Nigeria And The Debate On The Rule Of Law
President Muhammadu Buhari had few hours before the end of last year took questions from some select journalists drawn from about four media houses including traditional and social media in what the presidency termed maiden media chat.
The media chat almost turned out as a monologue but for a lone voice from an online newspaper who added vibrancy by asking President Muhammadu Buhari the right questions.
A prominent question which touches on the fundamentals of our democracy was asked on the incessant violations of extant and binding orders made lawfully by competent courts of law by the operatives and officers of theDepartment of State Security (DSS) also known as State Security Services but the response of Mr. president left a sour taste in the mouths of most rational and right thinking Nigerians.
Two prominent legal cases including those of the erstwhile National Security Adviser retired Colonel Sambo Dasukiand that of a civil rights activist and the Director of the Europe based Radio Biafra Mr. Nnamdi Kanu were used as a case study whereby the government's security officials have repeatedly and vexatiously violated lawful court orders to grant the duo bail.
But Mr. President betrayed lovers of constitutional democracy when he emphatically said his government would not release the duo because of what he termed the severity of their alleged offences.
The position of Mr. President on the above is unconstitutional because of the unambiguous provisions of the constitution on separation of powers between the three main arms of government namely the executive which Mr. President heads, the judiciary which the chief justice of the federation heads and the legislature headed by the senate president Mr. Bukola Saraki.
Legal scholars would tell us that the reason for the separation of powers in line with democratic constitution is to safeguard the nation from becoming a dictatorship.
An indubitable and universal fact is that although the three arms of government are complementary but inherent in the Supreme law institutionalized mechanisms to provide for checks and balances. The Law makers makes the laws, the judiciary interprets and the executive as a necessity must comply or enforce the law.
Specifically, part II of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended) thematically listed out the powers of these three arms.
The framers of the extant constitution clearly provided in chapter 4(1) that the legislative powers of the federal Republic belongs to the National Assembly just as chapter 5(1) provides thus :“subject to the provisions of this constitution, the executive powers of the federation (a) shall be vested in the president and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the National Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the vice president and ministers of government of the federation or officers in the public service of the federation”.
To cap it up, section 6(1) of the Nigerian Constitution unambiguously provides thus: “The judicial powers of the federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the federation.
For the purposes of clarity, Section 6(5) of the constitution states that the section aforementioned related to;(a) the supreme court of Nigeria; (b) the court of appeal;(c) the federal High court;(d) the High court of the federat capital territory, Abuja, amongst a few other COURTS OF LAW.
The negative disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari towards obeying the Rule of law and complying with orders of Courts does not only infringe on the fundamental rights of the Nigerians whose freedoms are denied (such as former National Security Adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki and Mr Nnamdi Kanu of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)) but is a direct affront to the basic tenets of transparency and accountability because these essentials constitute what is called good governance or what Ancient fathers of philosophy called the good life. This dangerous signal by President Muhammadu Buhari must be comprehensively condemned by all and sundry.
Our revered fathers of Philosophy especially political philosophy such as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and even philosophers of the medieval period such as Thomas Aquinas of continental Europe and Augustine of Hippo now Algeria in North Africa stated that the polity can't be administered transparently and the leaders can't be held to account if the basic principles of good governance such as respect for the rule of law are violated with reckless abandon.
These great thinkers reasoned that this idea of the polis (polity or nation- state) as a natural phenomenon rather than a man-made one underpins Aristotle’s idea about ethics and the politics of the city-state.
In the scholarly work titled the politics book and edited by Sam Atkinson, Aristotle is said to have concluded from his study of the natural worlds, that everything that exist has an aim or a purpose, and he decided that for human, this is to lead a “good life”.
In contemporary political epochs we call that Good Governance without which civil rule would mean nothing but totalitarianism or rule by the capricious whims of one dictator.
Aristotle notably takes the concept of good governance deeply entrenched in the respect for rule of law to mean the pursuit of virtues, such as justice, goodness, and beauty.
The purpose of the polis or nation- state, then, is to enable us live according to these virtues. The ancient Greeks from which the now popular political concept of Democracy emanated, those who began the practice of Democracy saw the structure of the state- which enables people to live together and protects the property and liberty of its citizens- as a means to the end of virtue.
Aristotle who obviously is a well respected father of philosophy identified various “species” and “sun-species” within the polis. He found that what distinguishes Man from the other animals is his innate powers of reason and the faculty of speech, which gave him a unique ability to form social groups and set up communities and partnerships.
Within the community of a polis, the citizens develop an organization that ensures the security, economic stability, and justice of the state; not by imposing any form of social contract, but because it is in their nature to do so. President Muhammadu Buhari who swore by the Nigerian Constitution does not need professors of law to tell him that his avowed refusal to respect the rule of law will backfire because it is inherently unconstitutional and illegal and since a foundation built on illegality will collapse like a pack of cards similarly a government that publicly disrespects orders of court will lose the popular and constitutional legitimacy and opens its self to impeachment by the National legislature if the members of parliament are patriotic and law abiding.
We need to explore ancient philosophical knowledge further to uncover the beauty of respect for rule of law which is the fundamental bulwark of constitutional democracy.
For Aristotle, the different ways of organizing the life of the polis exist not so that people can live together (as they do this by their very nature), but so that they can live well. How well they succeed in achieving this goal, he observes, depends on the type of government they choose.
It follows therefore that the decision of the current government to detain Colonel Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu even against the unambiguous orders of competent courts amounts to the President adopting anarchy and lawlessness as his methodology of running Nigeria which is absolutely unconstitutional and reprehensible and therefore must be discontinued to save Nigeria's democracy from collapsing.
Any democratically elected administration that disrespect the constitution is committing high treason and if a government loses legitimacy it is nothing but a gang of opportunists tickets anarchists. Politics is too serious to be left to the politicians so it behoves on the Nigerian Bar Association and organised civil society and the hierarchy of the nation's court system to protest the current rape of constitutionalism by the Muhammadu Buhari’s Government.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.rightsassociationngr.com, www.huriwa.org.