THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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By Mohammed Adamu
Many lawyers said that Abuja’s High court judge, Justice Oyewo exceeded his bounds by declaring Bashir Barau the validly nominated emir of Suleja and by ordering his immediate appointment. Reason being that the Kingmakers, in their prayers did not ask for such declaration or order. Many said technically therefore they were not entitled to such gratuitous exercise of judicial discretion by the judge. The court -not being Father Christmas- grants only that which has been prayed for. The Kingmakers did not ask for a declaration that Barau was the validly nominated emir and that he should immediately be installed. They had only prayed the court to declare: 1, that the reconstitution of the Kingmakers’ Council which elected Awwal Ibrahim was illegal, 2, that the three additional kingmakers imposed on the Council were incompetent to perform the function of king-making; 3, that the Order which created the Electoral College was illegal, null and void and 4, that the nomination and subsequent approval of Awwal as Emir were equally illegal, null and void.
And although Awwal’s appeal at the Court of Appeal in Kaduna against that lower court’s judgment was dismissed by a majority of two to one, the same Court had earlier granted him an injunction restraining the Niger State Government from acting on that lower court’s orders pending the determination of the substantive appeal. But then you wonder ‘would Governor Musa Inuwa –who had gone through thick and thin to make Awwal king- have needed an order to restrain him from removing same and installing Barau? Or maybe the appropriate question should be: ‘what if suddenly there was another governor and not Musa Inuwa?’ Would he have felt equally obligated to be restrained by one order of court not to remove Awwal and not by another order of court to install Barau? Because during the pendency of that Court of Appeal’s restraining order, a Military Administrator, Colonel Cletus Emein was soon posted to Niger State who now felt more obligated to obey the lower court’s ruling ordering the removal of Awwal and the installation of Barau than he thought he should obey the superior court’s orders that he maintained the status quo.
And so in September of 1995, Colonel Emein, in the typical military’s fire-brigade way of doing things, ignored the Court of Appeal’s restraining order, first by enacting an instrument, Edict No. 1 of 1995 revoking Awwal’s appointment, in line, he claimed, with the ‘Public Officers’ (Special Provision) Decree No. 17 of 1984, cap 381 which gave military governors power to so act because it had ousted the jurisdiction of the courts to enquire why. The order also revoked all other instruments for the appointment of Awwal as emir, so that by all conceivable implications he now stood technically deposed. And less than a month thereafter –precisely on the 23rd of October- Colonel Emein issued, in quick succession, a banishment order on the emir restricting him from the Emirate’s area of jurisdiction and its environs for a period of six months, and then an order which dissolved Governor Inuwa’s ‘Electoral College’ while reconstituting the original traditional Kingmakers’ Council which was now reconvened immediately to nominate Barau again. And on the 26th of October 1995 Colonel Emein enacted another instrument appointing Bashir Barau as the emir of Suleja with effect from the 20th of October -relying also, as he claimed, on the State’s ‘Chiefs (Appointment and Deposition) Law of 1993’.
So now Awwal Ibrahim had not only been deposed and banished, he had lost also the support and protection of the Niger State Government. Under Dr. Inuwa the State had not only fought to make him king, but it was also a co-respondent with him before the courts. But now no thanks to Colonel Emein, the State, ironically, had suddenly become Awwal’s adversary-in-Chief as he pulled a lone-ranging battle to the Supreme Court to reclaim his throne. And now also, the outcome of Awwal’s appeal at the apex Court which I am about to present, should be instructive both to the blue-blooded whenever they gladiate to hold on, or to ascend, to the thrones of their forefathers and even to giddy, mighty potentates whenever they dabble into the intrigues of royal succession or the politics of creation of emirates and chiefdoms. And it why one should say it is too early in the day for Sanusi to grieve –in Kano where it seems he has lost primeval royal territories or for the Ganduje to rejoice –that his obviously-political gerrymandering of Kano’s royal borders has come to stay. Whenever a matter is before the courts, you never can say never. Or as the Hausas would say ‘ba’a sanin maci tuwo sai miya ta qare’. Meaning ‘it is not over until it is over’. The law is not concerned with who is right or who is wrong according to the morality or otherwise of a legal proposition. The courts are concerned with who is right according to law. And it is immaterial that the law is essentially an unjust law. What matters is that it is the law, validly enacted as such. The courts are concerned about legal and not necessarily moral justice.
Represented by Sofola SAN and Sodangi Danso, Awwal’s prayers at the Supreme Court were for 1, a declaration that the nomination of Bashir Barau by Colonel Emein’s reconstituted Kingmakers’ Council was wrongfully made since the council was not properly constituted in accordance with the native law and custom of the emirate(Besides, all the processes by which he was crowned were done in contempt of a subsisting order of the Court of Appeal); 2, a declaration that the law which brought him (Awwal) to the throne, namely the ‘Chiefs (Appointment and Deposition) Amendment Law’ NSLN No. 3 of 1993 was properly enacted having been passed by the House of Assembly of Niger State and assented to by the Governor (notwithstanding the State had to muscle its way through the legislative process to perfect); 3, that the lower Courts (namely the Abuja High Court and the Kaduna Court of Appeal) which upheld the appointment of Bashir were wrong in declaring as illegal the instruments upon which his (Awwal’s) appointment was made.
Although all three prayers were granted by a seven-man panel of the Supreme Court headed by the then Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Uwais, the apex Court acted with the utmost sense of discretion not to grant a consequent order about which no prayer was made by Awwal’s council, namely a declaration that Awwal Ibrahim remained the duly installed emir of Suleja and that he should be restored to the throne immediately. And now since there was no court order by which the sitting pro-Barau Military Administrator would be compelled to restore Awwal to the throne, and since the Supreme Court was the court of last instance, the entire judgment was now left prostrate without consequence and at the discretion of lawyers, the State and laymen to interpret: many lawyers said no matter what the State Government would do it had to first restore Awwal to the throne; the State said that its understanding of the judgment was that both Awwal and Barau stood deposed (the former by virtue of the Public Officers (Special Provisions) Decree which Colonel Emein invoked in revoking his appointment, and the latter, by the Supreme Court’s nullification of the instruments that brought him to the throne) and that therefore the State could commence a fresh process of nomination either involving or excluding the two royal gladiators.
It took the advent of a third Governor, the late Abdulkadir Kure, in the year 2000, to resolve this legal issue administratively by recalling -or should we say inviting– Awwal Ibrahim to resume the throne of Suleja Zazzau, ending the eight-year royal tussle once and for all. By then, Governor Inuwa who started it all in 1993 (when Kure himself was just an engineering Director in FCDA), was himself now a mere bystander like the rest of us. Now he could not have commanded the issuance of that simple administrative recall.