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One nation, under the law

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President Muhammadu Buhari

There is only one route to making Nigeria great: let the nation have the blessing of conscientious leadership that is committed to the people, but let it be governed by law and not just by men.

Some strange developments, legal and ethical, in Nigeria’s leadership, especially the executive arm, which have raised concerns about the future of democracy in the country are disturbing and should never have arisen at all because of the preponderance of those who should know better in the government. Apart from the fact that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the Vice President is also one, in addition to being a respected Professor of Law, for example. There are four or more other senior lawyers in the Federal Executive Council and many others in other capacities who should point out the rudiments of the law to the leadership. But the nation does not appear to be governed by law. And this is simply unacceptable.

The majesty of democracy is, of course, established on the beautiful concept of separation of powers. The National Assembly or the legislature makes all laws while the executive branch, headed by the president, executes those laws. And whenever there is a dispute between the executive and the legislature, for instance, the judiciary adjudicates and that settles everything. That presupposes that everyone including the president and other presiding officers are not above the law too. In fact, the oath of office all officers take is to defend the constitution. The law is above all, and none is above the law. But in the current dispensation, this has been largely observed in the breach.

One example is the issue of confirmation of presidential nominees, a simple task that advertises the glory of separation of powers in a democracy as it concerns some constitutional bodies, the leadership of which the organic law provides must be confirmed by the Senate.

Hence it is still a mystery, for instance, that the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, who was nominated to the office by the President since November 2015, is still acting, outside the provisions of the law. A good man, and maybe the best candidate for the job, but the Senate, which the enabling law says should confirm him, has twice rejected his nomination. While the presidency has insisted on him by all means, the law is the law and it is being breached to the eternal erosion of the tenets of constitutional democracy.

Besides, the presidency has not shown any sense of urgency in getting the machinery of the anti-graft agencies working properly, three years after sweeping into office on the crest of fighting corruption and securing the land. Selective prosecution, some call it persecution, has been the order of the day and the rule of man appears to have trumped the rule of law.

So many offices that constitutionally should be filled are yet to be filled and many government agencies, therefore, are operating in blatant violation of the laws of the land.

Reorganising the civil service, which has become the nucleus of all official corruption in the country, has taken the back seat. Even the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) which chairman’s tenure expired since March 2017 has not had the benefit of a new leadership as dictated by the nation’s laws.

Yes, the Senate has been sitting on so many presidential nominations, of course, in consonance with the powers conferred on it by the constitution, powers that must be respected, no matter what.

To do otherwise would be an absurdity and an insult to the rule of law in a democracy.

The Muhammadu Buhari administration is already caught in another constitutional trouble: approving the withdrawal of $462 million from the federation account without prior approval by the National Assembly.

The president had reportedly approved and paid the United States government for some military equipment ordered before informing the National Assembly. Meanwhile, the same president’s aide earlier denied existence of such an illegal approval. But when the National Assembly was later informed by the President, the story was that time was running out on the procurement, hence the need to circumvent the rule in order to prosecute the war in the North East zone.

There was another bizarre claim that the President approved the illegal withdrawal because he believed the National Assembly would have no objection to his action, anyway.

This, certainly, is not the provision of the constitution and procedure on such actions. In such an emergency, the President ought to have informed the principal officers including the Appropriation and Public Accounts Committees in the bicameral legislature. This was not done.

In other words, there should be no reason for any executive alibi for the breach of constitutional treasury rules.

Once again, Nigerians and Nigeria cannot wish greatness into existence. Countries are great only because their governments and their peoples have decided to allow their laws to rule, not only over the ordinary citizens but also over the leaders. Countries attain greatness when the people consciously reject the culture of impunity that they justifiably see as prelude to tyranny.

No matter how powerful even a President is, the law is above him. So, when leaders begin to act as if they are above the law, the supremacy of the law and democracy is what they are assaulting and the entrenchment of tyranny is what to be expected.

Strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the law of the land is the only way democracy can thrive and it is the only way democracy can be made safe.

Today, Nigeria’s democracy seems to be facing serious threats because of the strange attitude of its practitioners, especially those in leadership positions. It must, however, be made safe by all citizens who must insist that whether one is the leader or the led, he or she is not above the law.

This country will prosper only when it becomes a nation of strong laws, strong institutions and not one of strong men.


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