By Our Reporters
The cacophony over the shape and structure of Nigeria’s federalism generates further controversy as more states produce their flags, anthems and crests to define their independent identities. Are the insignias reflective of more steps towards true federalism, break up or what?
Democracy was just taking shape in the country in 1999 and President Olusegun Obasanjo was on his first official visit to Cross River State. Obasanjo was standing at attention for the national anthem for the commencement of one of the functions of the day when he suddenly flustered at the tune he heard.
It was not the tune that he as Head of State bequeathed to the nation in 1978, twenty or so years earlier. Shocked by what he was hearing, a livid Obasanjo interrupted the serene ceremony and ordered the immediate stoppage of what was later explained to him was the Cross River state anthem.
Harried by the reaction of Obasanjo the Donald Duke administration for the rest of its tenure made it a duty not to play the anthem whenever Obasanjo visited the state. However, all other functions of the state since the introduction of the anthem in November 1999 have been heralded by the state anthem and the national anthem.
Besides the anthem, the Duke administration also introduced a state flag sometime in November 1999. The flag which is a strip of blue-white-blue is hung in most institutions in the state, while the state song written in two stanzas, is sung in most occasions including public and private schools before the national anthem.
The seeming innovation by Cross River was in reality not a new phenomenon to the country. Even after Cross River, a handful of other states in the country have also introduced state anthems, flags, seals, crests or coats of arms to give identity to the states.
As at last count, ten states have introduced flags, crests or other forms of identity distinguishing them from the national coat of arms and national flag recognized by the constitution. The states include Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Ekiti, Kwara, Cross River, Rivers and lately Bayelsa.
The phenomenon which had bothered some, however, raised serious controversy after the Bayelsa State administration earlier this month introduced a state flag and crest. The introduction followed the passage of the bill, Bayelsa State Flag, Coat of Arms and Anthem Law 2012 by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly earlier in the month.
Following the quick assent of the bill by Governor Seriake Dickson, his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, defended the new law saying it was meant to mark a clear identity for the state which is almost wholly dominated by the Ijaw ethnic group.
“Our decision to have state symbols and songs, are as a result of our belief in true federalism as a cardinal cornerstone of Nigerian nationhood and it is in exercise of our inalienable rights as a federating unit.”
“This is a right, which we cannot be denied of since several other states with the same rights have equally exercised. That the decision taken by our government in this regard is also as a result of our commitment to the propagation of Ijaw culture, language, history and ideals. That this decision also creates a platform for us as a government to rally our people for positive development within the context of a united, egalitarian and democratic Nigeria.”
Had it been any other state, not many would have bothered. But Bayelsa is the home state of President Goodluck Jonathan whose principal aim in office is to defend the territorial and other symbolic identities of corporate Nigeria.
Remarkably, Governor Dickson who was by several accounts planted by President Jonathan as governor in very controversial circumstances could not have carried out the act without the president’s approval.
Was the president or his chief associate aiming to sound a note of discord in the federal republic? Not surprisingly, the development in Bayelsa State has stirred sharp division among concerned stakeholders.
Senator Ita Enang, a lawyer who was in the House of Representatives with Governor Dickson between 2007 and 2011 was quick to call on President Jonathan to call Dickson to order.
“The President should not just think that this is the matter of the state. Agreed it is a matter of the law of the state and persons who are aggrieved should go to court but coming from Bayelsa state, the state of the President, I think the he should be more concerned about it.”
“Although the governor may have a reason for playing up the federalism in Nigeria that being a state within the federal constituency of Nigeria he can do certain things within the limits of statism without compromising the integrity of Nigeria. He may be practicing federalism at an advanced stage,” Enang told newsmen recently.
As Senator Enang opined the proclamation of a state anthem and coat of arms are part of the schemes by agitators for the operation of true federalism to advance their cause.
Speaking at the recent retreat organized by the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, SCCR, in Asaba, the Delta State Capital Governor Rotimi Amaechi had claimed the primacy of his loyalty to Rivers State even above Nigeria.
“We want the Federal Government to reduce the responsibilities that they have as well as the resources that they have because I am first of all a Rivers citizen before I became a Nigerian.”
Not surprisingly, Rivers State which had its own state flag long before Cross River reinvented the phenomenon in 1999, is reportedly redesigning a new flag after Cross River adopted the blue and white flag used by the state.
The Rivers State Commissioner for Information, Mrs Ibim Semenitari told Vanguard that the state is redesigning its flag because what it had, had been taken over by Cross Rivers State.
“We do not have an insignia. What we have is our brand logo. We used to have a flag but we are currently redesigning as Cross Rivers state adapted our flag and exact colours as theirs so we need to differentiate it”, she explained.Rivers state, however, has a brand logo which was launched on December 1, 2010 to re brand the state as a home for investors.
Meantime, the Ogoni ethnic group, one of the most vociferous ethnic groups present in the state has its own anthem and flag. The anthem opens virtually every serious gathering of the Ogonis in any part of the world. When interpreted the anthem calls on Ogoni sons and daughters all over to resist oppression, exploitation, and embrace education as the pathway to celebration.
Not long after Rivers started its rebranding, the then new Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN administration in Osun State conceived by its own plan of re-branding adopting a state anthem, flag and coat of arms to buttress its claim of Yoruba renaissance.
The new cultural cum political identity for the state was unveiled by the Rauf Aregbesoal administration in early 2011 at a public ceremony in Oshogbo, the State capital.
At every public function the national anthem is usually rendered first and is normally followed by the state anthem while the reverse is the case at closing ceremonies with national anthem being rendered last.
The evolvement of state anthems and flags drew serious caution from the Sokoto State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barrister Nuhu Adamu and the state chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Barrister Al-Mustapha Abubakar.
The duo in separate interviews with Vanguard noted serious legal implications on any state having its own Anthem, Coat of Arms and Flag, especially if not used side-by-side with the National ones.
Abubakar described the action as a violation of Sections 24(a) and 5(3)(c) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for any state to have its own Flag, Anthem and Pledge.
Section 24 (a) of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria states, “It shall be the duty of every citizen to abide by this Constitution, respect its ideals and its institution, the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge, and legitimate authorities.”
Sections 5(3)(c) of the Constitution states that “The executive powers vested in a State under subsection (2) of this section shall be so exercised as not to – endanger the continuance of a federal government in Nigeria.”
It’s constitutional — Sagay
Constitutional lawyer Professor Itse Sagay, however, differs asserting. “It is absolutely constitutional,” he said in an interview with Vanguard.
“One thing I see about Nigerians is that, we are insecure, Nigerians like uniformity. Everybody wants one flag but that is not uniformity. Once any federating unity tries to express its individualism, people begin to quiver and shake that Nigeria is going to pieces and yet, that is the only way Nigeria can survive if there is diversity.”
“There is nothing in the Nigerian constitution which prohibits states from having their own flags. In fact, the issue of flag is not even mentioned in the constitution, nor is the issue of coat of arms mentioned. It is in the residual list which enables states legislate on the matter,” he added.
“So, they are absolutely free to have their own flags, to have their anthem, to have their own coat of arm, provided they are not rejecting the national one. So, you can see the two side by side. In Lagos state and you can see the Lagos coat of arms, nobody can challenge it.
“I think most of the states in the south have it; it is an exercise of a right under federalism, which expresses individuality and autonomy of the state and that it is not a unitary system in which only the federal government has personality. The federal one is for everybody and apart from that, the states are entitled to have their own.”
“Not only that, I think it is very healthy because it emphasises the federal nature of Nigeria giving room to escape from the suffocating uniformity which is killing this country promoting individuality. So, it is good as a concept and it is perfectly valid legally.”
There’s nothing wrong—Yadudu
Professor Auwwalu Yadudu who was Legal Adviser to then Head of State, General Sanni Abacha and presently Professor of Law at Bayero University, Kano agrees with Sagay on the legality of the move by the states.
“For me, there is nothing wrong over states adoption of flags, coat of arms and anthems. As far as I know, there is no law barring any state from having its own anthem, flag or coat of arms,” he told Vanguard in an interview.
“Historically, there are states that did so in the past. In 1967 when 12 states were created under Gowon, Kano state then had his own flag. So, a state having its own coat of arms, flag and national anthem might be a means of recognition for such state.”
Yadudu, however, notes that the motive of the state taking such a decision would be of crucial importance.
Kano which used to display a coat of arms in the past has under the Rabiu Kwankwanso administration again been displaying the insignia as a mark of identity.
The practice by the Kwankwanso administration is, however, not upon a recent law. Kwara is, however, the only state in the geographical north that has enacted a law to establish a state insignia.
The Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Media and Communications, Dr Muideen Akorede explained that the Kwara State government created a new crest as a symbol of rallying the people for participatory development by giving them a greater sense of identity through a unifying symbol.
He said in an interview with Vanguard that the new crest is also part of the state government’s renewed drive for greater domestic and foreign investment inflows, stressing that the new crest illustrates “our strong cultural and traditional institutions as well as our strengths in agriculture, solid mineral development, tourism and enterprise.”
Akorede particularly noted that the new crest is now used in conjunction with Federal Coat of arms on letter heads, call cards, print and TV publicity materials as well as the state’s website. He however said that, “the federal coat of arms retains prominence over the new state logo in state protocol because we recognise that fact that we are part of a Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Each state should be encouraged — Obono-Obla
Radical Calabar lawyer Comrade Okoi Obono-Obla dismissed insinuations of illegality in the adoption of the insignia and anthems by the states saying it was in furtherance of true federalism.
“We should not be contradicting ourselves. We cannot be blowing hot and cold on this issue of true federalism. In one breath we clamour for federalism yet in another we frown when some States wants to put in place structures to put in practice the tenets of federalism.
“In the days of the Regions, the Regions had their own Police, anthem, coat of arms and flags. The Western Region even had her own Court of Appeal. These trappings of Regional autonomy were abolished by the Unification decree that was promulgated by General Aguiyi Ironsi to usher into the country a unitary system of government which is consistent with the military command structure.”
“It was this decree that precipitated the counter coup against Ironsi. The North saw the decree as an attempt by General Ironsi to establish the hegemony of a certain group. This was a deliberate misinterpretation. The military wanted to promote national unity and integration because they wrongly assumed that federalism was causing disunity.
“So we should encourage every State to have its own Police, anthem, flag, cost of arms, Court of appeal.
“The current brand of federalism being practiced in the country is not working. The federal government is unwieldy, bloated and has its pies in so many things it should not ordinarily dabbled into. There must be devolution of powers from the Federal level to the States. This is the only way this country will move forward,” Obla stated.
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