The Cultural Bedrock For A Non-Extradition Provision In Nigeria Constitution

Source: Dr. Chima Iheke
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As discordant and intractable as governance is in Nigeria especially at the Federal level, it was encouraging to read recently that the Senate is making progress in drafting the framework for a new constitution.

This article is being republished because the previous version was accidentally mangled during Word-processing.

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 as the Senate is proposing 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 these nation states.

That said, if this process is the best that we can do for now, the present effort is to be commended 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 inefficiency. In our short history as a nation, there have been spurts of and fits of good governance and efficiency and this might just be another one of them. The trick is to put in place now, structures that will comport with our cultural sensibilities and allow it to develop and become the norm.

It is imperative that as outside the norm as this process is in redrafting this document, that we endeavor to draw up an 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. It's a bed-rock on which it draws its legitimacy.

Constitutions are written based on the cultural ethos of a country and reflect who an what the people are. Since there is no dominant culture whose structures and strictures animate the Nigeria State as is obtainable in other well-functioning states, it will serve us well if we can find some cultural strand prevalent in the nation states of Nigeria and draft provisions and articles in the constitution resting squarely on those cultural strands that we all share.

This will be a fulcrum to rally around and an identification with the nation by all those who consider themselves citizens of the nation. It will engender a sense of proprioception, a sense and an 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 institutions, and to kill those institutions is to kill the soul ---- No people can profit by or be helped under the institutions which are not the outcome of their own character”. Let us heed this 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.

It was this cultural trait so pervasive in African societies that both the Arabs and the West took advantage of 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 guests.)

This trait is so innate in 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 as a people to be proud of and speaks pointedly to our humanity. Though we have paid dearly for retaining it, I would not change a thing because that trait is what it means to be human.

I realized early on that this trend does not run the gamut of the human race, but is a rather unique African trait. It transcends mere hospitality that you find in other cultures and really frames the African condition.

I am reminded of an incident that occurred in 1976 when I was barely a year in the United States. During the summer, we all lived in a building outside the college campus that we referred to as OAU because it housed African students from different countries and some few Americans. We were poor students and rented rooms in the building for the summer months and shared a common kitchen and bathroom.

There was an American that lived in the building with his young wife and we all got along very well. One day they got into a fight and the guy was pummeling his wife and in true African fashion, I intervened to break up the fight but to my surprise and chagrin, the wife turned to me and with a straight face, told me to mind my own business. I blenched in shame, clothed in palpable contretemps that cast a pall over my whole being and with my tail between my legs walked back to my room dejected. It was a teachable moment and I realized then how wide the gulf was between our two cultures. Back home you were supposed to intervene when a husband is beating up his wife especially in a yard where people live in close proximity or at the least plead on the woman's behalf. To do otherwise or stay out of it would have been unconscionable.

This extends to our sons and daughters. When a child has done something meriting punishment and he or she runs into someone's home seeking refuge, you do not go after the child. The man will not hand over the child to you even though he is your child but will rather interceded and plead on his or her behalf 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. Our society is not built on winner takes all to the detriment of others. We have always been our brothers' keepers. 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 of 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 than to hand over your son or daughter to his or her enemy when 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 that is greeted with great condemnation from bth man and God.

It is a desecrating, land polluting act with repercussions transcending the physical world because as a people, we are tied to the land and our humanity and being emanates from the source. That attachment to the land 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 now that we are contemplating amendments, the provision that Nigeria will not extradite her citizens to any foreign land because it offends our cultural sensibility and is one abomination that has existential ramifications for us as a people.

We cannot afford to pollute and desecrate our ancestral land because that is what it amounts 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. The desecration of the land through abominable acts is verboten. Other nations just have to understand that and respect who are as a people and deal with us accordingly.

Cultures have norms that reflect centuries of shared beliefs and ideals. We should not expect to scoff at such things with impunity without any adverse consequences.

There is a fundamental 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 believe in the after-life, we also 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 sanguinaria since we are an extension of who they were.

The fact is that we have an attachment to our ancestral land that transcends mere reverence. That is where the bones of our ancestors lie and form an unbroken continuum to our very existence as a people 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.

In fact there is an objectivity and normative authority inherent 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 to live by.

The Western mind and other patriarchal pastoral societies may not be able to relate and understand the cultural attachment we have for the land. That is why the west finds it difficult to 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 judgment against Mugabe, think about how you will feel if some alien race comes into your hometown and relocate your 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 judgment. And in anticipation of your next critique, this supposed monster was once knighted in 1994 by the Queen for his services to Anglo-Zimbabwe relations. It is also 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 his people and then the economy suddenly went belly up. 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 that 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. Let us lay the blame where the blame lies. It is a miracle and a credit to his tenacity that his country has not totally collapsed.

Pardon me for the digression. Getting back on track, this cultural norm not to pollute, desecrate and offend the land and reverence for the ancestors runs the gamut of all true African societies all across the continent.

This is not a 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 incorporated who we truly are and remain faithful to our being.

Our leaders may rightly or wrongly wear 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 affectation of being legislators.

To hand your son over to a stranger is frowned upon in our cultures and it is time to revert back to what makes us who we are and to restore the balance of a society out of kilter from its moorings.

If you will not turn your son over to stranger seeking his hide, why should your country in its paternalistic role uproot you from your ancestral home and hand you over to a foreign country. There will be nothing more un-African than such an act. The normal thing to do in your role 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 as a father would do for his son.

Think about it, what could be more ennobling for a citizens than knowing that his children, grandchildren, loved ones and generations yet unborn will escape the deracinated despair of extradition to a foreign land.

This provision in our constitution 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 fulfill knowledge and an understanding by every citizen that Nigeria will fight for him or her and the comforting assurance and knowledge that he or she will not have to walk on egg shells while in Nigeria, in his home, in his ancestral home. That is powerful. 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 polity by a people whose designs for our wellbeing is suspect.

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 foreign body is a very powerful affirmation of citizenship. Every Nigerian needs to know deep down that Nigeria is his “OBI”. You see. a self-affirming sense of belonging will invariable develop since innately a man will rather die honorably in his “obi” than allow himself to be forcefully taken out of his home. That sense of ownership and belonging will be projected onto the country and will be good for us as a society.

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 relate to citizens of other countries by the values they attach to themselves and the actions of their nations towards them. Countries take note of how nations treat their citizens and act accordingly. If you value your citizens, other countries will value them too and vice versa. This provision in our constitution 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 and difficult situation that he had to contend with in the Charles Taylor affair.

How the Obasanjo administration handled the Charles Taylor affairs was unconscionable and, in my opinion, the height of treachery. This has nothing to do with Charles Taylor or the devil himself. He may have been a monster, but we gave our word before he agreed 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. It is 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 law 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. That act remains a stain that cannot be glossed over with a patina of specious syllogism that skirts around the issue. If we are honest enough, we can at least admit that it is a contravention of the norms we hold dear as Africans. How we go about making amends and recover the trust of those who we may have to act as guarantors in the future is hard to fathom. We all witnessed the recalcitrance and dissimulation displayed by Britain when Spain demanded 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.

Regardless of the reason for Obasanjo doing what he did, (we are all responsible for his actions done in our name) there is no justification for it and it stinks to high heavens. If it was because of 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 his detractors have no choice but to accept whomever we elect. He was our choice and owes no allegiance 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 indication or guide, he of all people 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 and second time as the Head of State of Nigeria, it fell on his lap. If that is not destiny at work, I do not know what is.

Any way you slice it, there is something objectively morally repugnant about betrayal. It leaves a malodorous, mephitic 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 borrow a leaf from many other countries that justified enshrining non-extradition of their citizens as the law of the land or in their constitution either due to 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 experienced so much anti-ambition 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 folks 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 Nigerian 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 man cannot expect to obtain justice in any court in any continent in the world. Sometimes it just seems as if the world is divided between blacks 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 in his own continent. Believe me I know. I have travelled extensively. In some countries, it is so subtle and in others very overt and in 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 my people say, “Nkwucha abughi Ujo” (Being cautious or being on guard is not being afraid).

If you think that the black man, let alone 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 the injustice in the American Judicial system against black people. Better yet pick up Michelle Alexander's book “The New Jim Crow Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness”. You will not have to look any further. The same thing is happening in every part of the world against black people. No one is playing the victimhood card here and neither am I just picking on the United States but if the shoe fits, wear it. There is no need mincing words. One should call things the way they are. It is what it is. The world is a hostile place especially against black folks, period. Those of us who have lived outside the country and have experienced the reality, owe it to our people to tell them the truth.

The folks we share this world with 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 intend 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 bananas 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, which is very unlikely, no black man has a chance of a fair trial anywhere on earth outside his own home and it will be manifest injustice to allow him or her to stand trial among people who are already prejudiced against him simply because of his skin tone even before the charges are read.

If 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 adjudged guilty until proven innocent. And the deck is stacked against him or her. It is no accident that blacks constitute the majority in American prisons. It is not because they commit more crimes than whites but rather there is an in-built racism in the system. An odious institutionalized racism accounts for the disproportionate number of African Americans in prisons 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 served. We have very learned attorney 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 defendant.

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 rail-roaded by any one in a foreign land. This is not just an option that we are willing to contend with at this time in our history.

If on the 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 after a few years back for bigamy and child bride.

Other countries can and should draw satisfaction and countenance from the fact that punishment for comparable crimes in Nigeria are more stringent and harsh than in most other countries. For instance, armed robbery in Nigeria carries a death sentence. In the United States, It carries between 3 and 14 years depending on the state where the crime was committed.

Culturally, it is an abomination to turn over our sons and daughter to a stranger especially one who would do him or her harm in a hostile world that sees him or her as less than human.

Consequently 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 havens and will be unforgivable by the spirit of our ancestors. We have an opportunity to enshrine it in our constitution now that we are proposing amendments to the constitution and give Nigerians a unifying emblem they can identify with.

When you sum it all up, the sole interest of the legislators if they will be rise to ranks of Solons is the protection and welfare of our people. The act will appeal to all the ages since its aim is to preserve and protect the lives of Nigerian citizens. What could be more noble! It is a good thing, a proper thing, a right thing 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 if we are honest with ourselves, are we pulling our weight through the sands of time in order to leave a trail worth emulating by future generation or are we just passing through without any positive impact on society.

Let us leave a nugget embedded in our constitution that will leave a permanent trail for future generations to follow and not give credence to this saying.

“The hour is great”, Carlyle 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.

Chima Iheke, Ph.D, Arkansas, U.S.A
[email protected]

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