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Rule of law as foundation of any society

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By Justice Peter  Umeadi

WHILE attending the Law School at this citadel of learning at the Enugu Campus we came to know that the Federal Government of Nigeria did not sponsor law students in the pursuit of them learning.

Justice Umeadi-  Rule of Law  safeguards against arbitrary govt
Justice Umeadi- Rule of Law safeguards against arbitrary govt

The Federal Government had generous scholarship programmes in all other disciplines not in law. It was the East Central State Government of Nigeria which later set up a programme to grant bursary awards to assist students pursuing law as a course of study.

The Federal Government of Nigeria, it seemed was following in the footsteps of the Colonial Government who also in their time generously assisted students in Administration and Sciences but could not contemplate any help for those who wanted to be lawyers.

Our colonial masters were British and they had a highly stratified society where background determines how a child turns out in life. They would find disagreeable, anyone who struggled to improve his circumstance from that into which he was born. They would refer to such exertion as social climbing. The sons of butlers were expected to be better butlers and so on. There would be a conscious effort to train their own people to end up working in the multi-chain stores laden with mind boggling fabulous goods, and in their factories and technology craft yards.

It was your family name and background that decided how you fared, not how much marks you made in class. This stratification had spurned many devastating riots in their society but they do not look like letting go.

The sons of lawyers were expected to enroll in  law schools. Even those admitted to read law were further segregated depending on the law school one could attend. The regular schools could make a brilliant comment before a court which is largely ignored. The same submissions coming from a lawyer who trained at Cambridge or Oxford were instantly celebrated.

Government assistance

Invariably the judge would have come from either Cambridge or Oxford himself. Essentially, we could not expect our colonial masters to spend their money to train the sons of the natives in the study of law. They knew better and invested heavily in the type of manpower they needed.

The Federal Government of Nigeria inherited that lacuna, perhaps unwittingly, and the intending law students had to look for sponsorship elsewhere. It would take a long time for students offering all courses to enjoy Federal Government assistance. Back home the first Nigerian University opened its doors at University of Ibadan in 1948.

It was  indeed an Ivory Tower as any could be in the world over. U.l. as it is fondly called, has produced a veritable list of accomplished academicians and men and women in their chosen fields of study.

Again the study of law was not contemplated. Its Department of Law was carved out from the Faculty of the Social Sciences in 1981. More like an afterthought which occurred 33 years after the University was founded. The Department of  law was accredited by the Council of Legal Education in 1984.

According to the Dean of Law, Faculty of Law of the University of Nigeria, Professor Chukwunonso Okafor,“this is the premier Law Faculty in Nigeria established in 1961. Part of the university’s vision to restore the dignity of man by educating him on rights and duties in society”. The emergence of the Faculty of Law at the Enugu Campus of University of Nigeria with the acronym of UNEC heralded the opening of many such law faculties across Nigerian  universities.

Rights and duties in society

When I was sworn in as a Judge of Anambra State in 1997, I met my Law of Equity Professor on the bench. I shared time with Justice S. lbeziako. In his retirement he would be drafted back to the classrooms. He went to Madonna University Okija where he assisted in building up the Faculty of Law as Dean and full time teacher. He would tell me how the great Dr. Zik and Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of Northern Nigeria  and the Sarduana of Sokoto enjoyed a close friendship.

To the Sarduana, a visionary leader prevailed on the great Dr. Zik to allow Justice Ibeziako to come to Zaria and use the same links to also establish the Faculty of Law at Zaria. Justice Ibeziako told me of his many trips and personal meetings with the Sarduana to accomplish that assignment.

Wikipedia, puts it that the Rule of Law is the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials.

Lexis Nexis, says the Rule of Law in its most basic form is the principle that no one is above the law. It is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance, whether by a totalitarian leader or by mob rule.

Thus the Rule of Law is hostile both to dictatorship and to anarchy. Plato and Aristotle approved the Rule of Law, the Magna Carta of 1215 pointed to the irreversible way to go. Article 39 therein read as follows “No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or diseased or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law. of the land.”

 

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