Redefining National Sovereignty


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Redefining National Sovereignty



Kunle Sanyaolu





culled from GUARDIAN, May 7, 2006



It is instructive that Nigeria has somehow cropped up in the discussion of some foreign super powers over the third term bid of President Olusegun Obasanjo. The development is hardly surprising considering that nothing else seems to be happening in the country except struggle for and against third term. This much is seen in the National Assembly where the House of Representatives' members slugged it out to deliver their points, and where the Senate engaged in long winding, sometimes heated debate on the issue. Yet, the consideration of a third term in Nigeria should not ordinarily be the business of any other country. By international convention entered into by the comity of nations, such matters are internal affairs of the country concerned. In respect to sovereignty of nations therefore, it is improper, even unacceptable in international politics, for a country to meddle in the affairs of another. In the last week however, the British Parliament, in consideration of a letter written it by a group of Nigerians based in Maryland, United States, had cause to at least mention the third term issue. If nothing, the members took legislative notice of the matter. The group that wrote the letter was basically complaining about President Obasanjo's alleged attempt to elongate his tenure beyond the term stipulated in the 1999 constitution; and his tinkering with that constitution, using the instrumentality of the Joint Committee of the National Assembly, to give his desire constitutional authority. It is noteworthy that the British Parliament read out the letter to the hearing of all members present, before declaring that it was not a matter it could deliberate upon, having regard to its nature as an internal affair of Nigeria and Nigerians.


The United States was more forthcoming when it implored Obasanjo to respect term limits in the 1999 constitution. According to the United States Embassy in Abuja that issued a statement portraying the U.S. concern, respect for term limit makes room for the nurturing of leaders, widens the democratic space and supports the rule of law. Responding to what it called "continuing media inquiry regarding our position on the on-going process of amending the National constitution", the embassy was categorical in its statement thus: "Our view is very clear that executive term limits should be respected in the interest of institutionalising democracy and opening political space. This allows for new leaders to be groomed and it supports the rule of law. A regular turnover of power ingrains and institutionalises a democratic process. " The embassy noted however that President Obasanjo was yet to make a categorical statement on his plans after 2007.


Again, one could argue that commentary on political transformation being engineered in one country is not the business of another. The U.S was of course careful in its statement. While it neither supports nor opposes third term, it nevertheless stated its "view" pointing out that it was necessitated by " continuing media inquiry". The embassy's view is in effects, nothing short of advice to Obasanjo to tow the line of term limit in the 1999 constitution. By inference, the president should bow out in 2007 and allow sanity prevail. If he doesn't, his action will be detrimental to democracy and will not be supported by the U.S. What diplomacy! Whether you regard it as meddling in another's affairs or undermining a sovereignty or plain rendering of a piece of advice, the United States' position on third term is unmistakable. And the country cannot claim to be ignorant that it has passed strong comment on an issue that normally would have been regarded strictly as Nigeria's internal matter.


Why then are these countries playing the seeming pranks they are doing? The answer is simply to say that while they respect Nigeria's sovereignty and national integrity, they are not comfortable with the heat being generated in the country over the third term. The countries are experienced enough to know that though Obasanjo has not declared his desire to be president for another four years, he has revealed that desire in no unmistakable term. Britain and America in particular are fully aware of the possibility that if the fragile peace in Nigeria breaks, the spillover effect could be tragic. Before third term became one boiling issue, America had warned that Nigeria stood the risk of breaking apart if certain indices were not checked. These include ethnic and religious rivalry, restiveness in the Niger Delta and emergence of militias. Third term is only adding to the factors, and it is real. As leading nations, the U.S and the United Kingdom would be bound to intervene in the event of a violent escalation. They would be bound to raise funds, material and men to keep peace through the United Nations or unilaterally. It stands to reason that rather than watch and allow the worst scenario to unfold, these super powers believe they could and should do something to prevent an unpleasant situation. This they do by releasing views and informed opinions about the countries concerned. They try to infuse diplomacy in their efforts, minding the possibility of an accusation of meddling in matters that do not concern them.


Invariably, sovereignty is being gradually redefined to the effect that a country's independence is respected when that country can control its affairs in a way not to hurt neighbouring countries. A country should not only aspire to peace and progress, it should prevent violence and recourse to anarchy. In the case of Nigeria it has been shown that a breakdown of law and order is capable of destabilising the entire West Africa. Current information is in fact pointing to the fact that our neighbouring countries are undergoing pressure. Nigeria is easily the most populous black nation. Its citizens are found in virtually all countries in the globe, many of them not by choice, but due to unbearable conditions within. Morocco is worried about the existence of 6,000 illegal immigrants from Nigeria in its fold. Nigerians are known to undertake risky journeys in the night and across the desert and the sea, just to be able to land in Europe where they hope they could restart their lives after a hopeless, long wait for a break at home. The Funny enough, most of the countries they take risk to go have comparably little natural resources, in relation to Nigeria. But the countries have been able to organise themselves politically. They conduct their politic with sanity and fair integrity. They write rules and constitution that they respect. They do not attempt to bend rules in the middle of the game. Naturally, other goodies of life will follow a stable polity. The economy can boom and regenerate. Social condition will be humane. All citizens will be entitled to the basics of life without needing to cut corners. Infrastructure can expand and be in working conditions. These are all conditions that have eluded Nigeria for a long time. And now, with the third time bogey, no one in government seems bothered to correct the flaw.


Whatever America or the United Kingdom say or do about the third term, Nigerians should know that their fate lies in their hands. Members of the National Assembly who are supposed to be representing the people are presently in disarray, having been torn between respecting the wish of their people and making themselves an easy, lifetime fortune merely by supporting third term. It should be little consolation to Nigerians that the Group of Eight industrialised countries (the G.8) in the world has a dwindling respect for Obasanjo and may not invite him to its July summit holding in Russia over his third term bid. Despotic leaders in Africa, indeed in Nigeria have been known in the past to care less about the feelings of the international community on them. On their part, Nigerians have not been known to shy away from their right. This is one occasion they should stick by that principle. America and UK's concern about Nigeria is borne out of their knowledge that Nigerians will fight the third term to a standstill, and in the process, cause a lot of upheaval around them. Perhaps somebody, may be the president, will do something to allay the fear of the civilised world.



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