When Impunity Becomes National Culture



Congratulations to the new CJN

Firstly, I must congratulate his Lordship, Honourable Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, on his confirmation as the 18th Chief Justice of Nigeria pursuant to Section 231(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution). We wish his Lordship a successful and progressive tenure, in which innovations that will move the Nigerian Justice Sector forward will be introduced and entrenched in our judicature. 

A Constitution Based on Falsehood 

It is true that the Constitution is based on falsehood. Contrary to the Preamble, ‘We, the People’ didn’t resolve anything, nor agree to provide ourselves with a Constitution or give ourselves one; the military gave us their own version of a Constitution. However, one of the purposes of the said Constitution, is purportedly to promote good government and the welfare of all persons in the country on the principles of freedom, equality and  justice. And, to this end, Sections 4, 5, & 6 of the Constitution established the three arms of government, the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary.

But, could it be that as we move further into the democratic dispensation (which in reality, is mostly undemocratic), that it is becoming progressively difficult to build upon a shaky foundation, let alone have a solid structure stand? Have Nigerians become more aware of not just the fact that they had no input into the making of the Constitution, but also of the numerous flaws in the document, and are therefore not just rejecting it, but are also generally disobeying laws based on this flawed ‘Super Law’ (the Constitution) with gusto and aplomb? Or is this state of lawlessness/anything goes, a function of lack of good leadership and accountability that have accrued over the years? Or a combination of all of the above? Disobedience of laws, non-observance, and outright ignoring, have now become a common occurrence with the citizenry, government officials and the authorities. What does one call a country where the people and government have no regard for the rule of law, and they just do as they please? Chaotic? Anarchical? Sadly, this is what our country seems to have descended into. 

In the two scenarios that I discuss below, the Government and Students both display a lack of respect for the rule of law.

Executive Recklessness: Raids on the Judiciary

In October 2016, the DSS (Department of State Services) raided the residences of Judges and Justices in the dead of night, the same way wanted criminals who are on the run are hounded for apprehension by law enforcement agents. The authorities tried to justify these illegal acts, by using the National Security Agencies Act 1986 (NSA Act) which is completely inapplicable. Aside from the fact that the Agencies mentioned in Section 1 of the NSA Act do not include the DSS, the functions of the Agencies listed therein, are mainly to detect and prevent crimes of a military nature (see Section 2 of the NSA Act). It has absolutely nothing to do with the Judiciary, by any stretch of the imagination.

But, despite the general condemnation of such impunity and rascality on the part of government, sometime in October 2021, the home of Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili, the second highest ranking Justice of the Supreme Court at the time, was invaded by some ‘Police’ characters. This time, a judicial officer, a Magistrate, was also involved in the fiasco, and a phoney search warrant was issued and used to gain access into the JSC’s residence. The excuse given by the authorities this time, was that those who partook in that illegal incursion were fake law enforcement agents – a somewhat bizarre explanation. Who would be brave and brazen enough to illegally force their way into the residence of the second highest ranking judicial officer in the land, if not those who believe that they are of an even higher authority? 

And, just last Wednesday, the EFCC intruded into the residence of the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Kano Division, at the crack of dawn, using the excuse of some spurious ‘property verification exercise’. Lawlessness in high places! We are governed by the rule of impunity, and not the rule of law; we live in a society that encourages and promotes disorder and irresponsibility, contrary to some of the provisions of our flawed Constitution. Isn’t it ironical that this impunity and disregard for the rule of law, is being perpetrated by law enforcement agencies? 

University Students, Road Blocks & the BRF Comment

I reiterate the fact that Nigerian workers, including University Lecturers, have been done a disservice by the Nigerian system. Being poorly paid with poor conditions of service, did not start today; even the Judiciary is not excluded from this injury – the inequity, injustice and unfair treatment has simply become more pronounced over the years. See Sections 17(3) & 34(1)(a) of the Constitution. Undoubtedly, students have also been deprived of their rights guaranteed by the educational objectives set out in Section 18 of the Constitution. They are already lagging behind their peers, as they have more or less lost at least half an academic year, with a new one currently commencing. Tertiary education in the Federal Universities, has, over the years, become “daku daji” as we say in Yoruba – in fits and starts, or spurts! 

Be that as it may, last week, instead of blocking the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the access to the airport, the students should have restricted their protest to Aso Rock, or the National Assembly (NASS) (since NASS has oversight functions – see Section 88 of the Constitution), Federal Ministry of Education and/or Ministry of Labour.

The Minister of Works & Housing, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN (BRF) was misquoted as saying the student’s protest was illegal. As a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, he could not have said so, especially as the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Sections 39(1) & 40. Also see Chapters 8 Article 10 and 9 Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, which also provide for freedom of right to association and peaceful assembly respectively. What BRF referred to was the illegality of blocking of the expressway, thereby preventing normal travel of the general public on that road and stopping people from going about their normal business, which did nothing but inflict pain on the general public. I agree with BRF’s comment. 

The truth of the matter is that, people talk about rights, but often forget that these rights come with duties/responsibilities. Are we exempted from obeying the law because we have rights? I think not. It is an offence to obstruct any section of the road, either with vehicles or any other way that may affect the free flow of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. See the Federal Highways Act 2004 and the Regulations thereto. For instance, what if a pregnant woman who has a pregnancy complication like Pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) which could lead to the death of the mother or baby or both, fell into labour, and was being rushed to the hospital via the Lagos-Ibadan expressway which the students had blocked, and they were unable to get through? That blockade could easily have resulted in the death of mother, child or both. The blockade caused a threat to public peace and safety of citizens; in this example, it infringed upon the pregnant woman (and her baby)’s right to life, liberty and freedom of movement guaranteed by Sections 33(1), 35(1), & 41(1) of the Constitution respectively. Rights are not always at large – there must be a balance between protesting, and infringing on the rights of others.

The Public Order Act 2004 (POA) seems to protect the interest of government, more so than the citizenry. However, this position slightly changed in favour of citizens with the decision in Inspector General of Police v ANPP & 11 Ors 2007 18 N.W.L.R. Part 1066 Page 457 per Adekeye JCA (as she then was), in which the Court of Appeal upheld the citizens’ right to protest enshrined in Section 40 of the Constitution, by inter alia shooting down Section 1(1)-(3) of the POA which provided that a Police Permit must be sought and obtained before a protest/assembly can hold. However, by virtue of Section 4(1) of the POA, a superior Police Officer is empowered to prescribe an alternative route for a public assembly, if he/she has reasonable grounds to believe that the chosen route of the public assembly may cause public disorder. Certainly, the blocking of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and access to the Murtala Muhammad Airport, caused public disorder. Travellers going about their legitimate business were prevented from ingress to or egress from the airport. In this case, could Section 4(1) of the POA prescribing what route can be used for a protest therefore, be justified by Section 45(1)(a) & (b) of the Constitution, which restricts and derogates from fundamental rights in the interest of inter alia, public order and protection of the rights of others? The answer is yes – at least, when it is about disallowing students or anyone else to block the expressway, roads or airport route, in order to protest. 

My role is not only about dissemination of accurate information to the public; it is also about educating my readers about issues, like I have attempted to do here. The essence of a strike or protest, is to allow the public know about the injustices being suffered by the Strikers/Protesters and elicit sympathy for that cause; it is not to infringe on the rights of others, thereby making the people become resentful, as some are beginning to feel, rightly or wrongly, about ASUU and the prolonged strike. Luckily, the students very much have the sympathy of the public, and  they did not overdo their protests to pass the message of their despair across. 

However, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have consistently maintained that while another reason for a protest or strike is to elicit the proper reaction from government, in the case of Nigeria, these strikes/protests do nothing but unleash suffering on the people; Government is not a particularly listening one, and even if it a listens, is rather slow in hearing and taking action; it does not react to these strikes and protests in the way it should. If Government was that much concerned about students, ASUU would not be on strike till now. The frustration of the students is therefore, quite understandable.


It is my sincere and fervent hope that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and his team, will have better luck at bringing an end to the ASUU Strike and a lasting solution to this problem once and for all. So far, ASUU has rejected the order of interlocutory injunction granted against it by the NICN last Wednesday in FGN & Anor v ASUU, restraining ASUU from continuing with its indefinite strike pending the determination of the suit; ASUU is appealing the order. 

Finally, I really wonder what it will take for the impunity and lack of regard for the rule of law that has overtaken us, to abate. It is fast becoming our way of life!

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