Arabic Inscription on the Nigerian Army Logo; a Reconciliation of History, Religion and the Law

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Balogun Sofiyullahi

“The military should always be kept in subjection to the laws of the country to which it belongs, and … [it] is no friend to the Republic who advocates the contrary. The established principle of every free people is, that the law shall alone govern; and to it the military must always yield”. Mr. Justice Field: Dow v. Johnson, 10 Otto (100 U.S.) 158, 169.

The above statement is credited to a learned Justice of the Supreme Court of U.S, in recognizing the legal responsibility saddled on that fearless body (military) in order to defend the territorial integrity of the United States of America. However, the Armed Forces of the Federation of Nigeria is comprised of the Army, Navy and Air Forces by virtue of the law establishing it, namely section 1 of the Armed Forces Act Cap. A20 LFN 2004 in order to defend ‘the land, sea and air’ of the country.

‘The armed services’, said Mr. Justice Jackson, ‘must protect a society, not merely its Constitution.’ See: Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214,244. In recent time, the attention of the Nigerian public had been drawn to the Arabic inscription on the Nigerian Army logo which has expected, generated endless legal controversies, religious attacks and more importantly, ethnic colourations, on it.

Based on the said inscription, separate schools of thought have emerged. One view contends that the Arabic inscription is violative of the 1999 Constitution which prohibits adoption of State religion because it was written in Arabic because of a particular ethnic domination (to them) in the formation. Another school is of the opinion that towing the historical antecedents of the logo, it does not violate any constitutional provision and as such, the argument of the first school is lame and devoid of historical exposition.

In the light of the pros and cons of the foregoing arguments, this writer modestly intends to reconcile the conflicting positions, by briefly tracing the origin of the Arabic inscription, dispelling the religious and ethnic connotations attached therewith and finally, submits that there is no conflict between right to religion and prohibition of state religion in the 1999 Constitution.

THE ORIGIN OF THE ARABIC INSCRIPTION ON THE NIGERIAN ARMY LOGO

According to Dokunola, Chika Jones , while analyzing the true meaning of Nigerian army’s (sic) symbols, had this to say about the Arabic inscription therein as follows:

“The transliteration of the Arabic script on the Nigerian Army logo is: Nasruminallah which means Victory Comes From God Alone. This particular motto was inscribed on the banner under which the Nigerian indigenous forces battled against the invading colonial forces…The motto was formerly that of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, head of the Sokoto Caliphate…[T]he inclusion of the Arabic motto was…by the British…One of the reasons was that the fall of the Sokoto in 1903- and the death of Sultan Attairu- was(and some circles, is still) inaccurately regarded by western historians as the last formal battle in the fall of what became “Nigeria”. The highly symbolic Flag of the Caliphate was captured by gallant Sokoto Horsemen and recaptured again by the British. It was kept for many years as a British trophy in one of the officers’ messes in Kaduna but returned in a formal ceremony just prior to Nigerian Independence. The myth was spun and sustained by British tradition.”

It is submitted that the argument of the first school of thought, that the Army logo is written in Arabic because of ethnic domination is amiss and wholly inaccurate.

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IS THERE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND PROHIBITION OF ADOPTION OF STATE RELIGION UNDER THE 1999 CONSTITUTION ?

I have painstakingly considered the rules of constitutional interpretation and the relevant sections of the Constitution on the above question, coupled the prevailing circumstances of the Nigerian political space which is characteristically dominated by all sorts of ideological inclinations like: ethnicity, religionism and cultural diversities.

Be that as it may, legal considerations may at times be devoid of and conterminously at variance with all these ideologically motivated positions we identified above, which today are mostly the propelling forces behind individual postulations on a given issue. Therefore, a plain examination of constitutional provisions relating to the poser is desirable anon.

However, to answer the poser, sections 10, 38(1) and 45(1) of the 1999 Constitution are the central solutions to the question.

Section 10 provides:

“The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.”

Section 38(1) provides:

“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.”

Section 45(1) provides:

“Nothing in sections 37,38,39,40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society-

  1. in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
  2. for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.” (Emphasis mine)

What is the rule of Law/ principle(s) of interpretation to be applied in constructing sections 10, 38(1) and 45(1) above?

It must be noted immediately, that when interpreting the provisions of the Constitution, liberal or purposive approach must be adopted because it is an organic document designed to meet the demands of the present, future and other unforeseen situations. See Nafiu Rabiu v. State(1980) 8-11 SC (REPRINT) 85.

However, back to the above question, the rules to be applied are hereunder explained:

  1. The Law on the point, it is submitted, is the position of the Supreme Court in the case of Elelu Habeeb v. A G Federation(2012) LPELR-SC 281 thus :

“[1]A construction nullifying a specific clause in the Constitution shall not be tolerated, unless where absolutely necessary…[2] Constitutional provisions dealing with the same subject matter are to be construed together…[3] Seemingly conflicting parts are to be harmonized, if possibly so that effect can be given to all parts of the constitution.”

See also A.G Bendel State v. AG Federation(1981) 10 SC 1 and Ishola v. Ajiboye (1997) LPELR (SC)

Based on the above three principles enunciated by the Supreme Court, it is my view that sections 10,38 & 45 must be construed together in order to determine the general legislative spirit and purpose of the Constitution.

The necessary conclusions therefore, having so harmonized them together, are that:

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(a) Section 38(1) is a general right given to an individual to exercise his/her freedom of religion;

(b). Section 45(1) constitutes an exception to the right of the above individual {but a right in itself to the government};

(c). The Constitution in itself, through section 10 constitutes itself as a reasonable law and an exception (flowing from section 45) to the fundamental notion that “the people in government make the government and equally enjoy fundamental rights as a people” , thereby, obviating the disastrous consequences it may lead to, if a State /Federal government constitutes by some people adopts a particular religion to the detriment of either the majority/minority in that State. (This may be the thought of an average person who doesn’t subscribe to the adopted faith).

 It is conceded however, that it is the people that made up government and they enjoy fundamental rights as individual, but the government (as a composition of the people) itself does not possess fundamental right to religion under section 38(1) of the Constitution because it says “every person” and happily, not worded “every person and the government”. If the later were to be the case, it is darely submitted that Nigeria cannot be at peace!

Karl Marx was therefore right to have said: religion is the opium of the people.

  1. The second point that may likely influence my position on the above submissions canvassed is still a principle of constitutional interpretation.

The Supreme Court stated the ‘general principle of Law’, through Justice Adekeye JSC in Elelu Habeeb v. AG Federation(supra) thus :

The Constitution will never give a right with one hand and remove such right with another hand. The Constitution and the law makers are in favour of running the affairs of the society smoothly.” (Emphasis mine)

 It is tagged ‘general principle of Law’ because it is not without exception(s). For instance, the Constitution has given to citizens and people fundamental rights with one hand while it wades it away again, with section 45. See also chapter 2 of the Constitution and section 6(6)(c).

However, the one stated by the Supreme Court of U.S in the case of Warren: Perez v. Brownell ,356 U.S 44,79 is more acceptable because it takes into cognizance exceptional circumstances thus :

“What the Constitution grants, the Constitution can take it away.”

The point being made by this writer with the above, is that, the Constitution having granted freedom of religion to an individual, if some individuals now constitute themselves as government holding in trust the social contract pact, it behooves them not to adopt a State Religion capable of ruining the societal fabrics or a game of betrayal of the said pact.

CONCLUSION

It is of course a juristic truism and worthy of note, that “the government has a right to the military service of all its able-bodied citizens” (see In re Grimley, 137 U.S. 147,153) and as such, such formation should not be exposed to ethnic domination or religious formation amongst other vices, capable of denuding the harmonious coexistence of the Nigerian-State.

Consequent upon the foregoing analysis, it is submitted by this writer that:

  1. There is no conflict whatsoever between freedom of religion and prohibition of adoption of State Religion in the 1999 Constitution but it is a matter of constructive construction of the Constitution as we had done above.
  2. The reason(s) for freedom of religion and prohibition of adoption of State Religion in the Constitution can only be understood, when placed against the background of the Nigerian State and the factors that may had likely influenced the makers of the Constitution.
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One of the big factors to my mind is that, the Federation is a conglomeration of people with diverse ethnic groups and interests, where religious crisis, ethnic bigotry and jingoism are amongst others, the order of the day. Therefore, the beliefs of the people that make up government must not be imposed on anyone hence, the need for   same to be checked by the instrumentality of section 10 of the Constitution prohibiting the adoption of State Religion.

                  Ex debito justicia : in the interest of Justice !!

  1. Even if going by history as we pointed out earlier, the inscription of Arabic on the Army logo didn’t portend the formation to be ‘Islamic’ and is not even within the envisagement of the makers of the Constitution, our courts today may be loath to go on historical line in its judgment because of our ‘diversity’ and more strongly is the rave of the moment that ‘some are trying to Islamize Nigeria’.

This it is submitted, may influence the court to countenance the Arabic inscription (and order for its translation into English,) as violative of section 10 of the Constitution.

            On this, the Court would adopt the rule of interpretation that says:

While the language of the Constitution does not change, the changing circumstances of a progressive society for which it was designed, can yield new and further import of its meaning.[See AG Bendel v. AG Federation(supra). 

  1. The inscription of the Arabic Logo, going by the historical analysis, is not what it may today be ascribed to it because we’re influenced in Nigeria today not by our historical antecedents, but majorly by individual ideological differences and positions; 
  1. Arabic language is nothing but a mere language just like English and Latin and, the fact that you speak it, is not ipso facto to be drawn that you subscribe to Islam as a faith. Moreover, there are countries that majorly speak Arabic but are not adherents of Islam.

Similarly, a learned brother by name LegalFido, forcefully posited [on 04/11/2017, 10:08 PM] on LEaP Whatsapp’s group ‪thus :

“In the US, Latin words are inscribed on many National buildings and monuments. American military tanks, aircrafts…have Greek or Latin inscription and names .From Hercules to Zeus. No American has sued to remove such names or inscriptions that are not English even though some of those inscriptions refer to ancient Greek gods in Greek Pantheons.”

Balogun Sofiyullahi .O.

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