The Rule of Law in Nigeria

by Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai

When the British Government formally granted political independence to Nigeria on October 1, 1960, the politicians, who took over the reins of Government was well-educated, experienced, sophisticated and above all, very patriotic. The Rule of Law, a basic and dynamic legal concept, which formed the kernel of British democracy, was adopted in Nigeria. The Westminster parliamentary system recognized the “supremacy of law”. However, in 1966, the rule of law was forcibly replaced by the rule of force. The legislative authorities in the Eastern, Western and Northern regions were replaced by army councils that were totally unprepared for governance. Through hurriedly enacted military decrees, the rule of law became encumbered. Each time subsequent governments took over, the rulers merely paid lip-service to the rule of law. As a result, democratic practice suffered inexorably.

A hedonistic culture developed. Corrupt practices became rife. Mediocrity gained ascendancy. People, whose names were very obscure and whose epicurean dispositions were consummate and ill-defined, became national figures. They managed to get into strategic government positions and looted the treasury. It is a truism that a state of anarchy must exist in the absence of the rule of law. This is why the late Justice Taylor, in Olayori’s case, (1969) 2 All N.L.R at page 308, said, “…If we are to have our actions guided and restrained in certain ways for the benefit of society in general and individual members in particular, then whatever status, whatever post we hold, we must succumb to the rule of law. The alternative is anarchy and chaos…”

Governments must acknowledge that the rule of law is effective regulatory machinery that brings order and good governance to any society. The late Chief Justice Sir Adetokunbo Ademola told the African Conference on the Rule of Law, in Lagos in 1961, that “the rule of law is not a Western idea, nor is it linked up with any economic or social system. As soon as you accept that man is governed by law and not by whims of man; it is the rule of law. It is based on principles; it is not an abstract notion.

The various Nigerian Kingdoms adhered strictly to the dictates of traditional values and public order. Even Kings and Chiefs were sanctioned where they overreached societal norms and ancestral civility. In Politics, Vol 111, page 16, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle said that” the rule of law is preferable to the rule of man” The American Declaration of Independence (1776) and all the other human rights proclamations through the hurrying centuries, have upheld the rule of law.

In the last eight years, the destroyers of Nigeria inflicted maximum damage on the Nigerian state and its people with impunity and recklessness. This was not a one-man action. So, the Yar’adua administration has been trying very hard to revert governance to the rule of law and due process. This is laudable. Professor Wade wrote that “every act of governmental power that affects the legal rights, duties and liberties of any person, must be shown to have a strictly legal recourse.” So, when citizens feel aggrieved either with the government, a corporate entity or an individual, they must be able to seek redress in court or in any other lawful manner. Justice does not excuse anyone. Professor A. V. Dicey wrote that “the rule of law excludes arbitrariness.” Arbitrariness on the part of anyone leads to strife and social dislocation. A harmonious society presents a cordial environment for man’s existence on earth.

Professor Wade further explains that” all acts must be in accordance with the law to be valid”. He stresses that government’s activities must be conducted within a framework of defined rules and regulations and that disputes involving the legality or illegality of government actions must be decided by courts independent of the government. It is his view that no one should suffer punishment outside the authority of the law and that no-one should enjoy undue privileges and discrimination. Professor Garner said that “Man is a social animal, but to live in a society, he has had to fashion for himself and in his own interest, the law and other instruments of government, and as a consequence, those must to some extent limit his personal liberties. The problem is how to control those instruments of government in accordance with the rule of law and in the interest of the governed”

In Nigeria, citizens, who are not indigenes are discriminated against in matters of promotion and in other matters of personal rights. I was a victim at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in a most despicable and condemnable way and I was not alone. Anyone, who is interested in the matter, should browse through my files at the University. When one sought redress from the “authorities” prejudice, group dynamics adorned one’s path. Inter-ethnic relations suffer inexorably, as a result of the damnable acts of a few low-cultured irredentists in any societal setting.

The rule of law is a shield against discrimination, xenophobia and other reactionary-minded tendencies. Due process hinders those, who love to cut corners in order to reap where they did not sow. In fact, they never cared to sow! As Nigeria enters a new era of responsible governance which pledges to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms through the observance of the rule of law and due process, the citizens should sharpen their consciousness, so that they can distinguish what is just from what is unjust, what is human from what is inhuman? They must be ready to denounce injustice, repression, oppression, ethnic bigotry, abuse of power and partiality.

Those, who did not criticize the past government are now so erudite in shouting about what they perceive are the short-comings of the present administration, without offering meaningful suggestions on the way forward. The practice of not seeing, not hearing evil when the son-of-the-soil is in office is the hall-mark of intellectual dishonesty, which some Nigerians have practiced since 1960. Some analysts are so morbidly blind to reason that they do not see anything wrong with government in which they hope to benefit from. It is only where their hopes were dashed that they say that “the grapes were sour”. This is opportunism.

Progressive-minded Nigerians realize that opportunism violates human dignity. Their ideological position is that the welfare of the nation is more important than individual acquisitiveness and personal aggrandizement. These are the ones that have kept Nigeria afloat. The psyche of Nigerians must continue to be demilitarized. There is need to work for greater democratization of the political and socio-economic structures. We must ensure national security and arms control.

The fight against corruption, a Herculean task, must continue. However, due process must be maintained. The “crucify him” syndrome must abate. There are civilized investigative methods in the rule book. There are complaints that officials have turned the anti-corruption campaign into personal benefit. This has weakened the people’s confidence in the rule of law. Recently, some academic renegades, in the service of known looters advocated for revolution in Nigeria. They do not have the revolutionary zeal of Ernesto Che Guevara, Fidel Castro or Saddam Hussein. They will be the butt of the revolution, if and when it comes.

As the government enters its second term, there will be no time for complacency, but there is time for slight hope. Since hope and patience do wane with time, we must rely on capable hands, popular movements for democracy and the rule of law, to save Nigeria.

In order to replenish the treasury, government may wish to improve upon its tax collection strategies. In the United States, the revenue collection system is almost perfect. In Nigeria, civil servants and public servants pay their taxes as and when due. I understand that companies have promised to do the same. They will also remit all the VAT funds that they are with-holding. This is good news. Any corporate entity that violates Nigerian revenue laws should seek advice from the President whether one should pour concentrated sulphuric acid into water or water into concentrated sulphuric acid!

This, being the Age of Aquarius, the age of spirit-consciousness, Nigeria’s blessed saints have headed off the machinations of Nigeria’s Luciferians. The forces of darkness have been confronted and are being over-powered. They have been removed from their lofty positions in circumstances they themselves do not understand. Many are being neutralized. Others have taken over their offices and GOD will continue to overturn, overturn and overturn, until light replaces darkness in the affairs of Nigeria. This country must not rotate around the three major ethnic groups. The minorities need to calibrate their energies in order to rescue themselves and Nigeria from the throes of hegemonic and irredentist manipulations and control.

There is obviously a permanent quality in the thought that the rule of law and the rule of force seem hard to reconcile. At Bosas International Law Bureau, we subscribe to legal theory, which is in agreement with the Belgian doctrine of universal jurisdiction.

Any World leader, who propagated war policies that have resulted in the destruction of cities, towns, villages and whose acts resulted in genocide, aggressive wars and crimes against humanity, will be tried, at a future date.

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dabsman101 July 14, 2011 - 7:03 pm

sir your article was a bit too naive, truely the constitution should not only be justified but satisfy the interest of the people

RASHEEDAT B. April 10, 2011 - 10:44 pm

Sir your article is indeed splendid,i hope all the constitution being made should be justilly follow $ all the unjusty law should be justify.I pray God’ll give you strenght to perform ur duty.

M D IDRIS March 18, 2011 - 4:35 pm

prof while i appreciate your view on this topic because of its incicivesnes and comprehensivesness and because its represent the truth, i do hope it is not taken mean you re seekin for relevance because we ve had beautiful exposition as this in the past.

sylvester August 25, 2010 - 2:15 am

the concept of rule of law is not attainable in Nigerian society. comment on this statement

chukwuma nwali March 18, 2010 - 5:20 pm

The article is comprehensive.

Orji June 10, 2008 - 12:45 pm

Wel the prof. sounded like someone that is in the govt. payroll. And we have seen it seen. Remmber Tony Mormoh and the rest. Prof what happened to you in Unversity of Ife happened to Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe in Western house of Asembly in 1952 and Eni-njoku in Unversity of Lagos. They will stun you by what they do regardless of what they have peached.Your hard work and your contribution are never the criteria nor a guarrantee to succed in nigeria and that is the bane of that entity called nigeria.

Reply June 3, 2008 - 8:54 am


Now that you have relocated to Abuja, could you please use your good office to fight for the independence of the Police and the Judiciary. The police should be separated from the Executive arm of government, likewise should the Judiciary. The abuses of these arms of government by the presidency have become intolerable. Please liaise with the NBA to fight for this cause. Help Nigeria by practicalising some of these legal theories or bringing them to fruition. Ephraim Adinlofu


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