Petitions are an essential part of democracy because they can make those in authority feel the pulse of the people and, hopefully, review or make course corrections to potentially harmful or socially disruptive policies. But not all petitions are equal. Some, like the recent flood of petitions by sundry groups in Nigeria to the United Nations and foreign powers to intervene and compel the Nigerian government to address certain controversial issues within a timeline of their choosing, are simply ludicrous, because the petitioners should know that those foreign authorities lack the power they have ascribed to them.
Let’s review some of the more farcical petitions. As reported in This Day newspaper of 21st June, 2021, NADECO – the pro-democracy group – apparently worried about the state of affairs in Nigeria, penned an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on 15th June, 2021 in which it levied allegations of “Fulaninazation” and disregard of the constitution, charges the group claims have led to a deterioration of national security and political instability in Nigeria. What is curious about the NADECO petition is that on the same day it penned the President, it transpired the group had also petitioned the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, requesting intervention by the UN to “halt the fast deterioration of national security and political instability in Nigeria.” This petition is remarkable for the long list of foreign powers and actors it sought to conscript into a global coalition to supervise “good governance” in Nigeria: United Nations Security Council, US President; Speaker of the US House of Representatives; Majority Leader of the US Senate, European Union; European Parliament, and the British Prime Minister.
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It is hard to understand why a respected group like NADECO would petition the President seeking the resolution of some contentious issues and proceed, in a most cynical and contemptuous fashion, to file the same petition to a motley of foreign powers and actors? What was the point in petitioning the President, if he would not even be afforded the courtesy to review the petition before requesting foreign intervention in a matter only the President is vested with authority to redress? Perhaps, to blackmail or embarrass the President? This kind of heckling gamesmanship diminishes NADECO and takes it nowhere near the group’s stated civic goal.
But NADECO is not alone in this show of shame, because the opposition PDP is a serial offender. As recently as in February, 2021, the PDP had embarked on a protest march to the offices of the United Nations and the European Union, as well as the French Embassy in Abuja. The protesting party members, supported by leaders of the party in the National Assembly, asked the UN, EU, and the French government to intervene and remedy what they called the “murder and miscarriage of justice” in Nigeria. In the run-up to the 2019 general elections, the same PDP filed a petition to the United Nations in which it accused the Federal government of egregious human rights violations and begged the international community to help “preserve democratic institutions and ensure that votes of the people count.”
To be sure, the APC tried the same stunt in the run-up to the 2015 general elections. In other words, in the matter of outsourcing Nigeria’s problems to foreign powers, both the PDP and APC are equal opportunity offenders. They have set bad examples, which is why the new normal is for everyone or group who is vexed about some issues in Nigeria to petition the UN and other foreign powers for a redress.
This year alone, we have seen several of these kinds of petitions, including one by a group of eminent Nigerians under the aegis of the “Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination,” which complained, amongst others, about a “flawed” 1999 Nigerian Constitution and the necessity for a Sovereign National Conference to fix it. This petition was notable for its “eminently” caustic language, at one point describing the Nigerian political union as “two mortally opposed civilisations,” and the federal government as an “illicit government.” Pretty tough stuff from eminent citizens!
When political parties and eminent Nigerians, who should know better, engage in a futile game of misdirected petitions to foreign powers and actors, it is fair game for all and sundry.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had long gained notoriety for misdirected petitions to foreign powers, often promising its gullible supporters that the UN is vested with authority to conduct a referendum to legitimise the creation of their Republic of Biafra, as if Nigeria were a UN Trust territory. Not to be left out of the party, the one and only Aare Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Gani Adams, recently penned his own petition to the UN, AU, and other foreign powers, including the US government, to “intervene in the protracted killings across the South West region of Nigeria.” As reported in the Daily Trust of 16th June, 2021, the Yoruba generalissimo asserted that it was the “duty of the global community to intervene and address the issue in a holistic manner.” No sir. There is no duty on the global community to address any issue in Nigeria in a “holistic manner.” That is Nigeria’s burden because Nigeria’s problems are Nigeria’s to solve. Neither the UN, AU, EU, nor President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, nor yet President Emmanuel Macron, or any other foreign potentate, has the authority or duty to fix Nigeria and make opposition politicians and ethnic warriors happy, and here is why.
It is a basic principle of international relations that states are sovereign and independent and answer to no higher authority. Even though the UN Charter recognises the principle of self-determination, it expressly prohibits intervention by other states in the internal affairs of Member States. Nigeria is a sovereign and independent state and, like all other states, neither takes instructions nor is required to submit its problems to an international committee or tribunal of wise men and women to resolve.
Yes, the UN does have tools such as sanctions to encourage or influence countries from taking wrong-headed actions that could threaten international peace and security, but do not expect an Iraq-type UN-authorised invasion of Nigeria because the federal government has refused to change a “flawed” constitution, or fails, or is incapable of controlling spiralling crime, such as wanton killings and kidnappings across Nigeria – two major complaints of the petition writers. Folks, that’s not ever going to happen, so let’s get serious. And by the way, it is presumptuous for a generation that created much of Nigeria’s current problems to insist on having a final say on how these problems must be resolved within a timeline of their choosing.
Nation-building is always work-in-progress, and it is not a mortal failure for one generation to pass on unresolved problems to the next. When the time and politics are right, even some of today’s seemingly intractable problems, like restructuring, devolution of power, fiscal federalism, or even a brand new constitution, would be courageously addressed to the satisfaction of all Nigerians. In other words, what will bring about the change we all clamour for, any change at all, is politics; responsible, consensus-building politics and not politics of hysteria; certainly not politics of grandstanding and misdirected petition writing to foreign powers and potentates.
Dr Gbara Awanen, mni can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org