Assessing our brand of rule of law

Casmir Igbokwe

 Published Feb. 1, 2009

Recent developments in the country as regards the raping of the rule of law call for great vigilance among Nigerians. Law enforcement agents have begun to assume the character of mad dogs again. The executive and legislative arms of government have continued to disregard court orders. And to worsen it all, the judiciary, in some cases, seems incapacitated and helpless.


Let’s examine some of the disturbing breaches. Yesterday, SATURDAY PUNCH reported the death of 50-year-old Enilari Suraju after a fight with soldiers in Lagos. According to the report, the man had warned the soldiers to drive carefully because they almost knocked him down with their vehicle. Apparently angered that a bloody civilian could talk to them boldly, they allegedly descended on the father of four children and gave him the carpenter’s treatment. The incident happened last Wednesday. By Friday morning, the man, who reportedly went to Apapa to transact some business, had died. The soldiers are said to have come from Arakan Barracks.


A correspondent of THE GUARDIAN, Mr David Ogah, reportedly had a similar raw deal in the hands of security agents in Lagos. The reporter was trying to drive away after an assignment at Lylipond Container Terminal when a female naval officer allegedly blocked him with her car. All entreaties to the woman to remove the vehicle were rebuffed. As Ogah confronted her to find out what was wrong, the lady officer, together with her orderly, purportedly assaulted him. Penultimate week, a female member of staff of THE PUNCH got the same treatment from naval personnel in Lagos.


The same scenario exists in different parts of the country. Lucky victims escape with minor injuries. The not-so-lucky ones are maimed for life. The most unfortunate ones pay the supreme sacrifice.


Soldiers are not the only ones who abuse our human rights and the rule of law. Public office holders routinely flout court orders. And the refrain has always been, nothing will happen. The erstwhile Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission went to court to challenge his maltreatment in the police force. His case is still pending but he now contends with overt and covert harassment from different quarters.


What of Mallam Nasir el Rufai? To the best of my knowledge, he went to court in August last year to challenge the probe instituted against him by the Senate Committee on the FCT and Housing. His grouse was that he was not given fair hearing. The matter is yet to be disposed of, but the Senators are already passing judgement and calling for the head of the former minister. On January 21, 2009, the Senate Joint Committee recommended, among others, the withdrawal of all allocations made by el-Rufai in May 2007. They said he was not a fit and proper person to hold public office in a democratic setting in the future.


The way the senators are going about this case leaves much to be desired. The National Assembly embarked on some other probes last year: Power probe, transport sector probe, aviation sector probe and so on. Reports of some of these probes are gathering dust somewhere. So, what is so special about the FCT probe that the Abubakar Sodangi-led committee can’t wait until the court determines the substantive suit? Or do they have any special interest in that case?


We have remained perpetually underdeveloped largely because we don’t respect our laws. If the law says no one should dump refuse on the road or inside the gutter, that is where some Nigerians will prefer to dump their refuse. If the law says don’t drive against the traffic, some motorists will prefer to test the will of law enforcement agents by breaking that law. They believe they can always sort things out with their money.


The international community see us as a nation of fraudsters because we don’t strictly enforce our laws on financial crimes. They see us as a nation of drug pushers because we are good in circumventing laws even when we find ourselves in foreign lands. They see us as a people who are incapable of ruling themselves because we only mouth the rule of law but implement the rule of godfathers and sacred cows.


Rules and regulations differentiate man from other animals. They differentiate advanced nations from developing ones. No nation is crime free. That Western nations seem to be enjoying relative freedom and orderliness is because there is respect for the rule of law. If anybody commits any crime, the law takes care of the person. If a riot breaks out, the police use protective shield, baton and, in some cases, tear gas to restore order. Gun is rarely used. If a policeman manhandles anybody, if the victim does not sue, somebody else will do that on his behalf.


The truth is that Nigerians are ready to respect the laws of the land if only the lawmakers and enforcers are ready to observe the rule of law. This could be attested to by the fact that commercial motorists who misbehave on Lagos roads, for instance, always caution themselves whenever they notice that law enforcement agents are lurking around.


When General Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon instituted the war against indiscipline, Nigerians gradually began to change their unruly behaviour. It was when the gap-toothed general took over power that indiscipline gradually resurfaced.


Now that we are in a democratic dispensation, law enforcement agents should realise that they are not paid to brutalise those they are supposed to protect. Even if Ribadu, el-Rufai or any other person went beyond their briefs in the execution of their duties, the law should be allowed to take its course. Let us at all times respect the fundamental rights of our citizens.       


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