ANY remaining doubts about where President Muhammadu Buhari stands with the Rule of Law, was finally wiped out on Sunday, when in an address go the Nigeria Bar Association, he stated that national security was superior to the Rule of Law. He even quoted the law to support his position.
OUR surprised that lawyers and lay people appear shocked by the stance of the President on a matter that he has hardly concealed whether as a military leader or since he assumed office on 29 May 2015 as a civilian President. He had always considered “national interest”, “national security” – whatever he defined to be – to be superior to the Rule of Law.
HIS choice of the Bar general conference to lay down his policy as he continues his Presidency was not a mistake. The President had often seen the law, from the National Assembly to the Judiciary, as impediments to his policies, which delve towards dictatorship.
THESE issues were hotly debated during the campaigns for the 2015 elections. Whenever his precedents as a military Head of State was mentioned, the response was that he was a “born again” democrat, who would respect the Rule of Law. He has not, he has even given signals that he would take the country back to his 1984 days of military dictatorship.
BUHARI with his Attorney-General Clement Akpamgbo crafted Decree 2, under which two journalists Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were jailed for a story on diplomatic postings. Government did not like the story. Truth was not a defence under the decree.
HE was not done. Three drug dealers, Bartholomew Owoh, Bernard Ogedengbe, and Lawal Ojuolape were on trial before Buhari came to power by coup in 1984. Their offence was not a capital offence. Buhari made new laws that were retroactive to change the penalty for their offence to death. All pleas and explanations that laws were never retroactive fell on deaf ears – they were executed.
THE three, plainly stated, were murdered. They were given a punishment that never existed for the crime they committed. It is a crime for which those who committed it should have gone on trial. To date, President Buhari has shown no remorse for that decision.
AMONG his other disregards for the law was in the sentences on governors he had arrested after the coup. Buhari thought the sentences were not enough and asked for re-trials and higher sentences. Some of them were sentenced for 200 years!
HIS dedicated battles with the judiciary, during which security agents invaded homes of judges, his refusal to bring people under arrest to court, his disobedience of court orders, are clearer indications of his stands where the law is concerned. It was not so surprising that he made this position official at the Bar conference. He was serving notice of what was to come, to those who uphold the law.
ACCORDING to the President, the “Rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest. Our apex court has had cause to adopt a position on this issue in this regard and it is now a matter of judicial recognition that where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place, in favour of the greater good of the society.”
SOME issues are thrown up immediately: What is national interest? What is national security? Are national interest and national security different from ‘regime security’? Who determines these? How would those deciding these matters, without the law, ensure that personal interest is not elevated to national interest?
“IT was an extremely dangerous statement to have been made. His remarks contradicted the judgment of the Supreme Court. He quoted the judgment out of context and misconstrued it for the limiting civil liberties,” Olisa Agbakoba, former NBA President said.
NBA President-elect, Usoro (SAN), tried to clear the confusion. “I am sure that what the President was talking about was fundamental human rights and not rule of law. Rule of law is supreme, that is what the constitution stands for. It is superior. When fundamental human rights clash with national security, latter takes pre-eminence. The same cannot be said of the rule of law. When the rule of law clashes with national security, it must bow to rule of law.”
PRESIDENT Buhari applied his “national security” argument in refusing to obey different court orders that granted former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki bail. Even the bail that the ECOWAS Court of Justice granted Dasuki was not acceptable to Buhari, who at a meeting of ECOWAS last July in Lome lectured the gather on the Rule of Law. The Attorney General of the Federation Abdullahi Malami authored a defence of the disobedience of court orders, which have been applied to detained Islamic cleric El-Zakzaky.
EBUN-OLU Adegboruwa, a lawyer said, “National security has no definition, it has no limit; it is amorphous and panders to individual discretion. It is the rule of the executive arm of government alone, being the one responsible for policy implementation and the determination of security imperatives. National security is the rule and decision of individuals, such as the Inspector-General of Police or the Commander-in-Chief. Such rules are always subject to manifest abuses, especially in respect of opposition politics. That has been the experience in Nigeria.”
THE dangers of operating with the Rule of Law beneath the dictates of the President are succinctly by Adegboruwa thus: “The rule of law is defined, basic, predictable and even subject to review; it helps to predict and govern human conduct. The Rule of Law limits and interposes upon the rule of self all forms of arbitrariness and is thus preferable to the whims and caprices of individuals. It is a dangerous proposition as we approach 2019. Taken to its proper interpretation, it may be taken to be an advance notice to the people of Nigeria, to brace up for likely threats to their rights and liberties, in the coming days.”
OTHER condemnations of the pronouncement came from the Peoples Democratic Party, “It is instructive to note that contrary to claims by Mr. President, there is no pronouncement by the Supreme Court that subjugates constitutional rule of law and rights of citizens to the whims, caprices and dictatorial impulses of any President. Our national interest is thoroughly embedded, protected, expressed and enforced only under the rule of law as provided by our constitution and there is no how Nigerians can allow an individual to superimpose or override the constitution with his personal whims and impulses; a pattern that is characteristic of known dictators all over the world, as expressed in the obnoxious Executive Order 6, designed to justify a complete clampdown of political opponents ahead of 2019 general election.”
TESTY days are ahead as Nigerians find out which laws the President would decide to obey in his defence of “national interest”, and “national security”. If the judiciary would not be the last hope of the common man, what else is left in the quest for law and order in society?