Nigeria is a sovereign nation with laws aimed at an ordered society. The object of enacted laws in an ordered society is to ensure that the public interest is served before self-interests. One of the high points of the late Umaru Yar Adua’s Presidential Campaign was the rule of law. Government under him was to obey the principles of the rule of law and for the few months that he was in office, it did seem like there was a devotion to the ideals of the rule of law.
Today, however, although politicians and the government are quick to form the words rule of law, what is displayed instead is the Law of the jungle. Yes, even the jungle has rules but the rules of the jungle are for self-preservation, not the common good of all the animals in the jungle
The rule of law theory says that no one is above the law; ALL persons should be subject to the rule of law; and due process of law must be followed in the administration of society. It means that we do not resort to self-help. Just as a landlord cannot hire thugs to throw out a tenant in arrears, government cannot circumvent the law and due process simply because it controls the security forces and can use them to exert unlawful force on its citizens.
In Agbai & Ors v Okogbue, (1991) LPELR-225 (SC), the Supreme Court of Nigeria explained the rule of law, thus:
‘The theory of the rule of law which is now commonly canvassed and resorted to by politicians, journalists, and even lawyers to describe innominate situations seems to me much wider than the formulation of the Rule by Dicey in the late 18th century. It is different from the rule familiar to Constitutional lawyers. The principles in the rule as stated by Dicey are three. The first is the absolute supremacy of law as opposed to the exercise of arbitrary power. The second is the equality of all persons before the law. The third is that the constitution is the result of the ordinary law of the land as interpreted by the Courts. It is important to bear in mind that Dicey formulated the rule of law with respect to the unwritten Constitution of England, and in relation to the nature and content of English law – common law and statutory. There is no doubt he had in mind the application of democratic principles of the Westminster style and the impartial enforcement of the laws of England. The rules enunciated by Dicey were formulated in contrast with the situation in foreign countries. Our circumstances in this country are not identical. They are peculiar. We have adopted English law as the general law. We did not abolish all our own laws and customs which govern our ways of life in many important respects. We have also adopted the principles of democracy as recognized in West European countries. Undoubtedly these principles adopted must be applied with necessary modification and adaptation within the context of the laws adopted, recognized and applicable in our communities. Of course, where any such laws are incompatible with our democratic values, they are by our Constitution to be rejected.’
The law recognises the place of and respects our customary laws, their enforcement will depend on whether or not they are repugnant to natural justice and do not violate any provisions of the Constitution. Yes, the law is an arse and in certain cases it does not bend for our comfort, but that is no excuse to disobey the law. This position applies to government as well as the citizens.
In Wabara & Ors v FRN, (2010) LPELR-11050(CA) the Court of Appeal stated:
‘It is well settled that the rules of natural justice apply to both judicial and administrative determinations. They are not limited to judicial decisions. The principle of natural justice applies in all cases where the preliminary investigation or inquiry is an integral or necessary part of a process which may terminate in action adverse to the interests of the applicant claiming the right to be heard…. It is not appropriate to brand the Federal Government or Mr President as a trustee in relation to the constitutional powers conferred on and exercisable by them; and thereby introduce the element of personal judgment or discretion over a justiciable dispute that may arise between an individual and the State. The President exercises executive powers under the Constitution and although the powers are awesome, they have known limits. The exercise of the powers is kept within the bounds by the intervention of the rule of law.’
In essence, in this idea of the rule of law, we all have equal stake and are equal under the law. There is no room for a paternalistic president who ignores the rule of law when it suits him, while claiming to believe in the theory of the rule of law. Where there are no rules there is anarchy. Such disrespect for the rule of law as has been shown under this administration is undemocratic and we must all be concerned because we are all affected by the danger of being touched by the strong arm of anarchy.
As I said above, even the jungle has rules. Unfortunately, the rules of the jungle are self-serving. It is one thing for businesses to operate under the rules of the jungle, but those rules have no place in a democratic government.