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Strengthening foundations of rule of law in Nigeria – Ekweremadu

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Ekweremadu

Being public lecture in honour of Prof. G.O.S Amadi by His Excellency Senator Ike Ekweremadu, PhD, CFR Deputy President of the Senate Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Organised by The Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria & Prof. G.O.S Amadi Foundation Moot Court Complex, Enugu of Nigeria, Enugu Campus May 9, 2016

Introduction

“In matters of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution”. -Thomas Jefferson

Let me, with all respect, express my gratitude to the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, for inviting me to share my thoughts on the topic, strengthening the Foundations of Rule of Law in Nigeria in honour of the late Professor G.O.S Amadi. 

There can be no better honour to a man who stood and walked on the path of Rule of Law throughout his life. 

He was a man of peace, who not only preferred to operate under the law, but trained people like us and many more out there, who are consistently in the business of upholding the lofty ideals of restoring the dignity of man and proclaiming the need for all to submit to the laws of our land.

In honour of his memory, we will continue to preach the gospel of rule of law as against the evil of rule of man.

Related to this lecture is the public presentation of the book, “Fighting on the Side of Law and Justice: Essays in Honour of Prof. G.O.S Amadi”. 

Let me thank the contributors for the scholarly work, which in itself captures the essence of the man Prof. Amadi.

His belief in justice and the high ideals of law is unparalleled. He was a teacher of law and justice both in his conduct and his words. 

He was a comrade, and a strong voice for the oppressed. He spoke the minds of university teachers as their leader at some point in his illustrious career.

I will try to keep the conversation short since most of the issues are already settled and adequately addressed in the book, which public presentation we are witnessing today.

Ladies and gentlemen, the issue of the foundation of the rule of law in Nigeria is captured in Section 1 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended that “This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. 

Subsection (3) further provides that “If any other Law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other Law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void”. 

We will, therefore, focus on how to ensure that this foundation is not only strong but remains so forever. 

But before I proceed, it will be important to consider the term “rule of law”. I do not intend to sound academic in this lecture. 

I will prefer to speak as a participant in making of laws and as an apostle of the obedience of the laws of our land.

RULE OF LAW

The term rule of law to me is a descriptive term meaning that we all must subject ourselves to the law as condition for a sustainable society. 

That notwithstanding, there are scholars who have attempted in the past to rather define the term rule of law. 

For instance, to Sidney Brooks, it is “a government of laws, not men; it is a body of substantive law accompanied by procedural due process. 

It is a legal system of rules and proscriptions, based on a constitution, and generally reflecting the will of the people. 

It provides a framework for majority rule, but protects minority rights. The laws and their application are subject to fair judicial interpretation and independent court decisions”. 

Sellers , on the other hand, is of the opinion that the rule of law implies the requirement of removing the arbitrary will of public officials as much as possible from the administration of justice in society. 

Furthermore, the Supreme Court in Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal v. Okorafor (2001) 18 NWLR (Pt 745) 310 at 327 highlighted the importance of the rule of law to constitutional democracy in the following words: 

“Nigeria’s constitution is founded on the rule of law, the primary meaning of which is that everything must be done according to law. 

It means also that government should be conducted within the framework of recognized rules and principles which restrict discretionary powers”.

As statesman and former American President, Thomas Jefferson advised us, no man is good enough to exercise power outside the dictates of the Constitution or law. 

It is an invitation to tyranny and anarchy.

Therefore, no matter how you look at it, a society that is committed to the rule of law is, therefore, essentially committed to the following principles:

(a) Equality before the Law;

(b) An Independent Judiciary; and

(c) Fair and Just Law Enforcement Agencies.

Strengthening the Foundations of Rule of Law in Nigeria

As I have identified earlier, the foundation of the rule of law in Nigeria is the 1999 Constitution. 

The origin of that Constitution is rather controversial. 

While some believe that it is a military imposed document, others believe that since we have all agreed to operate under it and have been doing so, it has conferred the required legitimacy on the document. 

All the imperfections can be addressed through alterations as provided for in Sections 8 and 9 of the Constitution.

How do we strengthen the Constitution as the Foundation of Rule of Law in Nigeria?

1. Amendments: – Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution sets out the procedure for amending the Constitution. 

To engender and enhance a fair and impartial judiciary as well as recognizing the importance of fiscal independence for the judiciary, the National Assembly in the last constitution amendment extended financial autonomy to state judiciary. 

Unfortunately, the Fourth Constitution Amendment Bill was not assented to.

2. Judicial Pronouncements (Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution)

The efficacy of the rule of law is hinged on the compliance by governmental bodies and agencies with decisions of courts of law and other judicial or adjudicatory bodies. 

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, disobedience to court orders appears to be the norm rather than the exception in many facets of our national life. 

This trend threatens the integrity of the judiciary and the protection of individual rights in the country.

Citizens Obedience and Respect for the Constitution: Rule of law is not restricted to governmental organs and institutions alone. 

Under Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution (Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy),  the citizens are expected to show patriotism by obeying the law and respecting legitimate authorities. 

Section 24 (a) provides that it shall be the duty of every citizen to “abide by this Constitution, respect its ideals and its institutions, the National Anthem, the National Pledge, and legitimate authorities”.

3. Acts of National Assembly & State Assemblies: Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution vests in the National Assembly the legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

Section 4(2) provides that “The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive List set out in Part 1 of the Second Schedule of this Constitution”.

For instance, in the face of the menace of kidnapping, the National Assembly is working on a Bill to prescribe capital punishment for convicted kidnappers. 

The National Assembly may even go further to make it a punishable offence to pay ransom to kidnappers because commercial kidnaping thrives on ransoms received from relatives of those in the captivity of the criminals. 

The idea is simple: No ransom, no commercial kidnapping.

4. Leading by Example: There could hardly be a better way to entrench the rule of law than by leading by example. 

On leading by example, the words of Justice Louis D. Brandeis in Olmstead v. United States are instructive. 

In his dissenting opinion he states: “Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. 

For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. 

If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto him; it invites anarchy”.

It is very clear, therefore, that impunity and lawlessness are contagious. If those at the helms of leadership have no respect for the rule of law, their subordinates are not likely to respect the rule of law also.

If they by any means show that the law is meant to catch their opponents and perceived enemies alone, they have unwittingly licensed their purported friends to scorn the rules and break the laws. 

And certainly, as a leader, you cannot choose which law or court verdict to obey or which to disobey. 

Conclusion

To keep the foundation of the rule of law strong, we all have a duty and a role to play. 

Those who think the strengthening of the rule of law is not their business are only playing the dangerous game of the cockerel, which refused to attend a meeting of the animal kingdom, claiming it was not his business.

But, sadly for him, it was agreed at the meeting that his lineage will be used as sacrifice to the gods. 

The cock and his kindred are yet to recover from that I-don’t-care attitude. 

Maintaining the rule of law is, therefore, everybody’s business. 

The rule of law is indispensable in any society that craves for justice, equity and fairness because it is only the rule of law that can prevent tyranny and oppression. 

We must all be ready and willing to live by the spirit and letters of our laws. Much of our problems are not about the laws themselves, but about our disrespect for them. 

Indeed, a major difference between us and the developed world is that while we choose which rules, laws, or court judgments to obey or not to obey, they command obedience to their laws through strict enforcement that does not respect persons. 

We need to imbibe that attitude and culture in order to strengthen the foundations of the rule of law in Nigeria.

Permit me, to end this short presentation with the immortal words of the late President Abraham Lincoln:

 “Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear that charter of his own and his children’s liberty. 

“Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling-books, and in almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice”

Thank you for your kind attention and God bless.

Senator Ike Ekweremadu

Deputy President of the Senate

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