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The obverse side of pleasing the oga at the top

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Scale of Justice. Photo/Sealchambers

It is in the nature of human societies for minions to feel morally bound to please the oga at the top. This is called loyalty. It obliges the minions to hunt for the enemies of the oga at the top, find them and cage or defang them, if necessary, to prevent them from giving the oga at the top nights in which sleep deserts him. Loyalty makes the oga at the top feel secure.

Reading the mind of the oga at the top and knowing how to permanently please him must be a very delicate business and one fraught with the danger of a minion misreading the big man’s mind and doing what may please him but inadvertently gives him greater wahala. The zeal in trying to please the oga at the top is not without some grave dangers, obviously. It is attended by the graver danger of the zeal to please one man at the top undermining the security and the interest of the larger society.

Zealousness is exercised either within the narrow confines of the law or the broad and liberal interpretation of the law. That is the problem. It is no small problem, I tell you. The law protects the people and the society; and the law also strangles the people and the society. Legally. It is an instrument open to good use or misuse. As someone once said, Hitler did all the unspeakable things he did to the Jews within the ambits of the law of the land. You could condemn him for his immoral and inhuman abuse of a people and their rights as human beings but you could not deny that he did so within the law and the interpretation of the law, however warped it might be.

The law must be the most intriguing human institution. It is open to interpretations and misinterpretations at the same time. Perhaps the greatest success story of democracy is its ability to erect institutions intended to checkmate the human tendency to stretch the law and step outside its bounds. Legally, of course. The legislature is one such institution. Its duty is to ensure that before a bill becomes law, it must be subjected to the collective wisdom of the people’s representatives in an open debate to ensure that its intentions are honourable and would advance the cause of human liberty and freedom.

The judiciary is another democratic institution whose bounden duty is to enforce strict adherence to the letter and the spirit of the law through its interpretation of the law. These are the two solid institutions of democracy without which democracy might be redefined as the government of the oga at the top by the oga at the top in the name of the people down below.

Here is what I have been trying to make sense of in the last few days; something I find most intriguing as possibly a good instance of the commitment of the minions to please the oga at the top at the expense of the oga at the top. Just before Christmas, President Buhari ordered the release of Col Sambo Dasuki and Omoyele Sowore under their respective bail conditions stipulated by the courts. The attorney-general and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had used his discretion to disrespect their lordships and kept the men under lock and key; Dasuki for more than four years and Sowore for more than three months. Their fate in the hands of the security forces brought the hornet’s nest down on the head of the president, unfortunately. He was accused of egregious human rights violations as well as contempt and total disregard for the rule of law. Voices within and outside the country were united in condemning him. He must have found that painful.

Buhari’s decision to intervene and free the men on bail had the immediate salutary effect of dissipating the tension building up around the two men who had been held up as the face of democracy shackled by the inexcusable flagrant disregard for the rule of law, the main pillar of the democracy, its nuances and its ethos. When Malami complied with the presidential directive, he claimed in a statement that “The only reasons for the release of Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki revolved around our commitment to the rule of law, obedience to court orders and compassionate grounds.”

There is a word for this sort of false claim in broad daylight. Hogwash, I think. I am worried by his statement for two reasons. One, for the chief law officer of the federation to claim that he acted based on “our commitment to the rule of law, obedience to court orders and compassionate grounds” is a clear and grievous insult to our collective intelligence. He acted because the president ordered him to do so. We have all been helpless and concerned witnesses to Malami’s serial contempt for court orders on the grounds that he has discretional powers to obey or disobey the courts. When the rule of law is subject to the whims and caprices of a man who is constitutionally charged with respecting, protecting and enforcing it, we have good reasons to worry for the health of our democracy.

Two, Malami’s use of the phrase “compassionate grounds” in carrying out the president’s order is equally disturbing. Buhari may be a compassionate man but the rule of law is not a matter of compassion. It is a matter of the rights of citizens duly protected by the courts of law giving legitimate orders undergirded by the constitution. By acting on the order of the president, Malami lost any pretences to high moral or legal grounds.

The bottom line is that Malami undermined the institutions of democracy by creating the condition that compelled the president to intervene in the very simple and elementary matter of his obeying the court orders and thus enhancing the rule of law. In his overzealousness to please the president, he undermined the president’s human rights credentials and made them rather spotty at best. Malami is the face of the rule of law under Buhari. No simple burden. He ought to appreciate what that means. Whatever he does or fails to do to protect the rule of law rubs off on the president.

Democratic institutions derive their strength and relevance from their independence to act within the ambits of the law without undue interference from the other arms of government. The president’s intervention could easily be taken to mean that the minister’s disregard for the court orders had his tacit approval. Few things could be worse for the president’s human rights records than that he approved of his minister of justice treating the rule of law like nuisance or a piece of trash.

The AGF has a moral and official duty to spruce up the president’s image as regards his commitment to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. The integrity of modern governments is hinged on what they make of the rule of law. Disobedience to court orders is the easiest evidence that the basic rights and liberties of the people are under threat. No administration would wish that on itself.

As AGF, Malami has some very critical challenges in strengthening the judiciary and making it truly the refuge of the poor, the powerless and the deprived. He could start by taking steps to ensure that the Chief Justice of Nigeria stops going around with a begging bowl like a common beggar. He could take steps to comprehensively reform the laws such that justice is not lost in the labyrinth of a judiciary process for years to the frustration of litigants who are anxious to obtain justice in the hall of justice. No one need telling that to delay justice is to deny justice. The courts have their full constitutional briefs on how to do their duty. The AGF would do well to leave them alone to get on with it.


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