Celebrating justice at last for Abuja indigenes, By Martins Oloja

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“A democracy cannot thrive where power remains unchecked and justice is reserved for a select few. Ignoring these cries and failing to respond to this movement is simply not an option — for peace cannot exist where justice is not served.”
— John Lewis, on the George Floyd justice in Policing Act…

I would like to write about the significance of what is happening to the original inhabitants of Abuja after 47 years of complicated relationship with the government and the people who grabbed their land and other related sovereign rights. It is a time to deconstruct how President Bola Ahmed Tinubu just guaranteed peace and security for the residents of Abuja by serving justice the indigenes of Abuja got through a Court of Appeal since 2018. Former President Muhammadu Buhari denied them as he refused to obey the judgment since January 2018.

This is marvelous in the eyes of all those who are either original inhabitants or their friends and researchers on Abuja. And so here is the thing, the ‘Artful Dodger’ Tinubu just conquered the organic Abuja that most residents and Nigerians didn’t know.

I had wanted to comment on the whereabouts of the opposition figures amidst the lack-lustre exercise inside the Nigeria’s Senate in the name of screening of ministerial nominees without portfolios. I would have loved to write on the controversies surrounding return and demonisation of coup de tat in the West Coast within the construct of poor governance and corruption of democratic tenets in the region. It is also germane to write on the allegedly avoidable death of a physician where an elevator was an agent of death in a Lagos public hospital. I also wanted to comment on a presidential tragic error, which led to appointing an Executive Secretary of Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) who left office six years ago as the investigator to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and related institutions. I wanted to deconstruct the quality of the presidential bureaucracy that didn’t know that the special investigator-designate the president appointed is now a private person, six years after he left office in controversial circumstances.

National growth LS

Behold, there is a development I considered more significant this weekend about the capital of the federation, Abuja. The significant development in Abuja is about the nomination of an original inhabitant of Abuja as a minister for the fist time in its 47 years of existence. An (organic) indigene of Abuja who was Chairman of Abuja Municipal Area Council and former member of the House of Representatives (2011-2019) Zephaniah Jissalo was last Friday screened to be a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For the record, he wasn’t screened to be Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. He was screened to be a member of the Executive Council of the Federation. That is the provision of the law established since 2018 by a Court of Appeal in Abuja. But this development hasn’t come on a platter of gold for the original natives of Abuja who have had to endure injustice and indignity since 1976. This is where the law can once again, be recognised as a weapon for social justice and peace building. And for those who don’t understand the history of the struggle I have written extensively about here, the credit of the justice just served should go the late Musa, Baba-Panya,a lawyer and an indigene who died on March 21, 2023 in Abuja. ‘O death, where really is thy sting?’ Musa should have waited till August 2023. He fought this cause all alone from High Court in Abuja where he lost in 2016 and pursued it to the Court of Appeal in 2018 when he got victory through a declarative judgment that an Abuja indigene should be included in the federal cabinet because Abuja should be treated as Nigeria’s 37th state. But incredibly as it may sound, despite even a Senate resolution in 2019, that the then President Muhammadu Buhari should obey the Court of Appeal Order that a native of Abuja should be included in his second term cabinet, he (Buhari) and his Attorney-General disobeyed the 2018 (declarative) judgment of the Court they never appealed.

Justice is one of the most important ideals in our society. It’s what we strive for in order to create a fair and equitable world. That is what we should be celebrating at this time for the original inhabitants and residents of the capital of the federation. As I was saying in the tribute I wrote on the iconic Musa Baba-Panya, on March 26, 2023, as a young lawyer and activist, Musa must have read long ago the musings of John Lewis in his classic: ‘Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America’, in which he (Lewis) notes the word on marble below on the power of resilience in liberation struggle:

“Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.”
As I was saying, after 42 years of unfruitful relationship with federal authorities that grabbed their land for the purpose of building a capital for the nation, Abuja original inhabitants on Monday January 15, 2018 got some significant justice that has changed their national profile forever. It was puzzling at the time that most news media organs were unaware of the ruling on the status of the Abuja original inhabitants that has had some jurisprudential significance. As I had recalled here, that was the story even most judicial reporters either curiously missed or did not consider newsworthy at the time. The Court of Appeal in Abuja on that quiet Monday declared in a landmark judgment that indigenous inhabitants of Abuja are indeed entitled to a ministerial representation in the Federal Executive Council as provided by the combined provisions of Sections 147 (3), 299, 14 (3) and 42 of 1999 Constitution. The Court also declared on that day that persistent denial and refusal of past and current presidents to so appoint an indigene of FCT Abuja as a minister in the federal executive council (FEC) since May 1999 ‘tantamount to a gross violation of the said constitutional right against discrimination’.

Accordingly, the Court directed the President to immediately make the said appointment. N100, 000 was awarded against the President and the Attorney General of the Federation as first and second respondents.

I wrote here then: ‘While congratulating the originals inhabitants, it is also important to implore President Muhammadu Buhari to implement the judicial decision without delay. This is in the interest of peace and stability of the permanent capital of the federation…’

The battle for that Monday’s judicial recognition and victory has been a long drawn one. The natives have been agitating for political recognition and other rights since creation of the capital on February 3, 1976. Even the 1999 constitution has long been identified as unfair to the indigenes of Abuja who actually have no other state of the federation to claim. Section 299 of the Constitution provides the ambiguity successive governments have been exploiting to cheat the people. They have political representation at the level of civil service up to the office of permanent secretary, National Population, among others, but specifically, representation at the cabinet level has been a huge challenge despite peaceful agitations. For instance, in October 2015, when the Buhari administration was concluding cabinet making, the Abuja indigenes protested for their right to nominate their own representatives too. But as usual, Buhari ignored them.

Specifically, yours sincerely had in the last three decades written more than 40 articles on the plight of the original inhabitants of Abuja, especially within the context of the ambiguous provisions in various extant laws on the Federal Territory that have always discriminated against them. What is worse, the Federation Capital has no democratic institution beyond its only six (local) Area Councils. No State Legislature as the Constitution makes the National Assembly the Assembly for the Natives. The Senate is made up of three Senators from each of the 36 States of the Federation.

But Abuja has only one Senate slot. The House of Representatives of 360 members have only two representatives from Abuja’s (two federal constituencies). Besides, the Constitution, which makes the President and the Vice President their Governor and Deputy Governors respectively, enables the same president, (their governor) to nominate a minister to represent the FCT in the federal cabinet. But the President, their governor is not mandated to name a representative from among the natives. This has been the tragedy of the ambiguity of the controversial Section 299, which has been the main issue for the natives of Abuja. The section states specifically that, “Abuja should be treated as if it were one of the states of the federation…” That was the main provision in the nation’s organic law the natives approached various courts to interpret.

The main and final victory over this darkness came so clearly on that January 15, (2018) when the Abuja Court of Appeal ruled so unanimously that Abuja should indeed be treated as one of the states of the federation. This massive victory came as a thief in the night and the news media “comprehended it not” for recognition as a prominent news item for the front pages and prime time.

What is more, the jurisprudential significance of court victory of the late Bab-Panya was widely used and cited by the three major presidential candidates who just concluded their submissions on ‘Abuja and 25% puzzle’ at the 2023 Presidential Election Tribunal.

And so as we celebrate the choice of the young Jissalo as the first indigene of Abuja, to be a member of the federal cabinet, we should remember to encourage the President, and the residents of Abuja to appreciate and honour the late Musa Baba-Panya whose legal legwork led to justice Jissalo has benefited from. Besides, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and the Abuja indigenes should always remember that the late Baba-Panya (who flew away at 54) left a widow and a daughter in Abuja. They shouldn’t be forgotten to our conventional prayers here that God will always remember them. I also hope that readers and public affairs analysts too will always remember that if ‘The Guardian’s ‘Inside Stuff’ column hadn’t contextually reported the January 15, 2018 judgment, which set off consistent reminders up and until May this year, there would have been judgment unreported and justice would have been ‘denied’ for Abuja indigenes. And so even President Tinubu would not have found any steam to take out of the glory that Buhari would have celebrated. And there would not have been a Jissalo to be screened by the Senate. So, may God help us to know the powerful benefits even social justice can give us!

Article culled from The Guardian

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