Yar’Adua: Between the Rule of Law and Public Sentiment

That President Umaru Yar’Adua is presently unhappy with the Nigerian Judiciary is not in doubt. By his pronouncement on the decision of the courts following the overturning of some gubernatorial election results against his party, one is not surprised at the President’s newly found voice. His advice and caution to the judges came at a time when the judiciary is supposedly finding its feet, and truly delivering judgments on what many Nigerians perceived to be in the interest of justice. Yar’Adua’s comment at the opening of ongoing judges’ conference in Abuja serves as a reference point in this instance.

No one is saying the President does not deserve his personal opinions on issues of national importance, but he is expected to be in consonance with the wishes of the generality of the Nigerian public. President Yar’Adua can not, and should not act in a manner that suggests he is alienating himself from the people through his public statements, especially against the legislature and judicial arms of government. For the separation of power to be meaningful in the present dispensation, undue interference and unguarded statements should be avoided by all stake holders in the Nigerian nation.

Nigerians and indeed foreign observers were unanimous in condemning the conduct and results of last elections from which Yar’Adua emerged as Nigeria’s first elected leader to take over from another elected president. For Yar’Adua to caution the judiciary at this time, to say the least suggests that the relationship between the executive and the judiciary is anything but cordial. To this end, critics are beginning to view the situation as a bad omen that may determine the future of Nigeria’s democracy. It is on this premise also that this writer is looking at the importance of true independence for the judiciary.

In other words, one is compelled to advocate for a system that remove the control of funding of the judicial arm of government from the armpit of the executive as it is the practice now. The checks and balances embedded in the constitution should not be misused or abused by any of the three branches of government. It is very important that the responsibility of oversight functions as allowed to be effected is not in any way politicized by the politicians in the executive branch.

Given the fact that President Yar’Adua is involved in a case where his legitimacy is being questioned, he is better advised to be cautious of what he says about the judiciary as his genuine contributions may be interpreted differently by Nigerians. Yar’Adua’s pronounced zero tolerance for corruption, and his love for the rule of law may be in jeopardy if he chooses to interfere only on issues that run contrary to his party’s stance and his personal opinion. His silence and the choice of non-interference in the recent stalemate in the House of Representatives is a pointer to this line of thought about the President.

During the crisis, Yar’Adua preferred to allow the honorable members settled their differences even when most Nigerians felt that his personal or official statement can potentially resolve the issue, and probably prevent the avoidable death of a legislator from his home state. Yar’Adua owes it a duty to Nigerians during his presidency to ensure that his is a listening government to the wishes and aspirations of the people. There is little or no room for him to carry on the functions of the state on a personal or an individual premise. He has to be able to separate his feelings from that of the generality of Nigerians. In that way, he can feel the pulse of the nation, and act accordingly. Not doing that is an invitation to a possible loss of confidence from Nigerians who are already complaining about his system of governance.

The judiciary may err in some instances as may be observed in recent pronouncements where injunctions and counter-injunctions were given at random. But then, the body in charge of controlling the judges should be allowed to take care of its own. Since we believe that men of the bench are learned and respected people, Nigerians ought to give them the benefit of doubt in respect of what they do in the discharge of their judicial duties. We hope that they in turn perform these duties without fear or favor, regardless of the status of those involved. For now, majority of Nigerians believe that the nation’s judiciary is doing pretty well, and can only improve if given the chance and encouragement, rather than presidential anger.

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