There can be no freedom
without the law. While it is the
law that limits our freedom, it
is also the law that guarantees
our freedom. When there is no
law to limit one’s freedom, there
will be no law to guarantee his
freedom. Therefore, democracy,
with its entrenched safeguards
and expansive latitude for
individual rights and freedom
must inevitably be founded
on the law. The constitution
(the supreme law of the land)
outlines the structure and role
of government and guarantees
individual rights and dignity
against government oppression.
The Nigerian president is sworn
to defend the constitution
of Nigeria, and according to
this constitution, the primary
purpose of government is the
“security and welfare of the
President Buhari was under
intense criticisms for what was
seemingly a breach of the law;
his administration’s continued
detention of individuals
already granted bail by the
courts. To his critics, it was an
unacceptable, blatant assault on
the rule of law. The president’s
defense of his action on grounds
of national security did not
impress his critics. They argued
that the president is a dictator
and that his disregard for a
court ruling evinced his scorn
for the separation of powers
and portends grave danger for
Nigerian democracy.
In granting bails to the accused,
the court was operating within
its constitutional purview.
And, ordinarily, as no one is
above the law, all, including the
president, should be bound by
a court order. But what of if the
court order is in conflict with
the president’s oath of office
to defend the constitution of
Nigeria (with its fundamental
objectives of “security and
welfare” of the people of
Nigeria). In such a conflict, who
should have precedence? Surely,
it must be the President, elected
by overwhelming popular
mandate and not an appointed
judge designated to interpret the
law. Moreover, while the rulings
of the judges are predicated
on the narrow confines of the
law and its technicalities, the
president has access to broader
sources of information, and is
privy of classified information
not available to the judges.
Therefore, his decisions on
national security may take
priority over a court verdict.
So, in ignoring a court order, in
his determined commitment to
the central roles of democratic
government, as stipulated by the
Nigerian constitution, President
Buhari was not being a dictator,
but a democrat, essentially, the
ultimate democrat.
In the United States of
America, the courts have wide
powers of judicial review.
Unlike in Britain, where an act
of Parliament binds the courts,
in America, a court in deciding
a case before it, can disregard
an Act of Congress that it
considers inconsistent with the
Constitution. However, despite
the enormous powers of the
courts in America, a number of
American presidents have, in
the past, defied court orders.
For example, in the1830s,
President Andrew Jackson
ignored a Supreme Court order
that voided a bill ordering all
the Indian tribes to move went
of the Mississippi River.
More recently, President Bill
Clinton defied court rulings
on affirmative action. These
rare but necessary breaches of
court verdicts by United States
presidents did not dismantle
American democracy or nudge
the country into dictatorship.
Therefore, President Buhari’s
disregard of bail orders was not
tantamount to dictatorship, and
was definitely, not a threat to
democracy in Nigeria.
Presently, our deadliest
national scourge is corruption.
The piratical depredation –
looting and tearing down – of
this country by government
officials in concert with their
political and business cronies is
bleeding the country to death.
It has pervaded and perverted
every Nigerian institution,
including the ordinarily most
incorruptible, like the judiciary,
university and church. It has
battered our morality, corroded
our will and distorted our
values. It has caused us more
deaths and social disruption
(though less conspicuously),
and undermined the security
and welfare of the country
than Boko Haram terrorism. If
not seriously checked, it will
destroy this country.
A successful war against
corruption will be remarkably
splendid. It will, among other
things, result in a more equitable
distribution of the national
wealth and the alleviation of
the dreadful poverty of the
Nigerian masses; make Nigerian
institutions more responsive
to the needs and aspirations
of the people; elevate societal
morals and ethics; enhance
social justice, political stability
and the rule of law, etc. A litany
of the benefits of a victorious
war on corruption reads like the
electoral promises of President
Buhari. Invariably, for the
president to uphold his
constitutional and electoral
obligations to Nigerians,
he must defeat the monster
of corruption. Normally,
this should be done in strict
adherence to the standards of
the law with its subtleties and
technicalities and copious scope
for evading and frustrating
prosecution. On the other hand,
this monster is entrenched,
resilient and utterly ruining the
Therefore, fighting it
demands urgency, vigor and the
administration’s willingness to
subordinate individual rights to
the public good.
In resolving this moral
dilemma, that is, in striking
the delicate balance between
the niceties of the law and the
exigencies of the war against
corruption, the president’s
moral and constitutional
obligations to the people of
Nigeria should transcend a
court ruling.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes
from Lagos, Nigeria

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