OPINION: Sanusi's Banishment, Tradition And The Nigerian Constitution, By Michael Onjewu
The banishment and alleged home arrest of dethroned Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II by the Kano state government has continued to generate mixed reactions from Nigerians. Salihu Tanko-Yakasai, an aide of Governor Umar Ganduje, stated that the former emir was sent on exile to Nasarawa according to tradition.
Customarily, deposed Emirs are to spend the rest of their lives in exile, stay under house arrest which, consequently, will restrict their movement from one place to another.
For instance, Sanusi's grandfather, the late Mumammadu Sanusi I who ruled Kano between 1953 to 1963 was banished to Azare, present-day Bauchi after his dethronement by his distant cousin and former Northern Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello.
Ibrahim Dasuki was dethroned on April 20, 1996, as the Sultan of Sokoto eight years after he ascended the throne and taken to Yola and later to Jalingo in Taraba state where he was placed on exile.
Mustapha Jokolo, the 19th Emir of Gwandu, was in June 2005 dethroned by the Kebbi State Government. He was subsequently exiled to Gusau, Zamfara State before taken to Obi in Nasarawa State.
Customs/Tradition VS Constitutional Provisions:
What now happens to Sanusi's constitutional rights to freedom of movement, Assembly and Association as enshrined under chapter 1V of the constitution?. Are cultural norms superior to the provisions of the constitution?.
The constitutionality of banishment & incarceration of removed emirs has been settled by the Court of Appeal in 2013 in the case of deposed Emir Jokolo of Gwandu.
The Court held that the practice contravenes Sections 35 & 41 of the 1999 Constitution and thus illegal, null & void.
The Court held that a dethroned emir has the right to reside anywhere and move freely in Nigeria and around the world. It said to allow a Governor to control the life and movement of a removed emir is akin to making the emir a slave and slavery is unconstitutional.
The court held that:
“The Governor of Kebbi State has no right to act outside the clear and unambiguous provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (applicable to this case). Section 35 (1) of the said Constitution provides that every citizen of Nigeria is “entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty” except in the circumstances set out in subsections (a) to (f) thereof. Section 40 of the same Constitution provides that “every person is entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons”. On the issue at hand, Section 41(1) of the Constitution is germane and it provides thus: “41 – (1) Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom. (2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society – (a) imposing restrictions on the residence or movement of any person who has committed or is reasonable suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving Nigeria; or (b) providing for the removal of any person from Nigeria to any other country to – (i) be tried outside Nigeria for any criminal offence, or (ii) undergo imprisonment outside Nigeria in execution of the sentence of a court of law in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty: Provided that there is reciprocal agreement between Nigerian and such other country in relation to such matter. The appellant has not been able to show that the banishment of the 1st respondent from Gwandu Emirate in Kebbi State and his deportation to Obi in Nasarawa State were in accordance with the clear provisions of Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The banishment and deportation from Kebbi State by the Governor of Kebbi State, on or about the 3rd of June, 2005 of the 1st respondent to Lafia in Nasarawa State and later to Obi, also in Nasarawa State, is most unconstitutional, and illegal. By the said banishment and deportation, the 1st respondent has been, unduly and wrongfully denied his constitutional rights “to respect for the dignity of his person”; “to assemble freely and associate other persons” – including the people of Gwandu Emirate of Kebbi State; and to “move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof” as respectively provided in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.”
From the judgment above, it is clear the traditional practice of banishing deposed emirs contravenes the provisions of the Nigerian constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of movement, assembly, and association of citizens.
The constitution of Nigeria is supreme and above any other law in Nigeria. Any other law that tends to be inconsistent with the constitution, shall be rendered null and void. Section 1(3) provides thus: "If any law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution, this constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.”
In conclusion, Sanusi's lawyers are on track in their bid to challenge his banishment and house arrest.
Sanusi is one of the finest citizens we have as a nation and his wealth of knowledge is highly needed especially in a country grappling with a lack of visionary leaders.
He should be allowed to move freely, associate freely, occupy elective or appointive positions as enshrined in the laws of the land.