Breaking the rule of the Rule of Law

To get to the thrust of my parlance quickly, I should say firstly that I have no intention to take you for granted. Therefore, I will not go into the dialectics of the functions of the three organs of power, (mind you) not of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. And perhaps too, I should quickly throw it in, against accepted vexations, that there is indeed a fundamental difference between the organs of power and the organs of government. And just for the sake of this academic-cum-social exercise, let me draw the distinction between them – the organs of power are indeed the constituents of the tripartite facility that make up the doctrine of the rule of law and of the separation of powers. These organs of power are indeed the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. They are the organs of power, not of government, and for too long, everyone has seen them as the organs of government, I guess so because some outdated philosopher said so. But no, these are not the organs of government but of power as a matter of fact. These organs of power are separate, distinct and cellular both physically and in the exercise of the functions that the Nigerian Constitution of 2011 as amended has apportioned each of them. On the other hand however, the organs of government are those instruments either within the executive, the judiciary and the legislature that ought to execute and interface and liaise among these organs to run the instruments of state. Take for instance an organ of government (not of power) like the Security and Exchange Commission, SEC (please note that citing SEC is citing it as a random example rather than citing it because of its travails with the members of parliament). That body or commission or parastatal or by whatever name it is known is an instrument of governance, governance for the people, by the people and of the people. It should not be mistaken that because the body is supervised by the executive arm of government, and then it is exclusively under executive purview and therefore it cannot be called to question by a judicial commission of enquiry or a legislative instrument exercising its oversight functions. In recent times, that organ of power and its overall performance, in the dispensation of the dividends of democracy has been called to question literally on a number of occasions. Shouldn’t this be why other organs of government be called to question as well as any organ of power?

But in recent times, I have come to observe a certain disconnect in our expectations of the dispensation of the organs of power. If the grass at the National Stadium grows to mahoganic proportions, everyone expects the executive to take a flogging and do twenty frog-jumps. If my wife is unable to conceive or deliver a male child, we all turn our attention to a Mr. President and ask him for an explanation. Forgive me folks, the focus is not on our incumbent – the turning of our attention to an individual, aka Mr. President, happens everywhere in the world not just Nigeria and at this juncture I just wanted to make that point clear.

And then to ask – why do we always ask only a Mr. President questions when our country is subject to one of the most cumbersome methods of government, aka government by the people. If I live in a room where there are three of us who contribute equally to pay the rent, why would anyone be holding me solely responsible if the power refuses to come on? Why should the other two always point their fingers at me, even though we all have a manual that helps us navigate that large room to help us not to bump into one another?

Learned people say the President is the custodian of all executive powers. They say everyone must hold him responsible if anything goes wrong. They also say that a Mr. President is the custodian of our gold-filled chest and therefore as commander-in-chief controls all instruments of coercion and aggression on land, sea and air.

But I must insist that this is bland. If we would have to hold only one man responsible for our travails simply because he is the custodian of our collective patrimony; if we would hold only one man responsible for our destiny simply because he temporarily controls the instruments of coercion and aggression, then we are in deep trouble. The man is one man, compared to the army of the members of the National Assembly and all the smart chaps in the judiciary. As far as I’m concerned, all the other arms of power are as powerful and equally as culpable as any president if there is any reason to hold someone responsible for 52 years of snail-pace development.

Before we transited from military to civil rule, I was certain that even the politicians who would take over from them wouldn’t be any better. All you need do is scour the pages of our history books – with the military you have one chap on whose table the buck stopped. But in the civilian arrangement, we have supposed representatives, not a Mr. President, who doesn’t even represent any one of our constituencies. A Mr. President is one man with a team of unelected individuals who become extensions of his brain. And so, when I used to tell some of my traducers in the early 90s that democracy will not solve our problems overnight, I meant it but they thought I was crazy.

I believe that the office of president anywhere there’s a democracy is a weak office. The chap occupying it equally is weak as well if truly the principles of fiscal federalism and representative democracy would hold sway. In those circumstances, the people we should hold responsible if there’s no power or if my wife is unable to give birth to a male child are members of the national assembly, our people, and by extension the judiciary. Not only a Mr. President.

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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