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Where Sovereignty resides in a Democratic Government

The removal of subsidy in the  fuel price and its concomitant  nationwide reaction by the Nigerian citizenry has no doubt left the economy in a stagnant state. National Bureau of Statistics reported that Nigeria lost about 1.27 million USD in eight days of the  industrial strike action embarked upon by the Nigerian Labour Congress. This post does not intend to talk about the metrics, facts, figures or the socio-political philosophies behind the removal of fuel subsidy, rather I have decided to look into the likely solution to this imbroglio. At this stage, the government and the people  can be said to be involved in a who-blinks-first game, on the one hand the people want government to restore fuel subsidy by reverting petrol price back to 65naira/litre before any further negotiation can take place but the government on the other hand is not ready to bend, they opine that until labour comes for a round table negotiation table, the 141naira/litre price subsists . One is left to wonder in whom Sovereignty resides in a Democratic Government like ours. It is important to reiterate at this point that the ideals of democratic governance in Nigeria is one that dates back to the pre-colonial era when sovereignty was vested in a leader in trust of the people he governs, this was evident in the powers of the age grades in the east, the chiefs and Obas in the west and Emirs in the North. In pre colonial western Nigeria for example, the people were so powerful that public opinion could request the Oba to open the empty calabash which is an equivalent of the Oba committing suicide, also the age grades in the east wielded a lot of power in the determination of who does or does not rule the people. Their is no gainsaying the fact that the colonial regime and the military interregnum has left a gaping wound on every sense of statehood that once characterised our nation but the republican governments could be  said to be a timely intervention as the republics stood for democracy and not the autocracy that has permeated the Nigerian nation-state till 1999. The transition from military rule to Democratic rule did not only hand over governance to a democratic government in 1999, it also handed over a constitution which was purportedly a democratic one. The preamble to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that

We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolve, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God, dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international co-operation and understanding and to provide for a constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution…

The preamble above is no doubt centered around the people of Nigeria which confirms the assertion in an earlier post Social Contract Theory And The Nigerian Polity, that sovereignty in the world over, originates from the people who vest their sovereignty in the government as their representative vested with the duty of protecting the life, property, rights and providing the peoples’ basic needs among other duties. This assertion also finds credence in Section 14(2)(a)-(c) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended)

14 (2) It is hereby accordingly declared that:

(a) Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;

(b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government and

(c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

It is in the spirit of transparency and participation of the people in the government that Independent National Electoral Commission  conducts periodic elections for the various offices in government and equal representation of the people from different parts of the country is encouraged through the federal character clause. It will be easy from the foregoing to conclude that sovereignty in a democratic government, resides in the people but the draftmen left a caveat in the constitution by making the sovereignty clause non-justiceable through section 6(6)(c) of the 1999 Constitution by providing that,

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 of 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…

The above implies that the Judicial powers confered by the constitution on the judiciary/courts does not cover matters under Chapter II of the Constitution. Some of the matters under Chapter II of the Constitution are; the issue of sovereignty residing in the people of Nigeria, provision for the welfare and basic amenities of Nigerians, transportation and Free education at all academic levels, prevention of abuse of power and corruption etc  So you see that it is difficult to sue the government upon breach of any provision under Chapter II because the jurisdiction of the courts have been expressly ousted by the provision of section 6(6)(c) above.

So who is more powerful in this fuel subsidy crisis between the government and the people? the answer is that the person in whom sovereignty resides is the most powerful. So, in whom does sovereignty reside? by virtue of the preamble and section 14(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution, Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through the Constitution derive all its powers and authority? But what about Section 6(6)(c) that oust the jurisdiction of the courts? Section 6(6)(c), the courts, the government and in fact the entire Constitution as the grund norm, derives its power from the People, so where the will of the people conflicts with the will of government, the general will of the people will prevail and the preamble to the 1999 Constitution gives effect to this.

You can more on the issue of Fuel Subsidy removal in Nigeria through the links below:

Image credit: Flickr/Eldave

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