Nigerian Society of International Law and the Challenges of International Law in a Season of Change

Nigerian Society of International (NSIL)

Nigerian Society of International Law and the Challenges of International Law in a Season of Change

‘International Law in this Season of Change,’ was the theme of the 40th Annual Conference of the Nigerian Society of International Law, held on Thursday, 19th and Friday, 20th October, 2017 at the Ayo Ajomo Auditorium of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Unilag Campus, University of Lagos. One major rationale for the conference, apart from the need to celebrate forty years of existence of the society, is the determination of the place of international law in a globalising world of deepening disregard for the law of nations.

International law, often referred to as the Law of Nations, is generally weak in terms of enforcement essentially because there are no enforcement agents in the manner of municipal law. Put differently, what would the world be like in the absence of international law, as a regulatory mechanism and in light of mounting nationalism?
The conference was structured into four main parts: the opening session, working session during which five lead papers were presented, dinner session during which awards were given to some members of the society, and the communiqué session during which policy-related questions were critically debated before final adoption.

The opening session was significant from the perspective of the issues raised in both the welcome address of the President of the Nigerian Society of International Law (NSIL), Emeritus Professor Isaac Oluwole Agbede, and the keynote address given by Professor Akin Oyebode, former Vice Chancellor of the Ekiti State University. Professor Agbede lamented on the challenges of the NSIL, especially in terms of its inability to seriously impact on global trends. As he put it, ‘the period between the last Annual Conference and this time has not been particularly eventful. When a nation is in recession practically everything within it will be compressed. So compressed is our long standing efforts to build a befitting secretariat for our proposed Academy of International Law.

Similarly compressed is our effort to raise our moot trial competition to a continental level for all English speaking universities in Africa. That also has been the fate of our proposed Journal of International Law designed to attain world’s standard. Indeed, efforts to boost attendance at our monthly meetings have not been particularly fruitful.’

Thus, from the perspective of Professor Agbede, the country’s recession explains in part the ordeals of the NSIL. ‘The Many Afflictions of Anti-corruption Crusade in Nigeria,’ being also the title of a lecture delivered by Professor Itse Sagay, also explain in part why the NSIL has not been upcoming as it used to be, particularly when the annual conferences of the NSIL ‘were attended by invitees from practically every continent of the world.’

While Professor Agbede focused largely on the challenges of the NSIL within the context of the economic recession in Nigeria, Professor Akin Oyebode provided some random reflections on ‘International Law in a Season of Change.’

For instance, he noted that the ‘Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) or mutual balance of terror, which hitherto served as the overarching bulwark for international peace and security, has since given way to unilateral and untrammeled diktat by a single arrogant superpower, hell-bent on putting its interests first before those of the entire world and decidedly paying scant regard for global peace and international cooperation and other norms of contemporary international law.’

He also noted the major events that have significantly impacted on the codification of international law: the collapse of the global colonial system which prompted the need to accord recognition to the new states; the establishment of the Group of 77, which ‘heralded the struggle to de-europeanise the international system in favour of a broader, more democratic arrangement, as well as an increased input by the Third World in the progressive development and codification of international law; the collapse of the USSR and the East European socialist community, which led to the dismantlement of the historic Berlin Wall and the new challenges of how to cope with an American-led unipolar world.

What is particularly of interest in Professor Oyebode’s keynote address is his belief that ‘forces represented by MASSOB and IPOB have turned out to be poor students of history and demonstrated crass ignorance of the dictates of international law in their irredentist quest for the dismemberment of Nigeria. In this regard, he posited that ‘there might be some merit in treating the quest for inclusion in post-colonial situations as more of the right to development rather than self-determination per se, except where and when a case can be established of internal colonialism and a successful turnaround would then beget its own legality.’

Without scintilla of doubt, this argument has merit, but only to a limited extent for various reasons. World War II Allies endorsed the principle of self-determination in their 1941 Atlantic Charter. Since then, it has always been endorsed.

However, Professor Oyebode’s argument has ignored the fact that self-determination has evolved from being a political principle to a right, and therefore, making the conditionality of colonial dependency, at best, irrelevant in the context of both the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Nigeria.

True enough, self-determination initially began as a ‘political principle’ and has now been elevated to a ‘right’ in international law.

However, as a right, international law does not support or oppose secession, which in itself, is not a right. Hence, this column posits that, since self-determination has become a right in international law, and no longer simply considered as a political principle, and since international law has also not limited the scope of the ingredients of self-determination, secession as an objective of self-determination and ultimately of nationhood, cannot be illegal, internationally and municipally considered.

The truth in state practice is that no sovereign state wants dismemberment of any of its component parts. State practice is generally hostile to unilateral and even negotiated secession.

The policy stand of the United Nations is noteworthy: in 1970, Mr. U. Thant, then Secretary General of the United Nations declared that ‘the United Nations will never accept the principle of secession of a part of its Member States.’

This policy position was good and ideal but had no relevance, bearing in mind that Eritrea, for example, was carved out of Ethiopia, which was, and still is, a member of the United Nations.

In essence and put differently, the dependency of a people as a sine qua non for self-determination is no longer the only condition required. As provided in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was adopted for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) on 16 December 1966 and which entered into force on 23rd March, 1976 in accordance with Article 49 of the Covenant, ‘all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’

It is important to note the words, ‘all peoples.’ The provision is not restricted to a given stratum of society or to any given people in Asia or Africa or America. The Igbo in Nigeria constitutes ‘a people’ per excellence, and therefore, Article 1 of the covenant applies to MASSOB and IPOB as a people of whatever kind. Perhaps more importantly, paragraph 2 of the same Article 1 not only says that ‘in no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence,’ paragraph 3 of the Article also states that ‘the States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.’

Issues at the Working Session

In his paper on “The Development of International Law in the Era of Change,’ Professor Adeniyi Olatunbosun of the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan, drew attention to the issues of legal personality of entities other than state in international law, such as international organisations, individuals and companies, as well as the trending issue of state responsibility for internationally wrongful acts and methods of conflict resolution.

More important, he explicated the changing nature of international law. As he put it, ‘the concept of international law has changed from a system of coordination of the international co-existence of mainly European states in limited aspects, such as diplomatic relations and war, to a universal system of cooperation in numerous areas among nations through the advances of natural sciences and technology.’

Additionally, what is noteworthy in Professor Olatunbosun’s paper is his observation on same sex marriage: ‘the Same Sex Marriage Act of Nigeria, which provides that no certificate issued or obtained from such a union celebrated abroad will be recognised in Nigeria contradicts (the) cardinal principle of conflict of laws which aims at protecting the rights of persons in their private dealings as they move across national boundaries.’

Dr. Dawood Adesola Hamzah, an international and Islamic law scholar, noted in his own paper on “Contextualisation of Nationalist movement in Nigeria within the Framework of Nationalism and Internationalism,’ that the ‘traditional Westphalian primacy of territorial integrity and sovereignty of states has been challenged by the emerging reality of nationalism.’ His paper essentially addressed the extent of communality or conflict between nationalism an internationalism as concepts, and especially the extent to which the Igbo nationalism achieve its aspirations for self-determination.

In his evaluation, ‘the Igbo nationalists of pre- and post Biafra civil war are consistent in their demand for independence. They simply want to secede from the Nigerian state.

The prospect of achieving this goal may be elusive considering the persistent schism within the rank and file of the Igbo nationalists on (the) one hand, and inconsistent position of internationalism and international law on the issue of secession, on the other hand.’

Professor Ademola O. Popoola of the Department of International Law of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, addressed a number of issues in his paper on ‘International Law and the Challenge of Diversification of the Nigerian Economy. These issues include the New International Economic Order (NIEO) under which international trade, technology transfer, reformation of the International Monetary System and regulation and control of the activities of the Multinational Companies were discussed.

He analysed the law and the protection of Indigenous Knowledge System, as well as the problem of repatriation of displaced cultural property. He submitted that international law supports the demand for restoration of displaced cultural property. As he put it, ‘UNESCO has, indeed, established a special Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property.

Regarding the international war on corruption, Professor Popoola has it that ‘until recently, nobody talked about corruption in circles of intergovernmental organisations, lest some political and diplomatic sensibilities be offended.’ However, the President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, ‘broke the ice in 1996 on the occasion of the annual meeting of the World Bank, kick started the general consciousness when he said that ‘we need to deal with the cancer of corruption.’

The presentation of Ambassador Ayo Olukanni was on ‘International Law in the Era of Change: the New Frontiers of International Migration and Development and Strategic Options before Nigeria.’ While admitting that ‘for decades, international law has provided legal solutions to global problems through the development of substantive areas of law, court systems, and a framework for modern international relations,’ he also raised some posers: is the post-World War II regime still relevant? Can international law meet the needs of the global community in a rapidly changing global landscape and in the face of unprecedented health crises, massive refugee outflows, climate change, gender inequality…’

He explicated the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Refugee Convention) and the High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development, putting emphasis on the global response through the United Nations.
Thus, from the foregoing, international law and contemporary international relations are currently fraught with critical issues and constant changes, meaning that the NSIL has to readjust to be able to keep itself abreast of the multidimensional issues.

Dinner and Communication Sessions

The NSIL holds a dinner party at the end of each annual conference. This year’s dinner was held at the University of Lagos Guest House. Professor Bola A. Akinterinwa, who presented a paper on ‘International Law versus Nationalism: Nuclear Non-proliferation, National Self-determination and Maintenance of Global Peace and Security as Case Studies,’ at the 40th Annual Conference, was honoured with the NSIL’s Gold Medal Award for his ‘contribution to the society, national development and the development of international law.’

The central point of submission of the conference and communiqué was the emphasis placed, on the one hand, on Professor Yinka Omorogbe’s submission in her paper, entitled “Energy and National Development in the Era of Change,’ that ‘energy is life’ and the non-development or slow development in Nigeria is largely ascribable to inadequate energy. On the other hand, emphasis was also placed on the importance of international law as a sine qua non for better understanding of international relations, international behavioural attitude, avoidance of unnecessary irritants in inter-personal ties, and maintenance of global peace, order and security in international relations.

At the conclusion of the conference, the Annual General Meeting of the NSIL, the Professor Agbede-led executive was re-elected unopposed, but with the unanimous inclusion of Associate Professor Okon of the NIALS as the new Publicity Secretary and Dr. Yomi Olukolu of the University of Lagos as his assistant.

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