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Rescuing Nigeria from the Rule of Lawlessness.


By: Professor Dr. Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai
 Published March 28th, 2011

The Era of the Gentiles, Atonement and the Brotherhood of Man is ordained to “establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”Deuteronomy, 8 verse 18.

On our part, we must obey the Ten Commandments, all man-made laws, rules of morality, civility and the rights of other people must be respected.

There are people, who violate the rights of others, do horrific things to societies and yet, they seem to prosper. This was why Job in the Bible wondered why “the wicked live and become old.”

In Nigeria, we have religious institutions, which promote Abrahamic precepts. It is therefore surprising that criminality of the worst genre thrives in Nigeria and is getting frightening. The ethical standards have become very low. People now kidnap by their compatriots. Crime is no longer condemned and the power of shame no longer pierces the conscience of hoodlums. Hedonism has gained in acceptance.

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Under the Obasanjo regime, violations of the rule of law and crude politics were prevalent. The government of Yar’adua promised to observe the rule of law. He appointed cabinet ministers and other officials, whose tenures were marked by incompetence and corruption.

Unemployment, hopelessness and dire social conditions, have pushed some citizens into desperation leading to all such of heinous crimes.

Some lawyers have decided to bring issues concerning the rule of law to the attention of the Nigerian society.

On 22nd March, 2011, the Rule of Law Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association organized a one-day seminar on the Rule of Law. Although members of the higher bench and all stakeholders were invited, they were conspicuously absent.

The Chairman of the Rule of Law Committee, Yusuf Ali ensured that the Seminar was successful.

However, this did not impact on the proceedings of the seminar, in which strong views on the judiciary, the behaviour of legal practitioners and the alien-based legal system were put to the sword of learned criticisms.

Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, presented a comprehensible lecture on “Rule of Law as an Agenda for the sustenance of Enduring Democracy.” He reviewed the workings of the Supreme Court during “its Golden Days “and lauded the work of the Supreme Court and other courts in checking the excesses of the government executive in certain cases where executive lawlessness seemed to manifest.

The judges of the “Golden Age” of the Supreme were all were tutored in British Universities and the Inns of Courts. With Nigerian Law School examination papers are being leaked to the highest bidders with parental support and connivance, the further of legal practice and the performance of judges will suffer.

It is advisable to study the intellectual history of the rule of law by reflecting on the various epochs of societal deveoplment.

The harsh regimes of Kings and strongmen have been in the discourses in the Laws of Manu, the Laws of Hammurabi, the Feta Negact of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the laws of Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar (now Malagasy).

These ancient regulatory norms were aimed at the promotion of the rule of law and human rights.

The rule of law is embedded in liberalism,” a political philosophy which postulates the freedom of the individual, democratic institutions and free enterprise, upholds the right of man.

In Britain, “19th-century liberalism was indebted to philosophers like Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mills and T.H Green, who propagated the concepts of democracy, natural rights, representative government and the common good”.

Wittgenstein said “Philosophy is an activity not a theory, so too, law and jurisprudence. Law is no more than the rules, which the lawyers use or have used, or might use in their everyday business.”

In intellectual history, law has been defined according to the kind of socio-economic system in vogue. So, also is the understanding of the rule of law.

During the one-day seminar in Abuja, Judge Augie of the Enugu Judicial Order presented a paper entitled “The Agenda of Rule of Law for Nigerian leaders”.

In her erudite, lucid and frank address in didactic style, the learned judge espoused the theoretical and practical issues involved in discussions on the rule of law and human rights. In so doing, the learned judge went through the international meetings by international jurists aimed at framing the synthesis for universally acceptable code of the Rule of Law.

She discussed the Act of Athens, the Declaration of Delhi,(1959), the Law of Lagos and the Declaration of Bangkok.

From these welter of juristic efforts, the norms of human rights and the rule of law became solidified..

Her references to learned opinion of eminent jurists helped to elucidate her points. She spared her audience the usual regurgitating of many many decided cases, which is the hall-mark of Nigerian legal practice and academia and which often results in obscurantism and plunges the subject under review into obloquy.

The learned judge dealt with the issue of transparency, the judiciary and the behaviour of some lawyers, who engage in some unwholesome practices that militate against the rule of law.

The 27-paged paper, which the learned judge kindly autographed for me is a must read.

I take the view that the subject of the rule of law, human rights and constitutionalism form the tripod of modern jurisprudence. The United Nations have passed many declarations, conventions, protocols in furtherance of the objectives of seeking compliance with the respect for the rule of law and human rights,

The primitive societies adopted the rule of force by strong men. The feudal societies were presided over and are still being presided over by kings, who exercise an oppressive sway over their citizens only yielding to revolutions.

Some capitalist states are democratic by virtue of the dominance of the propertied class, who are adroit at manipulating their societies. Socialist societies tend to manifest intolerance for opposition, which is often seen as counter-revolutionary.

As a result, the struggle for human rights and the rule of law is a continuous societal agenda.

In Nigeria, we are yet to realize that our federalism is neither just nor expressive of the wishes of the people. The presidential system is very expensive.

Our mono-culture economy cannot sustain the system any more. The system of revenue allocation, in which the Federal Government takes the lion’s share, leaves states and local governments with meager resources to ensure social justice and a life that is marginally tolerable.

A deprived people are bound to throw caution to the winds and engage in acts of criminality.

Without the rule of law, societies will be in a perpetuate state of conflict. Just as one observes the rule of grammar in order to make sense in conversation, so a society must abide by laws to maintain peace. The rule of law is imperative for the maintenance of public order.

Political parties do canvass for votes during elections. An elected party by majority votes gains the legitimacy to govern according to the rule of law.

Any form of arbitrariness and impunity, such as we have witnessed in Nigeria, creates the despondency leading to revolt as we have seen in North Africa and the Middle East.

Majority rule creates the legitimate legal basis for legislative governance of a state. Legislations, which seek to regulate the political, economic and social life of a state, are indispensible for the enthronement of the rule of law. The functions of law are to create an ordered atmosphere in a polity, which enhance peaceful development of the state. Laws also defines the citizens’ rights and duties. No man should be dealt with wickedly either by the government or his compatriots. Where such infringements occur, the citizen must have free access to the judicial processes.

The rule of law is both a deterrent and a shield. The legal system must work properly, ensuring that justice is not unduly delayed. During the one-day seminar in Abuja, it was revealed that some cases had been on the Cause List for over a decade. “Justice delayed is justice denied”

Some lawyers, it was reported apply for prolonged adjournments, preliminary objections, unnecessary appeals in order to stultify the judicial process and the rule of law.

It was agreed that the Nigerian elections of 2011, must be credible, free and fair, in order to confer legitimacy on the in-coming government. Usually, an illegitimate government would resort to undemocratic and repressive measures to stay in office. The rule of law and the rule of force seem hard to reconcile.

Acceptance of the authority of the law is crucial for the sustenance of the rule of law. For the rule of law to prevail and thrive, there must be awareness on the part of the people, the consequences of delinquent behaviour. The law enforcement agencies, who are often over-zealous in their dealings with civilians, must receive adequate training that should put them in the orbit of civilized attitudes. One cannot violate the law, while defending the government during demonstrations.

The machinery for the administration of justice is a competent and incorruptible judiciary, and other law enforcement agencies. The caliber of these people can be gleaned from court judgments, the quality of police investigations and prosecutions.

From available evidence the standards seem to have fallen inexorably. The social pressures on families in Nigeria and the false consciousness that make people live above their means; culminate in the imperative to act with impunity on the side of government officials. Those that have access to public funds have not shown any restraint in embezzling state funds.

A Nigerian jurisprudence has not taken root to deal with our wrong social values, the entrenched negative ethos, the disparity in the wage structure and the revenue allocation system, these hinder the positive operation of the rule of law.

The Nigerian legal system has not divorced itself from its British colonial heritage.( See Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai, “THE COLONIAL LEGAL HERITAGE IN NIGERIA” Fagbamigbe Publishers, Ibadan, Akure, 1986.

Nigerian legal practice restricts itself to case law. There is little erudition in advocacy except that the learned justices show excellence in their written judgments. These are later over flogged in subsequent litigations, both in and out of contexts.

The British legal tradition from the lawyers outfit to” ME Lord and as the court pleases,” have engraved an indelible patch on Nigeria’s philosophy of law. This has handcuffed juristic thought.

This is why this writer was so pleased with the learned and sophisticated presentation by Judge Augie during the one-day seminar on the rule of law in Abuja that I recommend the paper to our citizens.

The IFE Critical Legal School disapproves of legal formalism which put undue emphasis on rigid adherence to procedural aspects of litigation, which often allows the form to defeat the substance of the case, even after the Supreme Court’s pronouncement on the practice. We approve of robust advocacy and logical delivery in courts.

After a close study of Nigerian Constitutions since 1945, I came to the conclusion that they were not aimed at effecting meaningful change, but were intended to diffuse, not to consummate the national, democratic development that is long over-due.

In Nigeria, there are no galvanizing, democratic forces in the various political parties that could bring about mass mobilisation that will raise the consciousness among Nigerians which will, in turn, engender popular revolt against the forces of under-development.

Religious visions, which illuminate eternal truths, have not helped Nigerians to throw off their chains. They rather seem to blunt the edge of the struggle for democracy and the rule of law, as well as stultify the objective conditions of popular struggle for democracy, economic emancipation and social justice.

Franz Cumont, in his “After life in Roman Paganism”, wrote, “In the heavy atmosphere of a period of oppression and powerlessness, the despondent souls of men aspired with ineffable ardour to the radiant space of heaven”. Some victims of human rights violations in the Arab world, who kill themselves, belong to this category.

The disrespect for the rule of law in Nigeria is the reason that has permitted hopes that our new rulers will fashion concrete policies to govern well.

The fight against corrupt persons must be sustained and a directory already exists of the various cases. The efforts to rescue Nigeria from the rule of lawlessness is a cardinal undertaking.. We know that the glory of the corrupt shall not descend after them. In the remembrance of the people, they shall be called thieves and evil men forever.

Unfortunately, the manifestoes of the various Nigerian political parties have inundated us with simplistic sloganeering, vague promises and clichés.

We need political programmes that are devices designed to strengthen the main propellant of the coming transformation.

I have advocated that we are rather a Confedral Republic rather than a Federal Republic. We need to strengthen the authority of individual states and encourage them to produce wealth rather than lazily expect funds from the government.

A Confederal Republic will make states aware of their inherent rights to peaceful co-existence with other states. There will be inter-state trade, economic and cultural cooperation, mutual exchange of agricultural products and other serious forms of engagement.

States that are in control of their resources are likely to be imaginative, hard-working and resourceful.

With a marked increase in the social conditions of people in their confederal, composite units, the rule of law, democracy and their human rights will be assured.

The new government of Nigeria needs to call a National Conference of our Confederal States, re-draft the Constitution to reflect Nigerian socio-economic realities and ensure the rule of law.

I already know the new President. He will hear a lot from me about the rule of law, social justice, the need for price control, constant electricity, good roads, law enforcement, transparency, good governance, during the coming dispensation.


Professor Dr. Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai, a Writer and Academic is the President of the proposed Afemai University, Fugar, Edo State.




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