The Owerri, Imo State Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) held its Law Week, with speakers noting that democracy will be endangered without strict compliance with the rule of law.
For democracy to thrive, institutions of government must abide by the rule of law.
This was the position of speakers at the at the 2019 Annual Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Owerri branch.
It held at the RockView Hotel Owerri, with the theme: Democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria.
The keynote speaker, Catholic Bishop of Bauchi Dioceses, Dr. Hilary Dachelem, said the rule of law is crucial to democracy.
He referred to a United Nations Declaration adopted on September 24, 2012, which says: “Human rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and that they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the UN.”
According to him, while the rule of law is fundamental in advancing democracy, emphasis must be on protection of rights and advancement of inclusiveness within the broader discourse on human development.
“There is no doubt that the rule of law is unambiguously enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. The only surprising thing to any competent individual is the blatant disrespect shown to this constitutional provision by Nigerian rulers who had openly sworn to uphold it
“Rule of law is opposed to authoritarian or despotic juntas which have zero tolerance for upholding the constitution.
“In military rule, as we saw during the various juntas in Nigeria, civil liberties which often conflict with the will of the dictator are denied. What is more, people are ruled by decrees and force,” Dachelem said.
Rule of law is supreme, says bishop
The Bishop said in constitutional democracies, the rule of law is supreme.
“The majority will have their way while the minority their say. This is the beauty of the rule of law.
“Everyone is equal before the law and everything is done according to the law. This means that both those who govern and the governed justify their actions in law,” he said.
Dachelem identified the essential properties of the rule of law to include supremacy of the law, equality before the law, and protection of individual rights
He identified the major challenges as high level of corruption in government, lack of clear separation of powers, societal class and their interests, broken justice system, tribalism, insecurity and insurgencies and poverty and ignorance:
“All stakeholders ought to ensure the nexus between democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“This will no doubt bring about domestic accountability within democratic ownership frameworks.
“Suffice to say that both democracy and rule of law are indispensable dimensions of the next generation of Millennium Development Goals/Sustainable Development Goals.
“Indeed, in ideal democracies, human rights, goals and the rule of law are drivers of integral development
“To save Nigeria, we must rely on capable hands, popular movements for democracy and the rule of law.
“The time starts now and Nigerians are looking up to esteemed members of the Bar and the Bench to begin the revolution,” Dachelem stated
What is rule of law to a layman?
Chancellor and proprietor of Gregory University, Uturu, Prof Gregory Ibe gave a presentation entitled: Rule of law in Nigeria: the layman’s perspective.
To him, human rights include economic rights.
“The layman does not understand the right to vote when he is hungry and shown that his vote could be bought.
“He does not understand the right to life if he cannot find employment; human right, generally is meaningless to him if he is an illiterate person.
“The layman is a practical being and wants to see his aspirations met.
“He wants food on his table; he wants to be fairly treated and he is ready to contribute to the society,” Ibe said.
‘Imo committed to rule of law’
Imo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Mr. Ndukwe Nnawuchi (SAN), said he accepted to serve because Governor Emeka Ihedioha’s commitment to rule of law.
According to him, he advised that the state’s law officers unjustly sacked by the past administration be recalled.
He said part of the rebuilding process is to be rule of law compliant.
Nnawuchi said the state has asked anybody who has a judgment against the state to come forward for a discussion.
The commissioner restated the state’s commitment to re-positioning the Judiciary.
“The administration of Rt. Hon Ihedioha will return Imo State to its lost glory,” Nnawuchi said.
When was rule of law was absent
NBA Owerri Branch, Mr. Damian Nosike, said: “In a state where the rule of law has been raped silly, derided, and scorned by the head of the executive arm of government, democracy and the rule of law can never be discussed adnauseam.
“Rule of law is as important to our democracy as lactation is to new born baby.
“What this new born baby has witnessed in the last eight years in Imo State is a premature weaning and starvation which has consequently stunted its growth and development.
“But its future now looks bright with the emergence of a more responsible lactating mother.”
Prof: judiciary must have integrity
In a chat with The Nation, Prof. R. Achara of the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria (UNN), said while other arms of government have power and financial control as the basis of their powers, the judiciary has integrity as a basis for its authority and power.
He said: “The judiciary is a peculiar arm of government and this has been in place since the time of James Madison, when they were writing the Federalist papers over two and half centuries ago in the USA.
“Prof. Alexander Bickel expounded that people should realise that of the three arms of government, the executive wields the sword, the force of the state, the legislature has the purse strings because they are the ones who determine whether money will be released or not.
“But that the Judiciary has neither sword nor the purse but how does it stand where there is a contest?
“What the judiciary has is reason and integrity, though they didn’t expressly mentioned integrity but it is implied in it.
“My submission is that there is something that is unique. If you do a study of the judges we had in the throes of absolute government, when the military were in government there were no pretense of following any democratic process.
“The military were in charge yet there was a lot of respect for our judges.
“There were a few occasions where things went awry, but by and large, you would see the kind of respect those judges had.”
How to redeem Judiciary’s image
Achara wondered why judges were highly respected during military regimes and less so in a democracy.
“My view is that perhaps, we as lawyers either on the Bench or at the Bar, must reconsider our personal integrity, our appearance of neutrality, our self-sacrificial behaviour in terms of the application of law to be able to gain the buy-in of the populace.
“It is the populace that props up the judiciary because they don’t have any other thing other than trust.
So, if we had judges like Justice Kayode Esho, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, Justice Andrews Otutu Obaseki, even in recent times, we have judges like Justice George Oguntade, we had a lot of such Judges and Justices in the judiciary who were exemplary in their conduct and judgments.
“I don’t want to mention the names of current judges who are living up to expectation because it will be invidious for me to talk about them whether in good terms or bad terms.
“There are currently good judges and they are the victims of the few bad ones and it is the bad ones that undermine the respect that is due to us as a family of lawyers and judges.
“When they do wrong, they make us to lose the respect that is due to us and this makes the public treat us with disdain. It affects the populace we are trying to protect,” Achara said.
Case for constitutionalism
Appraising the law week, Prof. O. E. Nwaegbo said: “The law week has been well planned, well executed. From theme, it could be concluded that Nigeria is not getting it right and we have shown that the rule of law and democracy are intertwined; you cannot extricate them, one is important for the other one to thrive.
“And if you don’t have democracy, you cannot have the rule of law and if you have the rule of law, then democracy can endure.
“You need the two, but unfortunately in this country, corruption, tribalism, neo-patrimonism are factors that militate against the upholding of the principles of democracy.
“Constitutionalism in this country has been thrown overboard and we need to wake up and ensure that the rule of law prevails because where you don’t have the rule of law, you cannot have democracy.
“You cannot have peace and where you don’t have peace you cannot have progress. We need to revive our respect for the rule of law; we need to abide by the tenets of democracy and the elements of the rule of law.
“For us to do that, the lawyers – the Bench and Bar – must take the initiative to make sure that the principles are upheld and not only that, the society as a whole must also make sure that the rule of law prevails in our society.
“This should not be left for the Bar and Bench alone, the entire society must be involved, the Civil Society, the media must all engage because if the society is bad, every part of the society is bad.
“So, the three main organs of government have a responsibility to ensure that they uphold the rule of law.
“It is not only the judicial organ, but the legislature must operate on the basis of the rule of law and the executive must allow other arm of government to play their role.
“So, it is obvious from the discussions that the executive is the main culprit in violating the principles of the rule of law.
“We have a responsibility as members of the Bar and Bench to impress it on the society that the executive should allow other arms of government to carry out their duties,” Nwaegbo stated.
The law week Committee Chairman, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, praised participants for finding time to be part of the week. He lauded his Vice-Chairman, Mr. Soronnadi Njoku, for standing in for him while he was busy at the Presidential election petition TRIBUNAL
Present were NBA First Vice –President Stanly Chidozie Imo, who represented the NBA President; NBA Financial Secretary Emeka Anosike, Justice Nonye Okoronkwo of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of Imo State, Justice Pascal O. Nnadi and Ag. Chief Judge of Anambra State, Justice Ijem Onwuamaegbu.
Others are Justice E. F. Njemanze, Chief C.C. Onyeagbako, Justice Florence Duroha-Igwe, Justice Njaka I.M, L.M. Alozie ( SAN), Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme of the Court of Appeal, Dr. C.K Okorie, Prof.Philip Ogbonna, Prof. Nnamdi Obiaraeri, JTU Nnodum (SAN), F. A. Onuzuluike, among others.
Legal Editor JOHN AUSTIN UNACHUKWU