Violence in the northern Nigerian city
of Jos late last year, in which churches and mosques were bombed, has
precipitated a new jurisdictional legal dispute between state and federal
government officials. Washington human
rights attorney Emmanuel Ogebe, who is just back from a visit to the city in
Nigeria’s Plateau State, where he was born, says that the dispute may ultimately re-engage national
President Umaru Yar’Adua in an issue that echoes an earlier judicial battle he
had with former president Olusegun Obasanjo during Mr. Yar’Adua’s tenure as a
is the first lawsuit by a state government against Yar’Adua since he came to
power, and it’s especially sensitive because remember, he was one of the
governors who installed Sharia, Islamic law, in his state when he was a
governor. And so now, there’s a
religious crisis in a state, and he’s trying to act, and the state is suing
him. It’s a kind of role reverse for
him,” Ogebe said.
its religious component centering around last year’s clashes, in which hundreds
of people were killed, the Washington attorney says there is a jurisdictional,
potentially constitutional crisis between Plateau State and the federal
a state sues the federal government, it goes straight to the Supreme
Court. It doesn’t go to any lower courts
because it’s a constitutional matter. So
it’s going to be very decisive when a verdict comes down, although the law
seems to support the states. There’s an
argument to be made that the federal government has an interest in the peace
and security of every part of the country.
So either way, there are going to be persuasive arguments on both
sides,” he said.
is where Mr. Yar’Adua’s political patron, Olusegun Obasanjo, who hand-picked
Umaru Yar’Adua to succeed him in office and engineered Nigeria’s first peaceful
transition of civilian presidents, enters the picture. Emmanuel
Ogebe says that before their election alliance, Yar’Adua, as governor of
Katsina State, dueled in court with the Obasanjo-led federal government in a
dispute over jurisdiction.
would be interesting if the Supreme Court curtails the president’s powers to
interfere with the state, especially since the president himself used to be a
governor, and his actions as governor threatened the former President Obasanjo
when he installed Sharia law in his state and Obasanjo struggled to contain it
and it created a crisis and violence and killings all across the country,”
Ogebe pointed out.
is the same state for which former President Obasanjo declared a state of
emergency during a spate of Muslim-Christian violence. If the current jurisdictional clash over who
has the ultimate authority to investigate last November’s religious violence
continues to heat up, Ogebe says it is possible that other Nigerian states will
also become involved in the dispute with the federal government.
“Right now, it is not a situation that
has come up with other states. And I
think that what will happen at the very most is that some of the states might
say, “All right, this is an interesting legal constitutional point. Let’s also go to court and support the
position of this one governor. So that
could happen. It’s very remote, but it’s
a possibility. What is most likely to
happen is that all the states will watch and see how the verdict goes because
then, it will have relevance for their own activities,” he said.