2019: Centrality of Rule of Law

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Emmanuel Onwubiko

2019: Centrality of Rule of Law

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

The ongoing campaign season will not be complete without an animated debate around the centrality of the theme of adherence of government officials to the principle and practice of rule of law. A conversation around the issues of rule of law is so central to the election because a constitutional democracy without the adherence of all citizens to the PRIMACY OF THE RULE OF LAW is like a fish expecting to survive outside of water. I recalled vividly in my 100 level Philosophy class whereby we encountered the earliest fathers of philosophy and their inquiries on the essence or the central form of life. One of these philosophers by name Thales devoted substantial academic time to argue that all Beings evolved from water. In the same vein it won’t be out of place to say that all democracies evolved from the Constitution which is universally called the grund norm.  Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt who recently wrote a classic called “How Democracies Die”, made it clear that democracy is dead if the nation is ruled by a strong man who is strong enough to undermine the institutions of democracy such as the Judiciary, the legislature. Professor John Keane who earlier did a voluminous work called ” The Life and Death of Democracy” is in agreement that there is no constitutional democracy without the Primacy of the Law. 

The reason for the above affirmation that the central theme of the ongoing political campaign should be a question on the place and essence of rule of law is not far fetched given that constitutional democracy would remain a mirage if the principle of rule of law is not the central theme that binds all those who hold one office or the other in all levels of government together. Respect for the Rule of law is assumed to be ‘the be- all and end -all’ in all constitutional democracies.  Nigeria is not an exception. 

Another reason to demand that those who seek for elective offices in the coming elections of 2019 must render comprehensive account of how each of them intends to respect, the principle of rule of law is because of the lack of commitment on the part of president Muhammadu Buhari to subscribe absolutely to the primacy of rule of law. Shamefully, the President is surrounded by senior lawyers who lack the courage of conviction to call their boss to order. The Vice President Mr. Yemi Osinbajo before running for elective office was the Attorney General of Lagos state. Lagos state has the most vibrant judiciary in the entire federation. The failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to obey some court judgments is therefore one of the most disturbing causes of grand scale impunity that have been seen in all parts of Nigeria including the fact that the Minister of Defence was seen defending mass murderers who are armed Fulani killer gangs. 

The minister justified these atrocities on the ground that the cause of the violence unleashed by armed Fulani herdsmen was because of a law in some North Central States prohibiting public grazing of cows and also because of the blocking of the so called grazing routes. Because the head is rotten literally, the Defence Minister made this illegal remarks because his boss disregards rule of law and nothing has happened to either the government official nor to the killer gangs belonging to Fulani herdsmen who have killed over 6,000 farmers in North Central Nigeria made up largely of Christians.

In the light of the above, it is essential to state that the fundamental deficit of the current administration is the notoriety it has garnered as an administration that picks and chooses which binding judgments of courts of competent jurisdiction it should comply and which it would ridicule with naked impunity. Section 6 of the constitution gives the judicial powers of the federation to the courts of competent jurisdiction. But Muhammadu Buhari thinks he is bigger than the law or so it seems drawing from his antecedents in his current office. 

Two key cases are the celebrated bails granted by different divisions of the Federal High Court to both the detained leader of the Islamic movement of Nigeria Sheikh Ibraheem Elzackzacky and his wife and the immediate past national security adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd). 

Each of these citizens have spent three years in illegal detention. A journalist from Bayelsa was kept by the Department for State services in underground cell for over two years. He was only recently freed by the Chief magistrate court Abuja only after the Director General of Department of state services who committed numerous atrocities against the constitution Lawal Daura was removed by then acting President when his cup of iniquity became full. 

He was indicted for sending 100 armed hooded DSS operatives to invade the National Assembly and for a whole day held the legislators hostage in an attempt to unseat the leadership of the National Assembly who had planned to decamp from the All Progressives Congress to the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party. He and those who carried out the unconstitutional takeover of a part of government have yet to be prosecuted. 

These and many more failures to activate constitutional mechanisms to punish violators of the rule of law in government has made a national conversation on the readiness of the Presidential candidates to abide by the principle of rule of law very imperative.

Also, the disdain demonstrated by President Muhammadu Buhari towards the principle of rule of law became a national embarrassment when the (Muhammadu Buhari) openly disputed the primacy of rule of law but elevated what he calls national security interest far and above the rule of law. Lawyers and lovers of constitutional democracy immediately lampooned the President. 

Sadly, the habitual disregard for courts’ judgments by president Muhammadu Buhari has taken a global dimension when the international media reported a former British cabinet level Minister of raising alarm that Nigeria as it is under the current dispensation is not good for business simply because president Buhari has no respect for rule of law.

A former Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom, Priti Patel, warned investors to be wary of investing in Nigeria.

In an op-ed for City A.M., Patel, who is a member of the British parliament, claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari was not in the habit of obeying law and court orders.

Patel cited the case of a firm owned by two Irishmen, which got a contract in Nigeria in 2010, adding that Buhari, upon assuming office in 2015, cancelled the contract.

Patel claimed that the firm’s efforts to get compensation through the court were also frustrated as Buhari refused to obey court decisions made in favour of the foreign firm.

Patel said, “In Nigeria, the unhappy experience of the firm founded by two Irishmen, Process and Industrial Development, is a case in point, and demonstrates the risk that businesses will face in Nigeria.

“In 2010, P&ID signed a 20-year contract with the Nigerian government to create a new natural gas development refinery, but the project fell through after the Nigerian government reneged on its contractual commitments.

“Upon taking office, President Buhari promptly cancelled a compensation settlement.

“Since Buhari reneged on this deal, P&ID has undertaken legal efforts to affirm a tribunal award, first decided in London. It also made several attempts in court to force the Nigerian government to respect its obligations.

“The most recent court decision at a London tribunal confirmed that the Nigerian government owes P&ID almost $9bn for the initial breach of contract, loss of income, additional costs, and interest accrued after five years of non-payment.

“However, the Nigerian government has continued to flout international law and convention, and it refuses to respect the various court decisions.

“Investors must consider this long-running scandal and weigh this obstinacy against Nigeria’s mishandled economic potential.”

The Briton added thus: “Nigeria is ranked 145th in the world for its ease of doing business, which demonstrates the risks of investment into Nigeria.” This statement of fact by this foreigner has however become a political point of warfare by politicians of divergent parties even as the Spokesman of the President has as usual spoken in defence of government even without recourse to the empirical data alluded to by this British legislator.

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party said it was unfortunate that Buhari had given the country bad image abroad, with his alleged penchant for disobeying court orders.

A presidency source said Patel’s claims were being analyzed by government. 

However, another Presidency official even without thinking decided to criticize the Briton for stating what is completely truthful.  

The Presidency described Patel warning as “lacking in substance and devoid of merit in empirical evidence established by facts.”

The President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, in a statement said, “Her claim is a fabrication that cannot be supported by the facts on the ground.”

“Nigerian has recognized the rights of investors, both local and foreign, as enshrined in our constitution, which states clearly that no investment can be taken from its owners without recourse to the law. Given the constitution, you don’t even need international protection for assets held in this country.

“Beyond this, we have established a proper climate of investment on account of which, the nation has gained 24 points of excellence in the global ease of doing business index.”

But even an infant in Nigeria knows that the current government has serious challenge with respecting rule of law. Many patriotic Nigerians and groups have demanded that President Muhammadu Buhari change from his bad posture of disrespecting the rule of law. The Christian Association of Nigeria the other day told the President to his face that he is a serial violator of rule of law. Professor Wole Soyinka says the persistent violations of rule of law by President Muhammadu Buhari constitutes a huge international embarrassment. President Donald Trump queried President Muhammadu Buhari during a state visit to the White house in Washington dc that there are thousands of killings of Christians that Buhari has failed to bring the killers to justice. The Chief justice of Nigeria has also added his voice to the long list of those condemning the violations of rule of law by President Muhammadu Buhari and his officials including his Attorney general and minister of justice. It is a consensus opinion that any government that refuses to respect the law is a dictator. In the year 2007, a famous justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria Niki Tobi graphically called a government that fails to respect the law as enemy of democracy.

His words: “A Government in a democracy which fails or refuses to obey court orders and judgments is not a friend to democracy but rather a foe. Such a Government is working at cross purpose with democracy. It is not a civilized government capable of functioning in the 21st century Nigeria operating a vibrant democracy. Such a Government has desecrated democracy and pushed it to the mud. Let no Government behave in that way.”

Niki Tobi praised the then government of President Olusegun Obasanjo for respecting the rule of law thus:  “I should however mention here to close this short paper that the attitude of the present Federal Government in this matter of obedience of court orders and judgments is one in the right direction. Immediately the Supreme Court delivered the judgment in Obi v. INEC, the President instructed the Solicitor-General of the Federation and the Acting Inspector-General of Police to implement the decision. That was done and Mr. Peter Obi commenced from where he stopped as Governor of Anambra State. That is most commendable and we do hope that State Governments will follow the good example of a servant leader.”

Tobi then stated that: “It is also our hope that the Federal Government will sustain or maintain the tempo. Of course, Nigerians will cry to the roof top if there is a deviation in policy in this matter. It is our hope that such a day will elude our cherished democracy forever.” (NIKI TOBI, CON).

It is therefore imperative for Nigerians to cry to the rooftops over the many breaches of the rule of law by the current government and to use the opportunity of the campaigns to demand full disclosures from the candidates on their blueprint for elevation of respect to the rule of law to the rightful place and making this practice the primacy of the modus operandi and modus vivendi of the government that would assume office by next May 29th 2019 after the forthcoming election. 

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @  www.emmanuelonwubiko.comwww.huriwanigeria.comwww.huriwa.blogspot.com.

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