Sylvester Imhanobe’s undertaking to write this book is both complex and delicate, given that the book has three-dimensional thrusts – historical, political and legal.
When a lawyer undertakes such a task, the effort can only be described as exploratory. Imhanobe is no doubt a well-trained and skillful lawyer, but historiography is also an entirely different subject with its unique skills, just as dynamics of political actions are best understood by the actors themselves.
So when a lawyer picks certain political cases, such as is done in this book, and gives them historical perspectives he will most likely run into trouble. To do justice to such a book, one needs wide range of skills in law, in historiography and knowledge of the political dynamics and their dialectical waves and circumstances.
It is only then that a lawyer can veer into history and politics and produce a book of the quality and standard that reflects the true essence of the cases treated. But let me say from the outset that Imhanobe did just that in this book.
Though his style is exploratory and novel, the final outcome is inspiring and edifying. Arranging the book into 10 chapters, the author adopted two methods in making his presentations and reaching his conclusions.
The first is narrative, in which he gives account of the historical events leading to the political cases under review. The second is reproducing the judgments of those cases themselves verbatim.
These two are necessarily complementary. For one to be able to reach an accurate conclusion on any particular matter one does need the stimulus of a good, insightful analysis. And for one to make a worthy instinctual analysis, one needs the narratives of the raw data in which the events emanate. The author is successful in balancing the two, thus helpfully guiding the reader to reach his conclusions.
This is basically the crux of academics. On this I score the author high. However, all is not laid out in a feather bed; for, as l pointed out earlier, in coming up with a book of this kind, a writer in the nature of the author can easily run into trouble. And true to prediction, Imhanobe quickly ran into many serious troubles.
The first is with his definition of progressives and the personalities personifying this classification. To quote the author: ‘Progressives’ is used to refer to politicians who subscribe to left-wing or centre- left political ideology; the primary focus of the progressives is to promote social democratic ideology.
They seek to change of (sic) the status quo and to use state resources to promote equality and egalitarian society for citizens through free education, health, workers’ rights and general better social welfare.” The author then went ahead and identified three leaders – Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief MKO Abiola and President Mohammadu Buhari – who to him personify this classification.
Now, I am hard pressed to accept any of the three as progressives. I concede that during his Premiership of Western Nigeria, Chief Awolowo formulated and implemented far-reaching peoples-oriented policies and programmes such as in education and healthcare, but so also did the Premier of Northern Nigeria Sir Ahmadu Bello, who is seen as a hardcore conservative.
So where is the difference? Besides, can a politician whose ideology was ethnocentric and who formed his political party on the basis of such ideology in a multicultural and heterogeneous society like ours be acceptably labeled as a progressive? I think not.
Chief Awolowo’s first political party, the Action Group, which gave rise to the Unity Party of Nigeria in the 2nd Republic, was an offshoot of his ethno- cultural organisation, Egbe Omo Oduduwa. This influenced two political developments of grave consequences that subsequently shaped Nigeria’s national politics.
First, it prompted the creation in the North of a political organisation that was also regionally/culturally based: Jam’iyan Mutanen Arewa which, like the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, later metamorphosed into a political party called Northern Peoples’ Congress. Secondly, it directly influenced the infamous 1951 cross-carpeting of 20 Yoruba NCNC members in the Western House of Assembly to the newly formed Action Group, forcing the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe to abandon his political base in Lagos and move to Enugu.
These two episodes laid the foundation of ethnic and regional politics in Nigeria henceforth. On the basis of this argument, therefore, Chief Awolowo, great as he was, cannot be considered as a progressive. In like manner, I cannot in all honesty also accept Chief Abiola as progressive any more than Shehu Shagari. Abiola was a member and the major financier of the National Party of Nigeria, and had wanted to be its presidential flag bearer.
Having later contested and won the annulled June 12th, 1993 presidential election Abiola’ss struggle to reverse the annulment cannot translate him into a progressive.
On the reproduced judgments of the political cases themselves, I have two issues with the author. In all there are seven cases in which 11 judgments were entered – seven lead majority judgments and four dissenting minority ones.
These are: 1. the Chief Awolowo Treasonable Felony Case, 1962; 2. Chief Obafemi Awolowo vs Alh. Shehu Shagari & 2 Ors, 1979; 3. Mohammadu Buhari & 2 Ors vs Olusegun Obasanjo & 264 Ors, 2003; 4. Action Congress & Another vs INEC & Ors, 2007; 5. Atiku Abubakar vs Musa Yar’Adua & 4 Ors, 2007; 6. General Mohammadu Buhari vs INEC & Ors, 2007; and 7. Congress for Progressive Change vs INEC & 41 Ors, 2011. According to Mr. Imhanobe, these are the political cases of the progressives in perspective.
The first issue I have is that the author made no contrasting analysis of the lead majority judgments and the dissenting minority judgments, as if this does not matter, whereas this is what actually matters. For example, reading through the lead majority judgment of Justice Atanda Fatai-Williams and the sole dissenting judgment of Justice Kayode Eso in the Awolowo vs Shagari case of 1979, at once it will be apparent that the logic of Justice Eso’s argument is superior to that of the lead judgment of Justice Williams.
The same can also be said of the dissenting minority judgment of Justice Walter Onnoghen against that of the lead majority judgment of Justice Niki Tobi in the 2007 General Mohammadu Buhari vs INEC & Ors’ case.
The failure of the author to make contrasting analysis and offer opinion on the merits and/or demerits of these conflicting judgments is a big minus to the book.
Such analysis would have afforded the author the chance to justify his conclusion that ‘on the whole, the judiciary has not been fair to the progressives’. As it is, in my view, this conclusion though justifiable has however not been justified. The second issue is the inclusion of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s cases to the list of judgments reproduced.
In the general analysis of the political divides of the country, the Peoples’ Democratic Party was categorized within the conservative fold. Yet, in listing judgments of political cases of the progressives he included Atiku’s in pages 302 – 525.
This sounds to me as contradictory since Atiku was the Vice President of the PDPled federal government. Furthermore, the author fell into the general misconception of most Nigerians with regards to the Atiku-Obasanjo fight, especially as it concerned the 3rd term controversy.
In conclusion, the total picture painted by the author is that of progressives in constant struggle with the conservatives, the latter aided by a reactionary judiciary, to install a more just and egalitarian society for Nigeria.
The three key personalities of Awolowo, Abiola and Buhari had been critical to this struggle. Many Nigerians will have additional views to this, but no Nigerian can deny the crucial roles played by this three in the struggle to build a better Nigeria.
I therefore join the erudite Prince Tony Momoh, who volunteered the foreword, to commend the effort of Barrister Imhanobe in producing this huge volume.
Only a hardworking, devoted and patriotic scholar can undertake such a gigantic task. The book will be of immense value to our scholars, lawyers, politicians and professionals, and to all those who are interested in and committed to a New Nigeria of our dream.
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