Banishment/Deportation Under Chiefs Law; A Contravention of Freedom of Movement Under the 1999 Constitution

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By Abdul Haqq Buhari

In commemorating the World Human Rights Day, I find it expedient to draw attention to salient provisions in some Chiefs Law of various States providing for banishment or deportation of deposed chiefs or kings as the case may be. The deportation or banishment of deposed traditional rulers in Nigeria by government has been an age long practice dating back to colonial era when Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, Oba of Benin was dethroned and deported down to Calabar during the British invasion of Benin in 1897.

Before delving into the meat of this discussion, it is necessary to give a conceptual clarification of the term deportation. Section 31(6) of the Chief Laws, Cap 20 of Ogun State 1978 provides as follows:

In this section the word deported with its grammatical variations and cognate expressions means deportation from the place in the area of the native community associated with the chieftaincy where the chief concerned resides to any other place within the State

Flowing from the above section, deportation in this context simply means movement of a dethroned chief from his native community to any other place either within or outside the State as the case may be.

Under the Chief Law of Ogun State the power of the Governor to deport any chief is well provided for in Section 31(1) which states If any person have been convicted of an offense against the provisions of this law or have been suspended or deposed under the provision of section 30 and the Executive Council shall consider it in the interest of public safety or order, an order of deportation to any place in the state should be made, it may be writing under its hand order such person to be deported accordingly.  

While the Chief Law of Ogun State used the word “deport” in Section 31, Section 37 of the Obas and Chief Laws of Lagos State 2015 used the word “restriction“, Section 31 of the Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Edict, No. 16, 1979 Bendel State (Applicable in Edo State) used the word “banishment” Notwithstanding the choice of word used, this writer submits that they all convey and portray the same thing.

Fundamental Human Rights are enthroned under Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The rights themselves are the basic and fundamental human rights which are inherent in every human being. These rights are in place because of the elevated nature of human beings above other creatures occupying the earth. ESO, JSC in RANSOME-KUTI VS. THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FEDERATION (1985) 2 NWLR (PT. 6) 211, said:

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“… It is a right which stands above the ordinary laws of the land and which in fact is antecedent to the political society itself. It is a primary condition to a civilized existence”.

Section 41(1) of the Constitution guarantees freedom of movement of every citizen of Nigeria. The section provides that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry there to or exist there from. In the celebrated case of Shugaba v Minister of Internal Affairs (1982) 3 NCLR 915 the applicant who was the majority leader of the House of Assembly of Borno State was deported under the pretense that he was not a Nigerian. He brought an application under the Fundamental Human Right Enforcement Procedure 1979 to challenge his deportation. The court declared his deportation illegal. The court held interalia that the applicant being a Nigerian couldn’t be deported. The court further held that a citizen cannot be denied his right to a passport or visa and that seizure of his passport from anyone may amount to infringement of his right under Section 31 of The 1979 Constitution now Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution. See also Director, State Security Service v Olisa Agbakogba (1999) 3 NWLR (Pt.595) 314 @373

Similarly, in A.G Kebbi State V HRH Mustapha Jokolo (2020) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1715) 566 the Court of Appeal made the following pronouncement on banishment and deportation of a deposed king:

The Governor of Kebbi State has no right to act outside the clear and unambiguous provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (applicable to this case). Section 35 (1) of the said Constitution provides that every citizen of Nigeria is “entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty” except in the circumstances set out in subsections (a) to (f) thereof. Section 40 of the same Constitution provides that “every person is entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons”.

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On the issue at hand, Section 41(1) of the Constitution is germane and it provides thus:

“41 – (1) Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom.

(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –

(a) imposing restrictions on the residence or movement of any person who has committed or is reasonable suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving Nigeria; or

(b) providing for the removal of any person from Nigeria to any other country to –

(i) be tried outside Nigeria for any criminal offence, or

(ii) undergo imprisonment outside Nigeria in execution of the sentence of a court of law in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty:

Provided that there is reciprocal agreement between Nigerian and such other country in relation to such matter.

The appellant has not been able to show that the banishment of the 1st respondent from Gwandu Emirate in Kebbi State and his deportation to Obi in Nassarawa State were in accordance with the clear provisions of Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

The banishment and deportation from Kebbi State by the Governor of Kebbi State, on or about the 3rd of June, 2005 of the 1st respondent to Lafia in Nasarawa State and later to Obi, also in Nasarawa State, is most unconstitutional, and illegal.

By the said banishment and deportation, the 1st respondent has been, unduly and wrongfully denied his constitutional rights “to respect for the dignity of his person”; “to assemble freely and associate other persons” – including the people of Gwandu Emirate of Kebbi State; and to “move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof” as respectively provided in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.” Per ADUMEIN, J.C.A. (Pp. 610-612, paras. F-G).

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Very recently, the Federal High Court in Abuja declared the banishment and deportation of Former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, as illegal and unconstitutional. From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that all sections of various Chief Laws providing for deportation or banishment are unconstitutional and should be expunged from those laws.

Apparently one of the challenges faced by traditional rulers is that the 1999 Constitution didn’t make any provision for them at all. Their fates are left are the mercy of State Government.

The court in Jokolo’s case supra made a very sound pronouncement on need for Nigeria to put an end the degrading practice of disrespecting the traditional institution – Per TUR, J.C.A. at page 605-606, paras. H-C:

 “Nigeria has moved from the medieval era and gone beyond the era when British Administrative officers appointed to administer Colonial Territories and Protectorates at the shout of Jack Robinson, dethrone and deport native chiefs or emirs, restricting their movement to certain geographical locations within or beyond their domain in the name of the Queen of England. That practice was successfully challenged by Eshugbayi Eleko in the Privy Council on 24 th day of March, 1931.We have journeyed from that era and are at the moment, practicing democracy which is founded on the rule of law and respect for the civil rights and obligations of persons residing in this country. This is enshrined under Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 From 24 th day of March ,1931 when Eshugbayi Eleko’s appeal was determined by the Privy Council to 3rd June,2005 when the 1st respondent was deposed in Kebbi State and banished to Lafia and Obi in Nasarawa State is more than seventy years. For over seventy years the degrading practice of disrespecting the traditional institution has continued unabated notwithstanding the Privy Council judgment in Eshugbayi Eleko’sappeal.”

Conclusively, this writer submits on the authority of the court in Timothy vs Oforica (2008) 9 NWLR PART 1091, Page 204 – 213 where it stated inter-alia, that no law – or custom that stands in the way of our constitution should be allowed to stand tall no matter the circumstances.

Happy Human Rights Day!

Abdul Haqq Buhari

10/12/2021.

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