PROMOTING THE RULE OF LAW OVER THE RULE OF JUNGLE IN NIGERIA
One of the indispensable components of democracy is the rule of law! In common parlance, the rule of law is the condition in which every member of the society including its leaders accepts the authority of the law. This is to say that the law of the state is supreme and is binding on all persons in the land, irrespective of status, position, rank, religion, political party, ethnicity or affiliation. However, the question that every rational mind or patriotic Nigerian should ask is: “Do we obey laws in Nigeria”? Or “Is it relevant laws that are lacking in Nigeria”?
Nigeria is a country of about 167 million people, and it has a relevant constitution. Section 1 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended says: “This constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. Apart from the constitution, Nigeria has acts like the Electoral Act, Freedom of Information Act among others. All this are aimed at engendering democratic nation where respect for the rule of law, human rights, independent media, civil societies and independent judiciary forms the integral parts of our democratic institutions. For example, according to Wole Olanipekun SAN, “Judicial independence is the complete liberty of individual judges to hear and decide the cases that come before them free from interference of any kind … An independent judiciary has long been recognized as the foundation upon which a true democracy rests because it allows judges to make impartial decisions without fear of dire consequences. This is important because public trust in the judiciary depends upon societal confidence in the impartiality of individual decisions”. Similarly, as parts of the plan to bequeath strong democratic institutions to Nigerians, section 39, sub-section (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended reads: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference” “Without prejudice to the generality of sub section (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions”. Also, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, guarantees the right for freedom to express without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.
Nonetheless, since the return of democracy in 1999, weak democratic institution has been observed at different fora. To uphold this view, Wole Olanipekun said: “On paper, Nigerian judiciary appears independent, but in actual practice, it is otherwise”. In the same vein, President Obama, in his visit to Ghana in 2009, said: “Africa do not need strong men, but strong institutions” (sic). However, the event of Thursday, July 10, 2003, where a sitting governor in the South East of the country was abducted and the subsequent granting of an ex-parte order on Tuesday, July 22, 2003, by Justice Egbo Ebgo on the request of some politicians from the zone, seeking to stop the constitutionally elected governor of a state, is one judicial incidence that will serve as an unforgettable-historical-scar on our democratic journey. The judiciary is not the only victim of weak democratic institution, contrary to the provisions of section 22 of our constitution which says: “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”, the fourth estate of the realm is not having it easy, in carrying out its constitutionally mandated roles to the Nigerian people. While I cannot list all journalists that were gunned down on duty, below were the few out of many that paid the ultimate price in our democratic journey since 1999; Godwin Agbroko of Thisday Newspaper, he died on December 22, 2006. Bayo Ohu of the Guardian Newspaper, he died on September 20, 2009. Edo Sule Ugbagwu of The Nation Newspaper, he died on April 24, 2010, and Eiphraim Audu of the Nasarawa State Broadcasting Service, he died on October 24, 2010. Politicians were not left out, as countless players and drivers of our democratic processes have also passed on in unfortunate manners. Among them were Chief Bola Ige, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Engineer Funsho Williams, Chief Alfred Rewane, Dr. Harry Marshal, Chief Aminosoari Dikibo, Ogbonna Uche, Dipo Dina, Sunday Ugwu, Mr. and Mrs. Barrnabas Igwe, Olaitan Oyerinde, and so on.
From the foregoing, it is crystally clear that relevant laws are not lacking in the country, but, it is our attitudes towards them that matters! Therefore, every Nigerian must subject his or her self to authority, because, without the rule of law which can prevent anarchy in a democratic setting like ours, doing otherwise, as witnessed in the past may be a dangerous alternative to our democratic aspirations. While the previous struggle was for the enthronement of democratic regime, the next phase of the struggle should be for the entrenchment of democratic institutions in the country. It therefore behooves on every Nigerian to work patriotically so as to make Nigeria, the Africa's democratic destination. “Yes We Can”---Barrack Obama.
Edwin Ekene is a renowned democracy and human rights activist.