While the practice is not new in the country, the recent adoption of state anthems, flags and coat of arms by Osun and Bayelsa states have generated a furore never before associated with the step. GEORGE OKOJIE, Lagos, SAKIN BABALOLA, Ibadan, SEFIU AYANBIMPE, Osogbo, DAVID AKINADEWO, Akure, Osa Okhomina Bayelsa report:

Coat of Arms, flags and anthems – many states in the federation have actually had them for decades without anyone batting an eyelid. If you were in primary or secondary school in Ogun state, for instance, in the 1980s and the 90s, you couldn’t have missed singing that state’s anthem titled, “Omo Ogun Ise ya,” “at full-throated ease” like John Keats’ Nightingale during your school’s morning assembly, in addition to the National Anthem and The Pledge, that is. Adopted in 1976 following the state’s creation, to this day, Ogun Radio starts its daily broadcast with the anthem, which aims to spur Ogun indigenes to action for the day’s tasks.

But then times have changed. Last April, Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s adoption of a state anthem, coat of arms and the “State of Osun” appellation jarred frayed nerves in the state and beyond. It set the governor on a collision course with the Federal Government despite Aregbesola’s explanation that it was meant to promote the state’s culture. He was accused of plotting to secede from the country and was reportedly even placed on security watch by the State Security Service (SSS).

A similar backlash greeted Governor Seriake Dickson’s recent signing into law of a bill giving Bayelsa state legal backing to have its flag, coat of arms and an anthem.

Explaining the rationale behind the initiative, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said “the emblem would serve as a unifying force and rallying point for the Ijaw nation and help to preserve the culture and values of the people.”

Stressing that it was not peculiar to Bayelsa, Iworiso-Markson said: “It is common knowledge that virtually all the states in the South western region such as Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ogun and Ekiti have since launched theirs. The most recent was the North Central state of Kwara.

“In the South-South, Cross River and Rivers states are two states in the region that have embraced this noble concept. In the case of Rivers, it was done since the 1970s.

“We believe that Bayelsa State, being the only state that can be considered as the home state of the Ijaw race, deserves even much more to blaze this trail than any other states in the federation. This much is true because of the emphasis we place on the propagation of the Ijaw ideals and what we stand for as a people, the Ijaw ideology.”

However, the propriety of these states’ initiative has been called to question by Nigerians across all strata of society. Against the backdrop of ethno-religious crises rocking pockets of states in the federation and the recent unilateral declaration of independence by a faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), these citizens argue that states like Bayelsa and Osun need to tread with caution.

Otherwise, they add, these states might unwittingly fan up the embers of ethnic nationalism, which might turn into a conflagration that would consume Nigeria as a united entity.

But, rather than seeing the development as striking the first note of a swansong for the body-politic, some other citizens say these states might be taking the backdoor to the realisation of true federalism in the country, which clamour has been strident in recent times.??

Iworiso-Markson made this much of a defence in the Bayelsa case. He said:? “Our decision to have state symbols and songs was 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.”

Similarly, Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Media Mr. Lateef Raji who spoke on the development, stated: “What we have is the seal of Lagos state government, which came into being by virtue of the Seal State Government Law 2010.

“This law provides for the regulation on the use of seal of the government of Lagos state and for other connected purposes as passed by the Lagos state House of Assembly. It has never in any way undermined national integration”.??

Also, justifying the policy, Aregbesola argued that it was meant to promote Osun’s culture and bring back its old glory, even as he stressed that he had not contravened any constitutional provision by changing the state’s name to the “State of Osun.”

Tellingly, many lawyers align themselves with Aregbesola’s submission, Mr. Sebastian Hon (SAN), told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND: “There is nothing constitutionally wrong with that because even in America, where we are borrowing from, the various states have their anthems and official slogans.”

But then Hon added: “However, my fear is that in Nigeria when someone sees a smoke, it is very likely that a fire is being generated somewhere. I just hope that it is not for secession because that is a treasonable offence. In a federal set up, you don’t just wake up and secede. There have to be an agreement or war before that can happen. So superficially, I don’t see anything wrong with state anthems, I just hope that there is nothing more than meet the eyes.”

Also, a lawyer and rights activist, Mr. Wale Ogunade, said: ''Constitutionally, it is okay. However, it is the intention that we should look at.? Is it for secession or just to create a new identity to challenge the state to look forward to better things? I feel that if it is to bring in a new vision or vista to state development, then it is okay. Nigeria is a federation, not a unitary state. So the states are allowed certain rights by the law.

''However, if the new state anthems are for a secession cause, then it is illegal and should be matched with the appropriate force that it deserves.”

Similarly, a Lagos-based legal practitioner, Mr. Oladele Ojogbede, stated: “Constitutionally, it is legal, but morally, I do not support it. This is because Nigeria is a federation and allegiance to it should not be decentralised. It may not be wrong constitutionally, but it will inadvertently promote regionalism. It will promote ethnic cohesion instead of national cohesion and I feel that will not augur well for the peace and unity of this country.''

Ojogbede added: “The danger is that children will grow up knowing just their state anthems and in the long run, allegiance to the national cause will be reduced.

“However, if we want to return to the era of regionalism where there will be three or four regions instead of the 36 states, that is okay because we had more development in the past with regional governments.”

Another lawyer, Mr. Adetoyese Emitomo, said there was nothing treasonable or criminal in the development, stressing that by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, states were free to have their coat of arms.

Emitomo said: “Nigeria is a federating unit. If we practise federal democracy, each state has the right and power to have its constitution, coat of arms and state police.”

However, Emitomo advised politicians not to read partisan meanings into any action taken for the good of all, observing that some of the reactions to the Osun and Bayelsa initiatives blatantly took party lines.

Also, Constitutional Lawyer, Mr. Goody Okpamen, said the trend should not be encouraged on grounds of “proper national integration.”

However, he added: “It is well enshrined in the nation’s constitution that if any other law is inconsistent with the provision of the constitution, the country’s constitution prevails and that law shall to that extent of the inconsistency be void”.

According to him, “for mere unique identity as a unit of the Federation the states have the right to have autonomy to identity whether in the form of flags or emblem. Are they really coat of arms? To me they are more of seals and emblems, which the present constitution authorises the states to have.

“Of course the National Flag recognised by everyone in the country is there. Until a state comes out to denounce that, nothing is constitutionally wrong in implementing such rights.”

To an Ondo-based legal practitioner, Mr. Kunle Adetowubo, the development “is all about freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution; freedom of expression as exemplified by the slogan “State of Osun” in the South West Nigeria, rather than “Osun state” as expressed in the 1999 Constitution as amended To me, it is a question of semantics and acceptability.”? .

Another legal practitioner in Akure, the Ondo state capital, Mr. Chris Fagbohun, viewed the issue from both the legal and socio-cultural perspectives.

He said: “From the legal point of view, such developments are not illegal, considering the fact that there is no law prohibiting states from having their own anthems, logos and so on in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

On the socio-cultural aspect, Fagbohun said the step “might be justifiable, as people would want to identify with their culture, tradition and values that are not adequately protected nationally.

“They would appreciate this moreso since some cultures and values are already going into extinction to the extent that majority could no longer speak their dialects or mother tongues.”

But Fagbohun stated that the development “raises some issues in our polity that must be keenly looked into.”

He stated:? “If not curtailed, it might ultimately lead the country to tribal or sectional entities, as people could begin to show loyalty and patriotism to such states rather than the nation at large. And, having a flag would constitute a threat to national unity.”

Fagbohun also warned that the states should be careful not to jeopardise national unity “as the situation in the country calls for caution. Oneness of Nigeria should not be sacrificed on any altar.”

However, Adetowubo and Barrister Abiodun Adeogun also submitted that the initiative “ is befogged by political manipulation and political ego tripping.”

Adeogun, who practises law in Abuja, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that both Oyo and Osun states took the step for political reasons and cautioned them against going to the extreme.

Another lawyer, Mr. Abiodun Abdulraheem, said the development was “a sign of mutual and national distrust against the Federal Government.”

An Osogbo-based rights activist, Comrade Sahid Abdulganiy, stated that the Osun State government’s action? “is illegal, null and void. It does not have any basis in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.”

Abdulganiy, who is also a lawyer, said it was “wrong for any state to adopt new symbols aside the Federal Government. The action is an act of secession against the country.”

He urged the Federal Government to drag the states concerned to the Supreme Court for interpretation of the Constitution on the matter.

Supporting his position with Section 24 of the 1999 Constitution, Abdulganiy stated: “The Federal Government should not allow any state to engage in? acts that would further cause disaffection in the country because the nation is currently facing security challenges that are threatening our peaceful co-existence.”