After the unfortunate and sad event that took place in the ancient city of Kano on the 9th of March 2020, there were divergent reactions among Nigerians from all walks of life. However, the incident that particularly fascinated me the most about the whole brouhaha was the fact that the former emir Muhammad Sanusi II was sent into exile and had to stay under house arrest which, consequently, will restrict his movement from one place to another.
Nigerians have taken to social media (particularly the microblogging platform twitter) to comment on how dethronement works). One (such) comment that necessitated the writing of this article was a comment from a twitter handle named @dawisu who said, “Clearly, some people are ignorant of how dethronement works. When an Emir is dethroned, he is sent to exile in a remote location & will basically be under house arrest & won’t have access to visitors. A person under these circumstances will after his freedom & not the next election”.
I was particularly perturbed and concerned about his own ignorance of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution albeit ignorance of the law is not an excuse. That moment I was forced to ask myself two fundamental questions which are: firstly, what happened to the former emir’s constitutional rights as enshrined under Chapter IV of the Constitution? And secondly, can a cultural norm supersede a clear and unambiguous constitutional provision?
Now, it is in recorded history that Muhammadu Sanusi II was not the first Emir to be dethroned in the north, the likes of Muhammadu Sanusi I, his grandfather, was the 11th Emir of Kano from 1953 until 1963, when he was deposed by Sir Ahmadu Bello, Umaru Tukur the 11th emir of Muri was removed by Yohana Madaki, the then governor of Gongola state On August 12, 1986, 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 in exile and in recent times Mustapha Jokolo, the 19th emir of Gwandu, was in June, 2005 dethroned by the Kebbi State Government. These Emirs were all sent into exile.
In answering the first question above, the famous case AG & COMMISSIONER OF JUSTICE, KEBBI STATE V. JOKOLO & ORS (2013) LPELR-22349(CA) readily comes to mind. In that case, Mustapha Jokolo went to court to challenging the legality of his exile and consequent restriction of his movement by the Government of Kebbi State based on his Constitutional rights under chapter IV of the Constitution of Nigeria and the question that arose was whether the Governor of Kebbi State can dethrone and banish the Emir to Nasarawa State. The court in its wisdom held thus:
“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.”
It is clear from the above judicial authority that the archaic practice of banishment has no place in the present Nigerian legal system. Therefore no governor or authority whatsoever has the legal right to act outside the clear provision of the Constitution to restrict the fundamental rights of any Nigerian be it a dethroned Emir or a peasant. The constitution as the ground norm in Nigeria clearly guaranteed to every Nigerian a right to freedom of movement.
In response to my second question, it is trite that the Constitution is supreme and above any other law in Nigeria be it traditional, cultural and customary laws. Any other law that tends to be inconsistent with the constitution, the constitution shall prevail and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void. These are the words of the constitution.
Conclusively, the constitution has taken care of barbaric customary practices like the one exile and restriction on movement imposed on dethroned Emirs. The Emir should ordinarily be allowed his rights to movement and not send him to exile. To me sending a dethroned Emir to exile, keeping him on house arrest and restricting his freedom of movement is like adding insult to injury already meted on the Emir which we say in Hausa Language ‘Ga mari ga tsinka jaka’.
It is, however, the duty of Courts in this country to safeguard the fundamental rights of each individual. Human rights are usually described as inalienable and constitute birth right. The importance of these rights in this country is obvious by the entrenchment of such rights in our Constitution.
Ibrahim Muazzam Musa, a counsel at Dikko and Mahmoud (Solicitors & Advocates) wrote from Abuja 07037945280, [email protected]