“The higher the rank, the more necessary it is that boldness should be accompanied by a reflective mind . . . for with increase in rank it becomes always a matter less of self-sacrifice and more a matter of the preservation of others, and the good of the whole.” - Karl von Clausewitz
For those of us who fought to drive the military out of governance in Nigeria, it was a rude awakening when we woke up to the news that the current Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, recently called for the ban of Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohanaeze, Afenifere, Jamatul Nasril Islam (JNI) and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). I do not want any reader of this piece to think that I have any admiration for these organizations, in fact I detest their stand on the unity of Nigeria; but I will defend to my grave, their right to express themselves and freely associate. Many will recalled that during the inglorious Babangida regime banning associations that the state view as too confrontational is a directive principle of state policy. We may have driven military rule from office, but as is sadly self evident, it will take a lot to drive them out of Nigerian psyche!
The irony of a well educated, Oxford trained, governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank calls for banning ethno-religious associations at a conference organized by a so called Northern Reawakening Forum (NRF) is lost only on him. I bet he never gave too much thought to the name on the invitation card when he received it. And I want to clearly state here that I am not saying his motive for calling for the ban is not lofty, at least if as he claimed, it is to defend the unity of the country; but I just believe a ban of those organizations is too anti-democratic and surely sound militaristic. After all, it was not too long ago that many in the southern part of the country decried his attempt to restrict donations of CBN money to indigenous northern victims of disaster and terrorism without any commensurate donations to those from the South. (He later gave a tepid donation to families of victims from the south once the press pointed out the lopsidedness).
But that is actually not the reason why everyone should excoriate him for this latest gambit. The more important reason is in defense of that little document with great ideas, called the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That a Central Bank of Nigeria could be so ignorant of the basic tenet of our constitution is baffling indeed. Section 38, subsection 1 of the 1999 Constitution specifically provides that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
At the said conference, Sanusi seems to hang his call on ban of ethno-religious organizations on the fact that these organizations are more political than religious or cultural. Section 40 of the Constitution states that
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests:
Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition”
It is clear from the provisions of this section that nothing gives associations which are political in nature or by conduct from existence as long as they do not derogate from the powers conferred on INEC. The constitution do not in any way prescribed banning of associations which appears political in nature. In fact as long as they do not seek to contest any elective positions they do not come under INEC supervisions. Many political associations that are not registered with INEC exist all over Nigeria. The Save Nigeria Group, to mention but one of such organization, literarily saved Nigeria from a self inflicted constitutional crisis recently. I am sure Sanusi is not calling for such organizations to be ban, his call for the ban of Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohanaeze, Afenifere, Jamatul Nasril Islam (JNI) and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) could only be explained by his dislike of the way they express themselves. As they say in America, his objections to them are speech based and therefore an affront on the Constitution. Governor Sanusi may not like these associations, in fact, I found many of these associations discomforting to put it mildly but there is nothing you or I could do about it. The earlier we start to understand that constitutional rights cover those we like and those we dislike the better for us and our own freedom. As one French writer once said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” What we can do is to organize our own associations that will take them on, rather than call for them to be banned
I think it was Voltaire who said that ” Not only is it extremely cruel to persecute in this brief life those who do not think the way we do, but I do not know if it might be too presumptuous to declare their eternal damnation.” It is high time Sanusi Lamido Sanusi take a crash course on Nigerian Constitution. We all know he is a scion of the royal family and the imperial majesty of his lineage may sometimes make him think less of those mortal who do not have similar blue blood in them. Sadly, I am sure Sanusi is not the only Nigerian government official or politicians who have little or no knowledge of our Constitution, and the earlier we make an understanding of our constitution a litmus test to holding elective office in Nigeria the better for us.