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Twenty one years of democracy: Rule of law suffering in Nigeria, SANs lament

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Twenty one years of democracy: Rule of law suffering in Nigeria, SANs lament
File: Judges

…One prefers return to modified Parliamentary system
…Another says impunity, poverty have flourished as Nigerians don’t hold govt accountable
…Our democracy just an improved authoritarianism – NBA scribe

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

As Nigeria yesterday celebrated its return to Democracy, albiet for the first time on June 12 rather than May 29, senior legal practitioners have assessed Nigeria’s situation since the return to democracy 21 years ago and called for the liberation of the judiciary, insisting that the rule of law is currently on its knees in the country.

The lawyers, comprising of  Senior Advocates of Nigeria, in separate interviews with Saturday Vanguard,  maintained that the country was yet to adopt or practice true constitutional democracy.

One of the SANs went further to suggest a return to a modified parliamentary system as a way forward, insisting that it will serve better in terms of development and Rule of law.

While appraising the country’s democratic journey so far vis-a-vis how the judiciary has fared, Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, said: “It is a process which no doubt is the longest in our history going by the experience of the first and second Republics.

“The presidential system which we claim to practice has come with a baggage of impunity which impacts negatively on infrastructural development and Rule of Law.

“Without any hesitation, a return to a modified parliamentary system will serve us better in terms of development and Rule of law.

“Under the present system, the Executive and most especially the Governors have become demigods who don’t feel accountable to any authority unlike parliamentary system.

“The Legislature are nothing but glorified rubber stamps always looking for a piece of the cake all to the detriment of development and rule of law.

“A deadlier blow is what will appear to be a grand conspiracy to cripple the Judiciary to the detriment of Rule of law.

“Democracy is good but with the right vehicle having regards to the environment.  In our climate and having regards to our experiences, presidential system is not it”.

For constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, rule of law is trampled upon in the country because the masses have failed to hold their elected leaders accountable.

Ozekhome said he was worried over the way impunity and poverty have continued to flourish under the present democratic dispensation.

He alleged that the Executive deliberately used intimidation and harassment to cow the masses and judges.

He said: “As Nigeria marks another democracy day. I will say that we have never had it this rough. That is not to say that there is no hope or light at the end of the tunnel.

“The biggest problem Nigeria has faced in the past five years is that of poor leadership, particularly at the highest Executive level where the government has failed all its promises to the Nigerian citizenry.

“Followed by the twin problems of the civil society, that is the people themselves, not challenging the government, not holding them accountable. This is because everyone is afraid, intimidated and subjugated. That is a big challenge.

“You see in America, where up to today, people are marching and protesting in the major cities, just because of the killing of one man.  They defied the government and Trump by coming out.

“This clearly shows people’s right to demonstrate.  In some instances, you could see police and other security men joining, some knelt down, in recognition of that right. You see at once a society that is enlightened and that can speak truth to power.

“See the journalists challenging the President to his face, asking him direct questions. But here what do we have? Such a journalist will be bundled out or probably end up in jail.

“Human rights record of this government has been abnormally poor. It has failed to provide the people with security and welfare. Section 4 of the constitution is very clear that security is the primary purpose of government. But the insecurity level in Nigeria today is very alarming.

“Killings by Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits are on the increase daily. People cannot travel freely without fear. The Almajiri problem is there, increased pauperization of the masses, police and military brutality. Yet the government has shown great insensitivity to the plight of the people.

“It is a government that believes that its order is superior to court order. Nigerians never had it so bad.

“In spite of all these, the government keeps borrowing huge sums of money, devaluing the Naira, removing petroleum subsidy and completely mortgaging the future of Nigerian generations unborn.

“The government promised to create jobs, but instead people are speedily losing their jobs. Poverty is so on the rise that Nigeria has been declared the poverty capital of the world, overtaking India.  In terms of corruption, it has been on the increase. The country is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, 2nd in West Africa and in the top 10 in Africa.

“Journalists have been arrested and detained with constant clamp down of the social media. People are afraid to speak out. People are sleep-walking, the government appears clueless, rudderless and out of ideas. The only idea is how to borrow and borrow money from China that is gradually taking over the Nigerian economy.

“The judiciary has tried to do its best. But after the unlawful arrest of some judges, some of them are now being too careful and it is reflecting in the judgements.

“The 9th National Assembly, in the name of cooperating with the government, has continued to fail to interrogate requests that are brought before them before they quickly give approvals.

“The 8th Assembly was not challenging the government, but making it accountable to the people. We are now in a situation where the Executive is in charge of everything.

“The answer lies with the people. They should challenge the Executive, demonstrate and protest against any form of maladministration”, he added.

Yunuz Uztaz, SAN, said there was need for the government to pay closer attention to the issue of poverty alleviation.

For him, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has performed well despite myriads of challenges the nation is facing.

He said: “Our democratic journey so far has not really been a bad one. We have made progress in so any aspects notwithstanding the numerous challenges. Take the issue of security for instance; I don’t believe that President Buhari has done badly.

“At least Boko Haram has been contained to a large extent. The issue of security in the country is very important, it should be taken seriously.

“Of all the three arms of the government, the judiciary has performed far better. The judiciary has always tried its best even under very challenging circumstances. We owe the judiciary the gratitude of keeping our democracy strong. The Attorney General of the Federation has also done well through his advice to the government.

“The Executive Order 10 that guarantees the autonomy of the state legislature and judiciary is highly commendable.

“The government should pay more attention to economic well-being of the people. The poverty level is so high. People are dying of penury and hunger. People are hungry and the palliatives did not get to where they are targeted. Those who are sharing them are not sincere.

“In the next three years, this government should focus more on poverty alleviation and physical development. Most roads are not passable. See like the road that leads to Lokoja, the contract has been awarded by four consecutive governments yet it has not been done.

“However, I am not particularly pleased with the National Assembly. It has woefully failed to carry out its oversight functions. I will urge the National Assembly to sit up to its responsibilities. There are so many aspects of our Constitution that are long overdue for amendment.”

On his part, a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Mohammed Abeny, SAN, accused the President Buhari-led government of suppressing the rule of law.

He said: “The judiciary has suffered lots of travails under the present administration. The rule of law will only thrive where there is true constitutional democracy.

“The truth is that the judiciary fared better even under the military regime. At least the military authorities respected court orders. Where government in power has no respect for judicial independence, you do not expect it to perform.

“People complain of unnecessary delay in the dispensation of justice, but they fail to take cognizance of the obstacles and landmines placed on the path of the judiciary by the Executive.

“Many things that are unprecedented have happened under this administration. The unconstitutional removal of a Chief Justice of Nigeria is one, as well as the midnight raiding of homes of judges by the SSS.

“I will say that the judiciary has performed within the limit of its freedom under the present administration.

“It is on record that the President once said that Rule of law should give way to public interest. Whereas public interest is determined by the law.

“As we mark June 12, the only thing to be remembered is that the date has been given its political, historical and constitutional position in Nigeria.

“That it is now a public holiday is a welcome development, even though the recognition came belatedly.

“Let us know that as we march on, things will get better with the Executive understanding that the judiciary is an equal arm of government and should be given the freedom to function independently.

“Another issue of concern is the recent knack of this administration to issue Executive Orders. Such orders are alien to our constitutional democracy. There is nothing in those Executive Orders that our extant laws have not provided for.

“Issuing such orders smacks of dictatorship. The orders are unconstitutional and have no place in a democratic setting. Now the governors are copying the President. This is lawlessness”, the SAN added.

Democracy Day: Assessment of Nigeria’s human rights record by lawyers

By Henry Ojelu

Gbenga Ojo, Faculty of Law, Lagos State University

“Protection of human rights in Nigeria has been pathetic and bad. Very bad indeed. Apart from police brutality, even  from federal government, the story is not better. Let us look at few instances.

Sowore was arrested and detained. He approached the courts to enforce his fundamental human rights. The court granted the orders. Federal Government refused to obey the orders of the court. It took the “arm twisting” efforts by Mr. Falana, a veteran in human right cases to release him. In fact, right in the court room, attempts were made by the overzealous police officers to arrest him. This was a desecration of the temple of Justice.

El Zakhi-Zak, the Islamic preacher is still in detention despite various orders by the courts to release him. You will also note the case of Dasuki. The Government spurned various orders of the court to release him. The one that got over the board is the arrest and detention of an activist in Ilorin, Kwara State.. For what offence? He criticized the Minister for Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, who is a lawyer. I do not believe that the Minister would have ordered his arrest and detention.

I think that, it was done by normal overzealous police officers. But, when the Minister did not say anything on the issue, it did not help matters. It is so sad that, they are even contemplating passing a law on “hate  speech” in a constitutional democracy. ,That is another Decree 4 of 1984. It is unfortunate. All these have not helped our democracy.

READ ALSO: Declaration of Human Rights at 70: It’s not yet uhuru for Nigerians, say activists, groups

There is a new dimension. Police brutality of lawyers in performing their duties. There was this footballer that was shot and killed in Shagamu. The list is endless. I suggest regular training of police officers on fundamental human rights. They have a training school. Sanctions for officers that crossed the line. There is need to make the officers personally liable to pay damages awarded by the court in human right cases. The Government needs to improve on it’s human rights records. The report card for the government is below average.

Professor Ernest Ojukwu, SAN

Our human rights record is poor even if we reckon that we are better than many other countries. Our biggest challenge comes from a culture that condones or fails to stop extra judicial killings by law enforcement agents, unlawful arrests and detention, and disobedience to court orders and judgment.

Layi Babatunde, SAN

Somehow we all , old and young have Lost a part of us on account of the violence haunting our land . The needless deaths keep mounting and it’s important we arrest this growing menace,  before circumstances render hollow the most important right preserved by our constitution i.e. Right to life.  Life should not be like melon on the shelf. The joy of democracy should not be allowed to turn into songs of regret.

Mr. Kunle Edun, National Publicity Secretary, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA

June 12 symbolizes power of the people over dictatorship and authoritarian rule. Almost 30 years after the martyrdom of Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Nigeria is still yet to experience true democracy. Rule of law is daily threatened in  Nigeria; human rights abuse is rife amongst our security agencies; the independence of the judiciary has come under attack with the various interference by the Executive and legislative arms of government.

Without a virile and bold judiciary, democracy in Nigeria and the rule of law will be a mirage. Our democracy is just an improved version of authoritarianism because our political leaders are still acting like emperors over a conquered people. The views of Nigerians no longer matter. The National Assembly is helpless because of the over bearing and domineering influence of the Executive arm of government. Corruption is still very rife. Nothing has changed.

Until security agencies stop the indiscriminate arrest and detention of Nigerians; until Nigerians are no longer killed or maimed by security agencies; until Nigerians are no longer threatened with arrest and detention for expressing their right to freedom of expression; until Nigerians are no longer charged to court on bogus charges, the spirit of true democracy and June 12 will continue to haunt us, as a country.

Kabir Akingbolu, Member Ekiti State Judicial Service Commission

“The human rights record of this administration has been very poor. The only difference between this government and  a military government is in the fact that they don’t wear uniform.

“The government has defiled all known democratic ideals, especially in the area of the rule of law. For instance, judgment of courts are flagrantly disobeyed without blinking and it has not only continued unabated but gets worse by the day.

A good example of this anomaly was the detention of Dasuki, El zakzaky and later Omoyele Sowore for a very long time even after courts had ordered their release. In the case of Sowore, the government unprecedentedly desecrated the court by attempting to effect arrest in the court. This sacrilegious act nearly ruined our collective confidence and hope in the judiciary.

In the case of El Zakzaky, he is still being held till date despite valid and binding orders of court. This is horrible and highly detrimental to attempts at deepening the concept of our pseudo democracy. The deliberate disobedience to court orders by this government, is in fact, a pointer to the fact that we are not yet in democracy but we are only in civil rule.

The government has refused to recognize the fact that the court is the bastion through which the hope of a common man can be realized. This is because the courts have nothing more than the orders they give and when the orders are not obeyed, the very essence of court is defeated completely.

It’s a shame governance has not worked since return to civilian rule in 1999 –Ojukwu, SAN

By Innocent Anaba

Prof Ernest Ojokwu, SAN

“We have not done well as a nation with regards to elections and rule of law. Our leaders and politicians have paid lip service to the tenets of democratic principles. There has not been any general election that has not been hijacked by individuals and groups backed by governments through massive rigging, thuggery and brigandage.

“The same scenario plays out at party primaries. That culture of stealing and rigging elections has also permeated our other segments of society such as the Nigerian Bar Association at both the National and branch elections. Many organisations and professional groups have also been enmeshed in rigging election as a way of life in Nigeria including elections of students unions. The Nation has not bled so much as it has in terms of failed democracy as we have witnessed especially since 2004 when we made the first effort to conduct a civilian to civilian transition elections.

“Our electoral umpire has largely colluded with our bandit political leaders and party men to foist on Nigeria a culture of dishonesty and fraud in the electoral process. We can hardly say that the leaders that emerge through these fraudulent elections were chosen by the people. And that is why they have hardly represented our interests. And because the electoral system and processes were stolen as a matter of course, it has been impossible to use democratic platforms provided in the constitution to check the excesses of mis-governance including recall of elected representatives at all levels.

“This singular  act of electoral banditry has provided the impetus for seriously failed governance on human rights, damaged judiciary,    poverty and insecurity. What plays out especially at our State and local government levels are massive corruption and  executive lawlessness. It is a shame that governance has not worked well in Nigeria since the return to civilian rule in 1999. We can only celebrate the 2020 democracy day as democracy aspirations, dreams and hopes for Nigeria.”

Failure to hold credible election, major credibility challenge to our democracy —Prof Erugo

Prof Sam Erugo, Dean, Faculty of Law, Abia State University, on his part, said “Anybody who wants to be truthful will agree that we have not fared well in the conduct of elections. It appears the situation has been worsening over this period, except for the 2015 elections. The 2019 elections left a lot of sore impressions.

“To me, the failure in the conduct of elections constitutes the major credibility challenge to our democracy. The violence and apparent bias, or is it helplessness of the electoral umpire usually completely  discredits the election results. Of course, the Nigerian electorate and most credible candidates no longer believe in the electoral process. The result is that we can’t get the best or right candidates in power, it becomes something like the jungle-survival of the fittest.

“Human rights-despite the gradual dismantling of legal obstacles inherited from the military era, the administrative bottlenecks are still there, particularly with the Security agents.  This is easily demonstrated by their activities on the road. However, compared to the military era, the human rights record has improved, but it is not really impressive. Unfortunately, the current administration appears to  have the worst human rights record since 1999, and that’s quite retrogressive.  There is need to educate the relevant agencies on human rights standards in a democracy. One must advise here that nothing is gained from human rights abuse. It could be anybody’s turn next time.

“The relationship between these three arms of government have been anything but constitutional. We have seen a situation where the Executive arm has dominated the political space over and against the other arms. But these are supposed to be three equal and complementary arms of government. This situation is obviously a hangover from the military era, and because the state’s instruments of aggression are under the control of the Executive.

“In the circumstance, what we have had are weak, somehow subservient  legislative and judicial arms. Of course, the conservative judiciary has become the weakest arm in the government-starved of necessary funding and unusually controlled by the Executive arm. These are signs of failure of the rule of law.”

Vanguard

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