences.
There is a reason why we bury our dead besides our homes or in some cases inside our homes. We are linked to our ancestors in more ways than one. Just like all religions belief in the after-life, we all believe that our ancestors live on and are the guardians of the spirit world and influence the physical realm that we inhabit.
No one begrudges a Christian or a Moslem when he prays to the Saints, long dead, for intercession. We more so than any religion have a better claim to the spirit of our ancestors due to filial sanguinary since we are an extension of who they were.
The fact is that we have an attachment to our ancestral land that transcend mere reverence that is where the bones of our ancestors lie and form an unbroken continuum to our very existence and to desecrate it by our action is an abomination that will disrupt the harmony and balance for our own very survival and existence. In a nutshell it is an existential threat to our well being.
There is an objectivity and normative authority inherent in our cultural beliefs that mandates obligation. Obligation in our cultural beliefs that mandates obligation. Obligation in turn have a special, overbidding force, which makes it incumbent on us to abide by them and gives us access to real objective moral values.
The western mind may not be able to relate and understand the cultural attachment we have for the land. That is why they cannot understand why mugabe in Zimbabwe is so bent on reclaiming the ancestral land of his people.
At the risk of digressing, before you sit in judgement against Mugabe, think about how you will feel if some alien race comes into your home and relocate you community to a strange unfamiliar place, occupy your ancestral home and plough over the bones of your ancestors so that they can plant tobacco and maize to feed their sons. Think about it before you sit in judgement. And in anticipation of your next critique, it is instructive to note that his economy was very robust from 1980 when he took office up until he decided to repossess the ancestral land of this people and then the economy suddenly went belly u p. you have to realize that once the west turns against you and imposes economic sanctions with the tightening of credit, your economy will suffer if not collapse because of the way the world economic system is integrated, we know what happened in the United States in 2008 when there was a dearth of liquidity in the economy. Imagine when it is a purposeful policy against a country. It is a miracle and a credit to his tenacity that his country has not totally collapsed.
Getting back on track, this trait not to pollute and offend the land and reverence for the ancestors runs the gamut of all true African societies all across the continent.
I am not yearning for an irretrievably lost cause because at this time, we are actually the captain of our own destiny and can write and direct the historical trajectory to suit and incorporate who we truly are and remain faithful to our being.
Our leaders may rightly or wrongly ear any label you may pin on them, but I refuse to believe they are a shallow bunch, which I consider the supreme vice. I am persuaded that they are actuated by a depth of character that will manifest in this endeavor and are not just displaying an absurd affectionate of being legislators.
To hand your son over to a stranger is frowned upon in our cultures and it is rive to revert back to that make us who we are and to restore the balance.
If you will not turn your son over to a stranger seeking his head, why should your country from your ancestral land, the normal thing to do as a father is to intercede for your son and punish him or make restitution on his behalf. The same should apply when it comes to dealing with foreign countries.
Nigeria should intercede and plead the cause of her citizens. Think about it, what could be more ennobling for a citizen than knowing that his children, grand children, loved ones and generations yet unborn will escape the deracinated despair of extradition to a foreign land.
It will form one of the armatures on which to erect the fulcrum of our societal structures and will become a unifying cultural trait enshrined in the document that bind us as Nigerians and what it means to be a Nigeria. Every Nigerian will have something to fight for because it is part of a deeply held ethos reflective of our cultural beliefs. A full knowledge and an understanding that Nigeria on the other hand will fight for his or her and that he or she will never have to walk on eff shells while in Nigeria. It will be a powerful rallying cry and a symbol of what it means to be a Nigerian.
This will act as a unifying rallying point for a country looking for some commonality as a basis for their claim to ownership in a nation super-imposed on the different nationalities of the policy.
It might seem trivial but it will act as an identifying marker in the psyche of anyone who considers him or herself a Nigerian. Just the sense of belonging and the realization that his country will not turn him out to a foreign body is a very powerful affirmation of citizenship. Every Nigerian needs to know deep down that Nigeria is his “OI”. A man will rather die honorable in his”obi” than allow himself to be taken out of his home.
It will be a powerful statement to our people and to the outside world that we value the lives of our people and will act to protect them and plead their cause. People judge you by the way you value yourself. This might even change the way the rest of the world sees us.
Enshrining it in the constitution will absolve any leader who turns down an extradition request since he or she cannot act outside the confines of the nation's constitution.
If we had this provision in place, it would have provided a shield for Obasanjo to deflect the awkward situation that he had to contend with in the Charles Taylor affair.
How the Obasanjo administration handled the Charles Taylor's affairs was unconscionable and in my opinion the height of treachery. This is nothing to do with Charles Taylor or the devil himself. He may have been a monster but we gave him our word before he afreed to step down and leave his home. We were the guarantor of his safety and Nigeria should not have turned him over. We do not turn out someone seeking refuge under our roof. If it an abomination any way you look at it and two wrongs don't make a right. What we should have done was demand the discovery material of the case and tried him in Nigeria and meted out the appropriate punishment. We have great legal minds capable of disentangling the knotty issues involved in his prosecution. The international Court could have transferred jurisdiction to Nigeria Court or we could have passed a las conferring jurisdiction to try him or given him the option of being tried in Nigeria or leaving the country.
When a nation's honor is at stake you do not blench. It remains a stain that cannot be covered up, painted over or justified through specious arguments that skirts around the issue. We have to learn to dissimulate and prevaricate like other countries caught up in a legal quagmire. We all witnessed the recalcitrance and dissimulation displayed by Britain when Spain demand they hand over Augusto Pinochet, just as much a monster as Charles Taylor, to stand trial for the atrocities he committed while he was head of state of Chile.
For whatever reason Obasanjo did what he did, (we are all responsible for his actions doen in our name) there is no justification and it stinks to high heavens. If it was because he was seeking legitimacy for his presidency as some people suggest, he was wrong because he did not need the West or anyone else for that matter to validate his presidency. We elected him and they have no choice but to accept whoever we elect. He was our choice and owes no allegince to any foreign body. If it was because of his ambition to eventually become the United Nations Secretary General or be accounted as one of the world's esteemed elder statesmen by towing the line, it was a misplaced ambition. If his history is any guide, he should have realized that the race is not for the swift, he is living proof that honor comes to those who seek it least both in his first an second time as the Head of State of Nigeria. Both times it fell on his lap. If that is not destiny at work, I do not know what is.
There is something objectively morally repugnant about betrayal. It leaves a malodorous, nephritic stench that lingers long after the deed is done. For that one singular act, when the history of Nigeria is written, Obasanjo will not come out on the side of the Angels.
We should also borrow a leaf from many other countries that justified enshrining non-extradition of their citizens from their homeland in their constitution either because of their cultural sensibilities or because they feel hounded by the outside world.
A few countries Brazil, Belgium, Namibia and Israel readily come to mind.
In the case of Israel, having experience so much antisemitism that culminated in the holocaust during the second world war, they resolved never to leave their citizens at the mercy of a hostile world. Who can blame them.
With the pervasive nature of racism against Black folds in the world and especially the mistreatment of Nigerians in foreign countries, there is ample justification apart from the cultural reasons not to allow any Nigeria man, woman or child to be left at the mercy of a foreign government no matter how benevolent.
If history is any guide, it has shown that the black men cannot expect to obtain justice in any court in any continent in the world. Sometimes it seems as if the world is divided between balcks on one side and the rest of mankind on the other. There is no continent where the black man is not despised, hounded and discriminated against. This extends even to his own continent. Believe me I know. I have traveled extensively. In some countries, it is so subtle and in others very overt and I your face. This is just the reality and we should respond accordingly to guard against the injustice that will surely follow if you allow a Nigerian to be extradited to a foreign land. As many people say, “Nkwucha abughi Ujo” (Being cautious or being on guard is not being afraid).
If you think that the black man, let along a Nigerian stands a chance anywhere in the world, just listen to the speech that Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States gave this past August in San Francisco at the meeting of the American Bar Association to realize that injustice in the American Judicial System against black people. Better yet pick up Michele Alexander's book “The New Jim Crow” Mass incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness. You will not have to lok any further. The same thing is happening in every part of the world against black people. I am not just picking on the United States but if the shoe fits, war it. There is no need mincing words. It is what it is. The world is a hostile place especially against black folks period.
These folks are playing hard ball while we are pussy footing and playing fuss ball with our lives and the lives of our children. I for one intends to sound the bugle without any apologies.
Racism is so prevalent in the world that all one has to do is take note of the treatment black folks in the public eye are subjected to. We have all seen the incidents of black football players in Europe being pelted with banana on the pitch and taunted with monkey cat-calls. It is so endemic in every continent that to extradite a Nigerian to another country is like throwing him or her to the wolves. Until racism is abolished, no black man has a chance of a fair trial anywhere on earth outside of his home and it will be manifest injustice to allow him or her to stand t rial among people who are already prejudiced against him because of his skin tone even before the charges are read.
It the world were fair, and a Nigerian will be treated with equality under the law, then maybe one could even make an argument for extradition but the reality is that the black man is already adjured guilty until proven innocent and the deck is stacked against him or her. It is not an accident that blacks constitute the majority in American prisons. It is not because they commit more crimes than whites but rather it has to do with institutionalized racism. That is what accounts for the disproportionate number of African American in prison than whites. The same thing is applicable in Britain and across Europe when you compare the percentage of prisoners of color to their percentage in the general populace.
If someone has done something that warrants his being extradited to another country, to stand trial, we can assure whoever is after him or her that we will ensure that justice is done. We have very learned attorneys in Nigeria. Jurists of reason who will hold up their own against any legal minds anywhere in the world and can parse through the Law and find appropriate punishment in accordance with the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We will be willing to receive the discovery material in the case and evidence against the defend ant.
I am sure that our legal system can met out adequate punishment that will comport, if not exceed acceptable international standards. What we will not do is allow him or her to be railroaded by anyone in a foreign land. This is not just an option that we are wiling to contend with at this time in our history.
If on other hand what he did is not against the law in Nigeria, then he or she is free to walk. For instance, what if someone has been charged with bigamy or polygamy in a foreign country. Are we to hand him over because he is married to more than one wife which is legal in Nigeria.
If you think that bigamy is not a serious offense and carries a lot of time, just ask Warren Jeff in Texas and Tony Alamo in Arkansas how much time they got a few years back for bigamy and child bride.
Other countries can and should draw satisfaction from the fact that the punishment for crimes in Nigeria are more stringent and harsh than other countries. For instance, armed robbery in Nigeria carries a death sentence. In the United States, it carries 3 – 14 Years depending on the state where the crime was committed.
Culturally, it is an abomination to turn over our sons and daughters to a stranger especially in a hostile world that sees him or her as less than human.
To allow any Nigerian, man woman or child to be extradited out of his father land, his ancestral home will be a great abomination that will cry to high heavens and will be unforgivable by the spirit of our ancestors. We have an opportunity to enshrine it now that we are writing a new constitution and give Nigerians a unifying emblem they can identify with.
After all when you sum it all up, the sole interest of the legislators is and should be the welfare of our people. This act will appeal to all the ages. An act to preserve and protect the lives of Nigerian citizens. What could be ore noble, it will be a good thing, a proper thing, a right thinking to do for our people.
Finally we should be cognizant of the fact that when one confronts tellingly the zaniness of lived reality, it makes luminously bright the short comings of our generation. The pertinent question then becomes are we puling our own weight through the sands of time in order to leave a trail worth emulating by future generations.
Let us leave a nugget embedded in our constitution that will leave a permanent trail for future generation to follow and not give credence to this saying:
“The Hour is Great “Caryle Wrote” and the Honorable Gentlemen, I must say , are small”.
Rather that it may be said, theirs was a life to lead and they rose to the occasion.
By Chima Iheke, Ph.D