By Tony Momoh
A COUNTRY would not be a country if it was not anchored on laws. But a country can be described as one without laws where it has laws that are not enforced or that are enforced more in the breach than the observance.
I am a patriot, which is saying boastfully that I love Nigeria as much as anyone else would claim. But I want to continue to be a proud Nigerian if it is being seen worldwide as a country of laws. I regret that as is, it is no more than a country with laws. And this is worse than a country without laws!
There is a difference between a country of laws and a country with laws on the one hand; and a country of laws and a country without laws on the other. A country of laws is one in which the law is supreme in moderating the relationships between people and people, between people and government, and between governments and governments.
In a country of laws, everyone is equal before the law. In there, the chief law officer is the chief law officer because he proffers advice on the operation of the law in line with the anchor law of the country, which is the constitution.
A country of laws earns being referred to as a country of laws because those who assess it look into its operation of the laws it has accepted as part and parcel of the tools it has chosen to enable its citizens walk the road they had chosen to take, with a sense of justice grounded on the rule of law. The grounding is a historical fact, not fiction.
America is a country of laws. Israel is a country of laws. India is a country of laws. China, Japan, South Africa, they are all countries of laws because they do not only ensure that there are laws that moderate the affairs of the people, but also that those laws are applied to those who breach them.
As I wrote this piece, there was a news item on Fox News about a high profile movie maker in the United States who had been imprisoned. What did he do? In the 70s, he raped a 15-year-old girl.
The long arm of the law caught up with him and he was jailed because, in a country of laws, there is no lifespan for a crime. But in a country with laws that are showcases in the books, and in a country without laws, crime pays because it has both life and span.
It is a vehicle for accessing wealth and those opposed to such deadly ways can even be sacrificed to please the untouchables.Â In a country of laws, there is no class of untouchables.
A country without laws is not a country, cannot be a country. A country is a country because it has laws that established it, that sustain it because they are applied without fear or favour. I have not even one example to show you in respect of a country without laws.
If you have one, please send me a text message. But what of a country with laws which are not obeyed?Â This is the problem I have with my country. It is more a country with laws than a country without laws. But I want to be persuaded that it is a country of laws.
You may ask what led to this seemingly mindless exercise. It was what I saw in the October 19 issue of Newswatch Magazine. Go to page 21 of that issue and see what can happen in a country without laws or a country which just has laws and no more.
The title of the story is Robbed of His Mandate. I would not touch it if this had been one stray case of a legal lapse. But it is the summary of life in a country with laws that are not enforced in spite of the clear constitutional provision that every citizen, every organ of government, every institution, has an obligation to obey the laws of the land as interpreted by the courts.
In this case, the National Assembly has failed to obey a court order since it was given in February this year. It wants to give reasons for doing so. INEC is to produce the material that would enable the Clerk of the National Assembly carry out what the courts have decided.
INEC has failed to produce the material as directed by the court because its legal adviser had said it should wait for the outcome of motions filed in respect of the matter.
Two in-house lawyers ofÂ INEC advised against failure to abide by the courtâ€™s order, but INEC has the legal opinion from the office of the attorney-general that the order of the court should not be carried out until the issues outstanding are resolved! Even the attorney-generalâ€™s office has not followed up to find out whether there were such issues and what had become of them!
The case is one of whom among two candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom will represent the Uyo Federal Constituency. Bassey Etim is the one at the House of Representatives.
Emmanuel Obot is the one who went to court to claim that he was the one who ought to have been there. Obot had won the primaries of the party, but was replaced on the recommendation of the EFCC.
EFCC, if it wanted to have business to do with those contesting elections, would have produced an order of a court about anybodyâ€™s wrongdoing to enable INEC disqualify such a person. But the party did replace Obot with Bassey. Obot protested that irregularity and the election tribunal upheld his claim.
Bassey went on appeal to the Court of Appeal which is the highest court to go to in respect of elections to the National Assembly. Only presidential elections end up at the Supreme Court. Bassey lost at the Court of Appeal which voided the certificate issued to him by the INEC and ordered that Obot be returned as the duly elected representative of Uyo Federal Constituency to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly.
That was on February 12, 2009. That, in a country of laws, would be the end of the matter. But in a country without laws or with laws that just litter the books, wonders never end.
Bassey appealed to the Supreme Court! Not just that. His lawyer wrote a letter to Maurice Iwu asking him to stay obedience of the order of the Court of Appeal pending the determination of the appeal to the Supreme Court.
Wonder of wonders! For reasons that can only be acceptable in a country without laws, Iwu has not issued the certificate ordered to be issued in February, nine full months after.
Even the Supreme Court threw out the appeal, telling Bassey that they were not looking for jurisdiction of other courts to take over. Which was saying, simply, that all election matters at that level could not go beyond the Court of Appeal.
Even after there had been written confirmation from the Supreme Court that no matter in respect of the election was pending before it, Iwu has not handed over the certificate to a man the courts have declared duly elected.
We are asking for many things to ensure that this country grows. If we have shown our indiscipline in everything we do, must we be this insensitive to extend it to the domain of the courts?
I love this country, and I have no other to call my own. But please help us, those of youÂ performing gate-keeping roles, to ensure that we work according to our briefs, anchored in the rule of law. I vote for a country of laws, not a country without laws or one that just parades its laws! And you?