By Nonso Anyasi
The Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is guided by the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy as contained in Chapter II of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The most fundamental objective and primary purpose of any government that is founded on the Constitution shall be the security and welfare of the people. Accordingly, the Government (including the federal and state governments) must prioritize the security and welfare of its Citizens at all times. This is by virtue of the provisions of Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution.
It is a fundamental principle of interpretation of Statutes and the Constitution that sections/provisions of the law are not read in isolation, but are rather read as a whole. Therefore, when trying to understand what the drafters of the Constitution intended in Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution, it is important to read the said subsection together with the provisions of the preceding Section 14(1) and 14(2)(a) of the Constitution.
Section 14(1) of the Constitution provides thus:
“Section 14(1) – The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.”
Section 14(2)(a) and (b) provides thus:-
“Section 14(2) – It is hereby, accordingly, declared that –
- sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;
- the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; and
- The participation of the people in the government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
The marginal note of Section 14 of the Constitution is termed as “the Government and the people.” Therefore, a community reading of the entire provisions of Section 14 of the Constitution (together with the marginal note) evinces the intention of the framers of the Constitution to vest the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the people from which the Government is to derive all its powers and authority through the Constitution. The importance of the provisions of Section 14(2)(a) of the Constitution is that it makes the Government directly answerable to the people who donate sovereignty to it. Hence, a direct social contract is created by virtue of this provision, in which the people donate power to the Government, and in return, the Government is to perform the various functions and responsibilities stated in the contractual document: the Constitution. The chief responsibility of the Nigerian Government by virtue of this Constitution is the security and welfare of the people.
The precise words of this section of the Constitution implies that the Nigerian Government (including the federal and state governments) must be preoccupied and concerned with the security and welfare of the citizens at every point in time. Any Government that refuses to preoccupy itself with this primary responsibility of prioritizing the security and welfare of the people would therefore lack the sovereign backing of the people.
In the same vein, by virtue of the provisions of Section 14(1) of the Constitution, the Nigerian Government (both federal and state Governments) must be premised on the principles of democracy and social justice at all times. Democracy as famously described by Abraham Lincoln is the Government for the people, of the people and by the people. The intention of the drafters of the Constitution is more pronounced when the provisions of Section 14(1) is juxtaposed with the definition of democracy and the provisions of Section 14(2) of the Constitution which points to the unassailable conclusion that any Government which is not “for the people” and which cannot provide security and welfare for its people does not qualify to be a Legitimate Government as intended by the framers of the Constitution.
The provisions of Section 1(2) of the Constitution lends further credence to this interpretation. The said Section 1(2) provides thus:
“The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.” (underlining ours).
The simple and literal meaning of this section of the precious and organic document called our Constitution is that Nigeria shall only be governed in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Therefore, any attempt to govern any part of Nigeria in such a way that deviates from the express words of the Constitution will amount to an illegality and an unconstitutionality. Hence, any Government which does not pay credence to the provisions of the Constitution is dabbling in illegality.
It is trite that sovereignty is one of the sine qua non for any legitimate government. Any Government that does not possess or cannot trace its sovereignty is at best, a puppet government as it lacks the autonomous quality to operate as a State strictu sensu.
The fulcrum of this article has been on the interpretation of Section 14 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). However, it has been argued that the provisions of Section 14 which falls under Chapter II of the Constitution is non-justiciable by virtue of the provisions of Section 6(6)(c) of the Constitution which provides thus:-
“Section 6(6) – The judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section –
- Shall not, except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act or omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution;”
This writer submits that the non-justiciability of the provisions of Chapter II of the Constitution does not render the entirety of that Chapter otiose or moot. The provisions of Section 6(6)(c) of the Constitution only serves to prevent the judiciary – the Courts – from enquiring into the validity of any act or omission done, or not done, pursuant to the provisions of Chapter II of the Constitution. In other words, the provisions of that Chapter cannot be enforced or questioned in a Court of law.
However, this does not mean that the provisions of Chapter II are hereby rendered academic and of no practical purpose. The Courts are set up to determine civil rights and obligations of Nigerian Citizens. (Please see Section 6(6)(b) of the Constitution). However, as earlier established, sovereignty is vested in the people by virtue of the Constitution and it is through this Constitution that the Government exercise all authority and powers which it purports to have. It has also been established that sovereignty is a fundamental element which every government must possess before it can purport to operate as a state.
Therefore, this writer submits that any Government which cannot confidently tick all the important boxes contained in Section 14 of the Constitution is an unconstitutional government. For the avoidance of doubt, any Nigerian Government which cannot boast of:-
- being based on the principles of democracy and social justice or which does not listen to the wishes of the people; and
- placing premium on the security of welfare of the people at all times; and
- allowing the people to directly participate in the government in accordance with the provisions of the constitution;
is an illegitimate government and one does not need the Courts to invoke its judicial powers under Section 6 of the Constitution to declare it as such. Another fundamental element of statehood (apart from sovereignty) is equal recognition by other states. A Government which purports to be an autonomous government needs to be recognized as such by other sovereign Governments else that Government will not be seen by the international community as the machinery of the state through which the will of its people is formulated. Such a Government which is not afforded sovereign status in the international community will find it difficult protect the interests of its people.
Therefore, any Nigerian Government which cannot show that it can confidently secure the lives and properties of citizens within its territory has no business in parading itself as an autonomous government. In addition, when such government is notorious for abusing the principles of fundamental principles of democracy and social justice, such a government stands the risks of losing its statehood in the international community.
Nonso Anyasi is a Dispute Resolution and Data Privacy Attorney based in Lagos and can be reached via email@example.com.