Nigeria’s Sick Democracy and Her Rule of Law Deficiency!

Democracy, legitimacy and the rule of law are the three essential components of good governance, which, however, result only when all three independent variables are brought together in tandem. None of these elements, by itself, assures good governance. Free and fair elections do not necessarily protect against corruption of the legislative process. Democratic rule by the majority does not invariably protect minorities from oppression. Judicial supremacy has the potential for promoting elitist autocracy as well as for the protection of basic liberties. The three elements’ potential for promoting good governance is maximized when all three are deployed concurrently. Concurrent deployment, however, creates its own problems. When a society seeks to combine the benefits of democracy, legitimacy and the rule of law, these elements may be brought together in severe tension, as voters, legislators and judges vie for supremacy. Thus, good governance requires not only that all three elements be deployed concurrently, but that they be balanced.

In Nigeria, we can safely say that we have successfully navigated the democracy challenge with a series of national elections judged by international standards as reasonably free and fair. These steps by implication conferred on the incumbent government due legitimacy and therefore the mandate to implement its manifesto commitments.

What, in my opinion remain lacking is the rule of law which Mr. President seems to preach. Broadly speaking, of course we have rule of law. If we didn’t we will not have had the elections in the first place, so I accept the anomaly and contradiction of my own point. However, the rule of law that is lacking in my view is the lack of will, the incapacity or unwillingness to allow for the real supremacy of the law to reign. The establishment and strengthening of the particular institutions that underpins and promotes the rule of law in ordinary folks life.

Democracy without the rule of law, in my view is like a house built without doors and windows. Either it is a shell (structure) with dark emptiness and therefore no meaningful progress, rather like the farce that pertains in the middle-east or the frames are in place but without any mechanism to open and shut, allowing everything in the elements to be welcome. Of course a wholesale importation of outside policies and measures are not only impractical in most cases but also downright ludicrous in the extreme in many situations.

Our society is well noted for its tolerance. The trouble is, we haven t quite managed to distinguish between good and bad tolerance. Consequently, we are tolerant of the bullying foreigner who disregards our laws and values in the same way as we tolerate corruption, nepotism, grand theft and larceny disguised as blessings from the almighty and earning our adulation rather than the castigation and accountability that will otherwise be richly deserved. We tolerate negligence, sloppy and sub-standard performance from public officials. We elect to condone waste and daylight robbery by people charged with enforcing the laws. And worse still, we somehow find it within ourselves to joke about it instead of being irate and demanding the rightful prosecution of the perpetrators and the administering of the appropriate punishment due them.

I will have no problem with our government and law-makers passing legislations that set them apart from the majority in terms of how much of the national resources end up in their own pockets so long as they debate the issues publicly and the public acquiesce. After all it is in our democratic and sovereign right to enact foolish and regressive laws, but at least everything will be above board. What angers me is the lopsided manner in which the society and the systems in place enable the well-connected and vantage-placed officials to literally get away with murder.

Unfortunately it is the sad reality that everywhere, even in advanced democracies the poor and least connected to the centres of power disproportionately contributes less to policy discussions. Consequently, laws eventually passed seem to disproportionately favour those with the means and access to shape them.

As a country, we appear to have come to accept that one s position or status should be a legitimate position to exploit for personal wealth on top of the wages drawn for the position. We fail to see this for what it truly is – as an obnoxious practice that should be condemned and resisted, rather than acquiescing to it. But why do we condone it? It is simple. If you can pay then you can jump the queue and you can get your way.

One thing I have always marveled about in Nigeria is the ease with which some members in key institutions such as the police, military, customs, inland revenue, even the judiciary, personnel charged with law enforcement of one kind or another seem to do so well, just as the public is constantly told stories of huge financial losses to the state. This personal wealth would be mainly from one or a combination of sources. Either few hands are directly in the official till, helping themselves to however much they can get away with, or they simply exploit their position by fleecing the public through kickbacks. The Auditor-General’s office not very long ago published a story of several billions of naira lost to the State in Ministries and Departments of State as a result of a combination of factors, which quite simply boils down to plain negligence, downright corruption, ineffectiveness and inefficiency of individual officials occupying very important positions.

Of course in other instances, a lack of effective or credible policy is usually to blame, but whose fault is it that there is this absence? Culpability for this absence can be spread far and wide as in certain circumstances through sheer ignorance and lack of knowledge.

Quite honestly, I think the least we can do is to demand more from the government we helped to put in place even if we did not actually vote for it. And we can start by not laughing about it and seeing it for what it really is, the lining of pockets of what belongs to us all and should thus be used for the improvement of services and facilities needed by all. It is patently clear to everyone that resources of the State that are appropriated by people with access to it deprive the ordinary person of his share in it.

We of course know that, human beings, when allowed the opportunity, almost by default will take more than their fair share, hence the importance of laws and regulatory mechanisms (institutions) to help stem that tendency in us. However, unless these laws are effective, robust and unprejudiced in their application, then confidence in them, if any, would be severely undermined.

It can be argued that many of our nation s problems stems from our collective failure as a nation to uphold the laws to the point where we are unafraid to flout or even blatantly ignore them, because we know we can easily get away with it. Jump a red light, ignore pedestrian crossing, or put a seriously unroad-worthy vehicle on the road. What is usually the biggest risk when apprehended? If affordable, a good few thousands of naira, and one would easily bale out of the consequences of that blatant move. We have lost our ability to appreciate the value of a law-abiding society and instead we re fascinated, even sometimes cowered by wealth and the display of it.

A combination of many factors have patently undermined our confidence in the laws and institutions and consequently led to the situation where whom you know, how big your wallet is and the sympathies rather than the objectivity of an official actually gets things done or not done depending on the situation. How can any serious development efforts of a nation be dependent of such fickle and transient premise? We have lost any sense of shame and made a virtue of poverty, serving it as a ready-made excuse to pardon everything from ignoring simple planning rules and erecting structures anywhere at all with official connivance (astonishingly the official whose negligence of duty would be so clear and obvious because the fruits of his/her negligence will be the structure built will still remain at post, why not sack him/her?) to allowing police to use their presence at border posts ostensibly to ensure law and order to instead become a goldmine where traders and other unsuspecting travelers could be fleeced for all its worth for the corrupt officials.

For so long, the word of anyone in position of authority is regarded as sacrosanct. Not only would challenging it almost get you nowhere but one also risks losing more than just the initial cost. It should not be the case that on the say-so of a senior public official the individual should have no other recourse but to comply. That is rule by the powerful, not rule of law, and it retards progress and development. The only beneficiaries are the well connected, not the ordinary person. The law, and particularly the enforcers of the law should be able to protect those who choose to exercise their rights and those with no knowledge of their rights (not through their fault, let s remember that) as well as those without the means and/or even knowledge to seek redress for perceived wrong done to them.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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