Buhari And The Rule of Law

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Democracy is built on the principle of rule of law

Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) recently cried out on the urgent need to pull the country back from the troubling path of impunity, scant regard for the judiciary and the violations of democratic process ahead of the 2019 general election. According to the party, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), an important agency set up to tackle graft, has turned criminal investigation into a tool for tarnishing the image of key opposition figures “perceived to be averse to the whims and electoral interest of the ruling party.”

We agree on the need to restore the country to the path of law and order if we are to make any progress. The presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt in criminal cases are safeguards meant to protect all of us from the mob and from the state. In societies where leaders bend the rule of law in favour of any cause, including those subsumed under national security, the main aim is usually to abridge certain rights and freedoms that the people hold dear in pursuit of private agenda.

It is against this background that the recent statement by President Muhammadu Buhari that he would “jail more looters” created concern about the role of the judiciary before he added fuel to fire with his declaration at the annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) that the rule of law would be subordinated to national security. “Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest,” the president had said in what was considered an outright descent to totalitarianism, although there has been a walk back from that position following public outrage.

However, the president’s remark at the lawyers’ conference was a mere reinforcement of an earlier one by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. Last July, Malami clearly endorsed the subordination of the law to “national security” in advancing reasons why the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) was still being held despite repeated court orders for his release since 2015. According to Malami, the former NSA could not be released because the allegations against him were related to “issues of public interest,” obviously as defined by this administration. The “supremacy” of national security and public interest is also evidently at play in the continued disobedience to court orders on the release of the Shiite leader, Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky.

The Gestapo-like invasion of the abode of Chief Edwin Clark, former Federal Commissioner for Information by police officers who were later dismissed for acting without authorisation has further heightened the state of lawlessness in the country. Only last Friday, a 20-man team of EFCC officials invaded the headquarters of Standard Chartered Bank in Lagos, ostensibly in the line of duty. A day later, the commission declared that “the raid by operatives purportedly wearing the jackets of the commission might have been the handiwork of errant officers who acted without authorisation.”

It is either that these agencies are becoming increasingly less rule-governed or they have been hijacked by rogue elements within their ranks. But whichever way one looks at it, especially against the recent show of shame by the Directorate of State Services (DSS) at the entrance to the National Assembly, it should worry critical stakeholders that recourse to arbitrariness is fast becoming the norm in our country.

Over the last three and half years, the Buhari administration has consistently fallen short on issues of human rights and the rule of law. It manages security through an ineffective clique that takes delight in harassing and intimidating the opposition. On many occasions, the EFCC had been used and is still being used to fight private battles. Its sister organisation, the DSS is another impunity writ large. Besides, the government disobeys court orders at will. However, even more odd and outrageous was the president’s proclamation in a house full of lawyers that his administration is more or less above the law.

While we subscribe to the notion that national security is of crucial importance, democracy is built on the principle of rule of law. Therefore, no one, no matter how highly placed, should be allowed to take the laws into their hands or resort to self-help on any issue.

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No one, no matter how highly placed, should be allowed to take the laws into their hands or resort to self-help on any issue