by David Dimas
The ruling by the uppermost court in South Africa that the sitting president Jacob Zuma has violated the Constitution by refusing to pay back state funds spent on personal benefits for his village home is a flawless example of judicial independence and respect for rule of law.
The Rule of Law, in its most simple form, is the principle that no one is above the law. It is a fundamental principle adopted to safeguard against arbitrary governance, ensure the stability of government and well-being of citizens in a given State. The concept has been around for a long time. However, the experience in Nigeria is to the contrary as successive administrations in the country have often desecrated the concept with carelessness and recklessness.
Since waking up to this piece of news, the question trending in my consciousness is can a sitting President or Governor ever be tried in a country like Nigeria where the desire of her leaders often prevails above the spirit of the constitution?
If the words of Dr. Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British Mobile Communications Entrepreneur that “Rule of law is the most important element in any civil society” are anything to go by, then it will be difficult if not impossible for any nation to maintain a civil society without respect for the rule of law and adequate law enforcement.
Though the law is deemed to be independent of the people who make, interpret or enforce it, the existence of the rule of law in a country does not mean that its citizens will not err. Citizens may have assented to the law, but they still have the free will to follow, or not to follow the law as they go about their daily lives. Nonetheless, if people, irrespective of their status, fail in their ethical obligations to obey the law, they ought to be punished according to the law without any form of interference from influential powers. That is Judicial Independence.
Evidently, the Judiciary in South Africa is independent of political affiliations, private interests, or deluding popular opinion and influences in the zestful discharge of its functions. Should we begin to create radio jingles and Television commercials to educate and remind ourselves that an independent judiciary is essential to maintaining the rule of law in Nigeria? If not, when are we going to give life to this doctrine that incontestably occupies a cardinal section of our constitutional structure? We need to collectively agree that these questions are relevant as we pursue the answers.
In a country, like ours, that is mostly divided along ethnic and religious lines, victimization and segregation are easy to invoke. Every attempt to bring accused public office holders, past or present, to justice further spreads the nebulous mist of cynicism amongst its already separated citizens.
In fact, people do not see anything wrong with any government in which they hope to benefit from be it legally or illegally. They only criticize an administration when their hoggish hopes of gaining are not met or dashed. This is the peak of intellectual deceit.
The rise and survival this pattern of reasoning which, I dare say, is regrettably being passed on to the younger generation has robbed us of the opportunity of benchmarking ourselves in critical areas of combating our long term problems which we have generally summed up in one word as “corruption”.
There is no doubt that the rule of law is explicitly inscribed in the Nigerian Constitution. Section 1. (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended postulates that “This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Nigeria is also signatory to various international conventions, Charters and Treaties that promises to advocate fundamentals of the rule of law.
Nevertheless, analysts have argued that respect for the rule of law is a theory that our burgeoning democracy has failed to live up to. Many, on the other hand, think otherwise.
As Nigeria enters a new era with a government which has pledged to uphold the tenets of the rule of law and due process, Nigerians needs to thrash the ongoing disingenuous method of applying justice and embrace the global axiom that respect for rule of law is a core value in every or any meaningful democracy. The habit of not seeing, not hearing evil when the son-of-the-soil is in authority should be censored as expeditious as possible. Citizens should understand that the well-being of the nation is far more important than individual acquisitiveness. They must arise and denounce ethnic and religious bigotry.
The political future of any country rests on the direction in which her legal processes takes. The snag lying between Nigeria and joining the league of nations with integrity and respect for rule of law as it is intended to be is nothing but the blatant disrespect shown to this constitutional provision by Nigerian leaders who had openly sworn to uphold it. This has weakened the public’s confidence and trust in our nation’s legal system. Critical action is needed to restore people’s confidence in our three arms of government.
In reality, the effective tackling of these tasks require collaborative process and effective strategies in developing institutions and procedures to make the rule of law truly applicable in Nigeria. Otherwise, the respect of citizens for the law and leaders will continue unabated on a free fall.
Inspirational Speaker, Blogger, IT Consultant.
Laurel, Maryland, U.S.A
Twitter handle: @dimas4real