In contemporary Nigeria, the concept of the rule of law seems to have lost its essence and meaning.
Over the decades, the rule of the powerful has permeated society, leading many individuals to relinquish their rights and tolerate misrule.
This prevailing mindset concerning the functioning of society is severely distorted, and some of the arguments put forth by some compatriots are deeply troubling.
A recent incident involving the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, illustrates this disconcerting trend.
After weeks of detention on unclear charges, he was released by the court, only to be quickly re-arrested by another branch of the government.
While some rightfully condemned this chain of events, others were either indifferent or incentivized by his troubles due to past unpopular policies he managed.
Emefiele’s tenure at the CBN delivered controversial policies with severe consequences, resulting in deep sufferings for many citizens.
In his last days at the CBN, he almost unilaterally changed the currency in a manner that appeared politically motivated, causing widespread hardship and hunger.
The former CBN governor supervised a cold public policy in which men walked naked in the banking halls out of hunger, when Emefiele inexcusably decided to change the currency in a manner that reeks of political partisanship.
Truly, he deserves little mercy in the court of public opinion.
A banner on WhatsApp clearly illustrated the sentiments of most Nigerians.
It claimed that if Emefiele thought it was okay to disobey the Supreme Court order on old naira notes, he should be fine if a court order for his freedom is flouted.
True, Emefiele deserved whatever punishment is meted to him.
That would be perfectly acceptable under the court of opinions or where ancient rules that promoted “an eye for an eye” prevailed.
However, an “eye for an eye” is a primitive approach to justice ,which fails to align with the values of modern and democratic societies.
Nigeria is not a jungle by any definition; but it is not behaving like a democracy as well, because the foundational pillar of the rule of law is wobbling.
The rule of law signifies that no individual is above or below the law; the same laws apply equally and fairly to all citizens, regardless of their status or antecedents.
It ensures the protection of, and respect for, civil rights, even for those we dislike or disagree with.
This principle acts as a safeguard against tyranny and dictatorship, making it an essential element of resilient democratic societies.
It neither delivers justice emotionally, ethnically nor politically.
It simply looks at what the law books say.
Powerful individuals, whether in government or other spheres, seem to easily exert their will over the legal system, and the interests of the common people are often overlooked
Historically, the concept of the rule of law finds its roots in ancient Greek philosophy, championed by thinkers like Aristotle and Plato.
They argued that without equal treatment and fairness before the law, oligarchy thrives, leading to the collapse of the state.
Aristotle emphasised that government officials and politicians must be servants of the law, rather than wielders of arbitrary power, forcefully arguing that “the law ought to be supreme over all.”
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, it appears that the rule of men has replaced the rule of law.
Powerful individuals, whether in government or other spheres, seem to easily exert their will over the legal system, and the interests of the common people are often overlooked.
This attitude weakens the very fabric of society, eroding the principles that hold a nation together.
The mistreatment of individuals, regardless of their past actions, is not in line with a just and equitable legal system.
Even individuals like Emefiele, who may have made reprehensible decisions in the past, deserve to be treated with fairness and dignity under the law.
The goal should be the establishment of a system of justice that applies equally to anyone, irrespective of their position in society.
Furthermore, the prevailing corruption and infighting among law enforcement agencies that may have contributed to Emefiele’s re-arrest should be a wake-up call to dismantle and reconstruct the Nigerian judicial system.
The focus must be on serving the common man and the wealthy with fairness and impartiality.
A society that adheres to the rule of law benefits everyone in the long run.
While it may seem advantageous to some in the short term, such a rule of the powerful ultimately ushers in tyranny, dictatorship, and despotism, resulting in suffering of the masses.
Nigeria must break free from the shackles of the rule of lords and embrace the rule of law.
This transformation will serve as a cornerstone of a just and equitable society, fostering the growth of democracy, and protecting the rights and dignity of all citizens, regardless of their social standing or past faults.
The rule of law is not just a lofty ideal; it is a necessary and non-negotiable step towards building an equitable and harmonious Nigeria.
In a society where the rule of law is upheld, institutions function effectively, and citizens have confidence in the legal system.
The rule of law acts as a bulwark against arbitrariness and ensures that decisions are made based on established legal principles rather than the whims of those in power.
However, Nigeria has been grappling with a crisis of confidence in its legal institutions.
The frequent flouting of court orders, selective application of the law, and the use of the legal system as a tool for political vendetta have all contributed to the erosion of trust in the rule of law.
Nigeria is ripe for comprehensive judicial reforms to reduce the vulnerability of judges to corruption or influence by the other branches of government politicians and the affluent.
Another critical aspect of upholding the rule of law in Nigeria is the need to strengthen the independence of the judiciary.
Judges must be free from political interference and external pressures to ensure they can make decisions based solely on the merits of each case.
To achieve this, there should be a clear separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
The appointment and removal of judges should be carried out through transparent and merit-based processes, and judicial decisions should be subject to rigorous and impartial review.
There is also a need for legal education and awareness campaigns to promote a culture of respect for the rule of law among the general population.
Many Nigerians add fuel to the fire by dancing the tunes of their political favorites, instead of dispassionately reading the law.
When citizens understand the rule of law, they are more likely to demand accountability from those in power and actively and neutrally participate in the democratic process.
Furthermore, the rule of law should extend to all aspects of society, including law enforcement agencies.
The rule of the powerful, against basic application of the basic rules, ushers tyranny, dictatorship and despotism, or variants of them in our society
A flowery writer gave some astounding insights into the practice of law in Nigeria, suggesting that Emefiele’s re-arrest may just have been a war of sorts between the law enforcement agencies, aiming to profit from providing amenities at inflated costs for an immensely rich CBN retiree.
That may be true, and it fortifies the discussion about the need to dismantle the judicial system in Nigeria in order to build one that serves the common man and the rich fairly.
Security forces must be held accountable for any abuses of power and human rights violations. Ensuring that law enforcement agencies operate within the confines of the law is crucial for building trust between citizens and the state.
The mass media is usually left off the hook, but they have such a critical role to play in fostering a stable democracy.
The media cannot continue to look away from being the watchdogs which holds those in power accountable.
My former colleagues have had their roles drummed into them from the journalism school, and know what to do.
They must now do it or continue to march towards irrelevance and disrespect.
Nigeria’s quest for a just, democratic and prosperous society will be a pipe dream if the people continue to be partisan when it comes to social justice.
Upholding the rule of law ensures that all citizens are equal before the law and that institutions function effectively and transparently.
We cannot continue to place men, politics, ethnicity, religion and circumstances over the law.
If that is done, we should also be ready to kiss democracy a good bye.
The rule of man serves no one.
While it may benefit some today, it crushes them tomorrow.
The rule of the powerful, against basic application of the basic rules, ushers tyranny, dictatorship and despotism, or variants of them in our society.