Before the law, everyone is equal; the law is supreme, and no one is above the law. For anyone who has gone through the Nigerian educational system, this is probably the first mantra you ever learnt about the once prestigious legal profession, but it appears that this is no longer the case because people appear to be above the law, or at least some people appear to be above the law, and the law is no longer supreme.
All men are born equal, according to George Orwell, yet some are more equal than others in the Nigerian setting.
Dedicated study throughout the years has revealed a link between the rule of law and four important indicators of growth. First is that the economy is strong where the rule of law prevails, and this is because both the government and the private sector are accountable to the law. No corporation, no matter how large and well-connected it is, is bigger than the law in such a way that it avoids paying taxes and engaging in corporate social responsibility. But how can the economy flourish in Nigeria if both the government and the private sector play politics instead of being accountable? The ruling party abuses its position of power to go after political opponents and their affiliated organisations. By openly disclosing the party to which they belong, individuals and organisations are either discharged and acquitted of all their financial crimes and corruption allegations if they belong to the ruling party or experience perpetual witch hunting until they openly declare a deferment from an opposition party to the ruling party, leaving the country bleeding with unrequited responsibilities.
In addition to a flourishing economy is the fact that more peaceful countries enjoy a greater rule of law, people are more educated where the rule of law prevails and the life expectancy in countries where the rule of law is the order of the day is higher. In other words, the rule of law is synonymous with the overall well being of man. Countries with greater rule of law have the overall standard of living and life of its citizens better off than its counterpart in the lower rung of the continuum of the rule of law.
As a former science student at Federal Government Girls College (then Onitsha and now Nkwelleezunaka), we were not given the opportunity to sample courses from both science and arts before settling on a major. As a result, I started out knowing little to nothing about law and politics. However, the first thing I learned about government in my 2004 extramural lessons for JAMB was that the three arms of government were independent of each other to allow them to checkmate themselves and call each other to order. These powers they wield are dictates of the law which shows the supremacy of the law. How, therefore, can we expect to maintain the rule of law in a country where, like the mythical pipped piper of Hamelin: “He who pays the piper dictates the tune?” If the judiciary has been bought off, how can it function independently and play a different tune from what it has been paid to do?
How can our country not only survive but also flourish and provide for its residents when the rule of man replaces the rule of law? The Supreme Court of Nigeria is now ridiculed as the Supreme Technical Court of Nigeria because they now deliver judgements on technicalities instead of the plain provisions of the constitution. For example, in November 1993, Nigeria’s first senate president, Evans Enwerem, was ousted due to a disagreement about whether his name was Evans or Evan, as well as the fact that he misrepresented his name before becoming senate president. Former finance minister during President Muhammadu Buhari’s first tenure, Kemi Adeosun, was forced to resign due to the controversy surrounding her NYSC certificate, despite the fact that the court and the NYSC had proven that she obtained the exemption legally and honourably. Most recently, the authorities sanctioned Mmesoma Ejikeme Jamb for falsifying her matriculation results, but the Presidential Election Tribunal and the Supreme court delivered judgements on very similar issues in recent times on technicalities rather than the rule of law. I’m guessing that all these people were subjected to these troubles and sanctions because they couldn’t afford to pay the piper judges in their cases.
The independence of the judiciary was its strength and capacity to make untainted judgement, however the question remains? How can an ordinary man, not those more equal than the others have confidence in the judiciary when the outcome of every case is largely dependent on how well you can dictate the tune based on the strength of your bank accounts and pockets instead of the supremacy of the law. According to the world justice project rule of law index, which evaluates countries based on their commitment to and implementation of six pillars of rule of law: constraint on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and finally criminal justice, Nigeria, the supposed giant of Africa ranked 120 out of 142 countries in the overall index score. It is obvious that in Nigeria today it is no longer the supremacy of the law but the supremacy of man, no longer the rule of Law but the rule of man.
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What can the common man do? We can only hope that our judiciary can regain its lost glory and shine even brighter in the years to come by upholding justice for everyone and ensuring that only the law is supreme.
. Emehel is writing for Communications for Public Leadership from the Department of Political Science and International Relations of Nazarbayev University, Astana Kazakhstan.