Democracy, Corruption And The Rule Of Law In Nigeria

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

So now that the chicken is now coming home to roost for these corrupt ex-governors, and Nigerians are shocked on a daily basis to hear of the mind-boggling amount of money that their so-called leaders have managed to steal within eight years, while the people they were sworn to serve, protect and do things for were in abject poverty, helpless, hungry, sick and suffering everyday, we should now refer to the rule of law. Are the crimes and sins they have committed against the Nigerian people worthy of the rule of law? Should they just be allowed to simply return some of the stolen cash and walk away as if nothing really happened?

Yes, I agree. Ideally, any democratic government should adhere to the rule of law, but we all know that the Nigerian democratic situation and circumstances is far from ideal. So if we know that, why do we want an ideal situation now, within such a short time? A child must first learn to crawl before it can walk. No Sir, while I much admire the rule of law, I do not prescribe it for Nigeria now. When corruption in Nigeria has been reduced drastically to a manageable level, maybe in the next 10 to 20 years, then we can start applying the rule of law. Even in the more civilised societies, law is not about truth. It is about negotiations, amelioration, manipulation and circumstances. With a society as corrupt and complex as ours, the rule of law alone cannot solve our problems now. Some people might argue that we must start somewhere or now or we won’t start at all. Yes. Agreed. But the whole society is corrupt. The people entrusted to ensure that the rule of law is adhered to are part of a corrupt society, so we need to tackle these areas first – the governments, the judiciary, the legislators, the Police, etc – all of them are products of a corrupt and lawless society and system.

We keep on talking about the rule of law. Have we considered applying the same principle to the plight of the people of the Niger Delta, whose land produces ninety percent of the income of Nigeria? What about the injustice meted out to the Ogoni, Ijaw and the rest of them in that area by the Federal Government, their respective state governments and local governments? What does the common man on the streets of Lagos, Aba, Ibadan, Onitsha, Kaduna, Jos, Benin, Warri, etc have to say about the rule of law when they are being terrorised on a daily basis by both the police and the armed robbers? Rule of law hell! Where is the rule of law when the guardians of the treasuries and our political leaders are busy stealing from us, neglecting us, oppressing us, ignoring us, killing us directly and indirectly, and a lot of them are getting away with murder and genocide? Don’t talk to me about Rule of Law. Talk to me when all these are over.

No. I don’t want the rule of law to apply to these ex-governors and other politicians. They do not have to be convicted until we know they are corrupt. We know they are corrupt even just by watching them behave. If the rule of law is applied to them, many of them will escape justice, because they are very clever; they can bribe judges, they can make witnesses disappear, they can cause evidence to disappear by putting fire to government buildings, they can run out of the country, they can cause civil unrest, just name it.

“Rule of law” is one of the much said but little understood concepts in the popular press and daily conversations in Nigerian political scene today. What is rule of law? What is its significance? Does rule of law mean that there is no “rule of person?” What are the institutional conditions and cultural content of rule of law? How do we achieve rule of law? I do not intend to go into a discourse in this article; however I will focus on the meaning of the rule of law and its values as quoted by eminent political and legal analysts.

According to Bo Li, (What is Rule of Law ?– Perspectives, Vol. 1, No 5 (undated), “when we say “rule of law” these days, we mean something different from the instrumentalist conception of “rule by law” of the legalist philosophers in ancient Chinese history. When we say “rule of law” today we intend to describe a key component of the social and political orders found in the United States and other liberal democratic states of our time. In other words, by “rule of law” we mean a western tradition that can be traced back to the Roman republics and was fully developed by the liberal constitutionalism. It is characterized, in the words of Max Weber, by “legal domination.”

The difference between “rule by law” and “rule of law” is important. Under the rule “by” law, law is an instrument of the government, and the government is above the law. In contrast, under the rule “of” law, no one is above the law, not even the government”.

Bo Li continued “Promoting rule of law does not mean that we should, or can, eliminate rule of person. Literal rule of law has its own costs (such as rigidity) and in some cases it can conflict with our sense of justice. In addition, it is probably impossible to eliminate rule of person completely. After all, laws are not given; they have to be made by certain people. Laws’ applications are not automatic; they have to be applied by certain people. Even in the most advanced liberal democratic countries of our time — the countries that are regarded as having the most developed systems of rule of law — human factors play important roles in shaping traditions, customs and institutional cultures that are integral parts of the liberal democratic machinery. The real question is not whether we should eliminate or keep rule of person. The real question is about how to strike a balance between rule of law and rule of person so we can achieve liberty, equality, and justice. In this regard, liberal constitutionalism has been the only successful system”.

“Liberal constitutionalism is the technique of retaining the advantages of [rule of law as well as rule of person] while lessening their respective shortcomings” (Sartori, 1987, p. 308).

Politicians like to say that the rule of law is a feature of democracy. The implication is that law is an unchanging set of principles that resolves conflicts impartially. But law is not impartial; it reflects the political and social biases of the legislators and judges who make it. Furthermore, law is not unchanging or rigid. An examination of world legal history shows not only rapid changes but the reversal of many previously held long-standing legal principles.

Therefore, if law is immutable, how could these significant changes occur? To idealists, law is about justice. But to most attorneys, law is a business and justice is a commodity sold to the most active bidder. Whatever positions their clients’ desire is the interpretation of the law argued by most lawyers in court. As a result, the law changes to provide for the needs of those who can afford to be clients.

We hear daily the hollow rhetoric that we live in a democracy, but an examination of the legal history of the world exposes just the opposite. The people who fashioned out the various Nigerian Constitutions succeeded in their goal of creating Constitutions that protects the elite from the common man. They were less successful at protecting political and human rights. The task of nurturing and sustaining democracy remains for us. Part of that task must be to recognize the political nature of law. We must not let the changes we seek be constrained by believing that the law that does exist is the only law that can exist. That is the change throughout the centuries in all parts of the world. Law, like any other discipline or profession is subject to the forces of change as dictated by an ever changing world and society.

Corruption, in all its ramifications, is the one single factor that has been holding our country back for decades; that has not let Nigeria and Nigerians fulfil their God-given potentials; that has not let our enormous wealth and resources work for or benefit all of us, but a few rapacious, evil clique. Corruption it is that has contributed to our underdevelopment, lack of progress and underachievement, poverty, high infant and adult mortality rate, etc. Corruption is the reason why we do not have good leaders (and even worse ones are battling to replace them), good roads and transportation systems, good water, good medical and health care, good food, good education system, good foreign policies, excellent sports facilities and great sportsmen, a fair judiciary and efficient police and security systems and good governance in general. Corruption also breeds tribalism, nepotism, favouritism, injustice, mismanagement, neglect, etc. It is the reason why millions of Nigerians are living in abject poverty and why more millions of Nigerians are living outside Nigeria today. My problem with Nigeria is not the “Rule of Law”, it is with corruption and what it has done to our lives. That is why the leaders who perpetrate corruption in Nigeria must be tackled not by the rule of law, but by the most heavy-handed, maximum-possible force of law. And I am not talking about courts here. Jungle justice? Don’t quote me.

God Bless and Guide Nigeria. God Bless and Guide Nigerians.

You may also like


joel February 23, 2011 - 6:56 pm

its a nice work. Youre advocatin wat Prof Ben also did..i agree. If Nigerians were Egyptians,chng wuld hav cm long ago bt, truth is d nigerian spirit is weak

vera September 4, 2009 - 4:29 pm

the article is not bad at all

adebayo July 10, 2009 - 3:38 pm

good piece man !

Michael August 10, 2007 - 6:26 pm

Why is Babangida awfully quiet nowadays?


Leave a Comment