Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) on Thursday urged Nigerians to insist on leaders with character and integrity.
He said good governance would be impossible without the right people in power.
The Vice-President spoke at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) Faculty of Law 2018 public lecture with the theme: The rule of law as panacea for peace, security and good governance in a democracy.
Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, who delivered the lecture, and UNILAG Pro-Chancellor Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN), who chaired the event, said good governance and peace would be impossible without the rule of law.
They also called for an independent judiciary and for court orders to be respected.
Osinbajo, represented by Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) Executive Secretary Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, said each arm of government must fulfill its constitutional role for rule of law to thrive.
He said: “The rule of law being the heartbeat of democratic governance, we must accept that obeying the law will promote peace, security and ultimately good governance.
“The rule of law is the principle of governance in which all parties are accountable to laws that are enacted, enforced and independently adjudicated.
“It is one of the sacred constitutional doctrines that require taking necessary measures to ensure accountability, fairness in the application of law, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.”
According to him, if the triad of government fails to fulfill their constitutional mandates, the aspirations for peace and security would be a mirage, everyone is victimized and the society pays the price.
“Irrespective of the composition of government and the dominance or otherwise of one political party controlling the executive or the legislature, the triad of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary will work together as a cooperative government in order that the expectations of the people for good governance is not dashed, because what the people want is good governance.
“The first step to achieve the goal set by the theme of this lecture is the proper evaluation of the character and the integrity of the persons elected or appointed to positions of authority in all the arms and levels of government. If we’re able to get this basic issue right, we’re closer to our dream of peace, security and good governance in our democracy.
“Failure at this level implies that the foundation has been destroyed, therefore leaving the righteous with the difficult if not an impossible task of building something from nothing.”
He called for citizen involvement, saying: “For us to build a nation of our dreams, the citizens must also sucritinise the actions of those elected or appointed with objective and non-partisan mindset.”
Osinbajo praised the CJN for taking pro-active measures towards strengthening the judiciary.
Chief Justice Onnoghen said the observance of the rule of law was a pre-requisite for peace, security and good governance in a democracy.
He regretted that the rule of law was “disregarded” by past administrations, while powerful individuals acted above the law.
The CJN said: “It is quite discouraging that the rule of law has over time been disregarded in Nigeria and successive administrations have continued to show total disdain for its development.
“Hence, it will not be improper or out of place to conclude that without improvement on the observance of the rule of law, it will be impossible for Nigeria to experience peace, security and good governance.”
Chief Justice Onnoghen was of the view that security was critical for national cohesion and sustainable development.
“Any government that is against the enthronement of the rule of law is by implication inviting anarchy into the system. A democratic government must not only obey the law but also courts’ orders,” he said.
The CJN believed Nigeria urgently needed “a vibrant and independent judiciary” that must “at all times frown at any interference from other arms of government” while guaranteeing access to justice for all.
According to him, the court system must be truly independent, accountable, efficient, impartial, accessible and credible, adding that the courts expect the utmost respect of the law from the government that rules by the law.
“The level of respect and obedience accorded by the citizens of any civilised democratic society to court orders, judgments and other judicial acts determine the level of development of the rule of law and consequently the maintenance of peace, order and public good in such a society or state,” Chief Justice Onnoghen said.
Dr Babalakin emphasized that the rule of law could not thrive in the absence of an independent judiciary.
“We’re still struggling to convince the entire society that it is to our mutual benefit that we have adherence to the rule of law. I’m relatively young in the system, but I’ve seen successive governments pay lip service to the rule of law.
“They emphasize the rule of law when they’re in opposition, and capitulate as soon as they’re in government. Without the judiciary standing firm, only God knows where we would have been as a nation.
“We’ve seen arbitrariness of the highest order; we’ve seen total disdain for other’s rights. But we cannot have the sort of judiciary we desire unless we make it a collective assignment,” he said.
Addressing the CJN, Dr Babalakin added: “I congratulate you for standing firm in the face of serious aggression against the concept of an independent judiciary. You have taken a position that is commendable to all those who appreciate that we can only have the rule of law if it’s situated within an independent, courageous and well funded judiciary.
“You have not allowed the convenience of the moment prevent you from pursuing your ideals. I have no doubt that by the time your tenure comes to an end, the Nigerian judiciary would have the platform for growth.”
Dr Babalakin praised the law faculty for organizing the event, saying: “The faculty of law has set a pace and must be the envy of every other faculty in this university.”
He said the faculty was living up to the ideals of its pioneer dean, the late Prof Taslim Elias.
The faculty dean, Prof Ayo Atsenuwa, said the CJN was chosen in a bid to give the judiciary a voice.
She said: “When we conceptualised the 2018 lecture, we wondered who could give us a momentous lecture in the sense that we wanted a lecture that would speak to the issues of the day. We thought: Why not give an opportunity to the judiciary to have their voices heard?
“By tradition and the exigency of their job, they don’t speak publicly because they don’t want to pre-judge cases. But we also must hear from the judiciary. We thought: who better than the CJN? And we thought that other arms need to hear from the Judiciary.”