Buhari’s remark on rule of law

Speaking at the Nigerian Bar Association’s Annual General Conference, President Muhammadu Buhari, in his usual frank and no-hold-barred characteristics, stirred the hornet’s nest when he argued that the principle of Rule of Law was subservient to ‘national security and national interest’.
Expectedly, the statement has provoked public reactions.
The concept of Rule of Law is a globally acceptable democratic tenet that places prominence on strict adherence to the due process of law.
It presupposes, ipso facto, that everyone is equal before the law and that due process of law must necessarily take the centrestage in administering the affairs of the state.
The late Nigerian Jurist, John Idowu Taylor, very profoundly captured this position while delivering judgment in the Re: Mohammed Olayori & 2ors (1969) 2 All NLR at page 308 as follows: “if we are to have our actions guided and restrained in certain ways for the benefits of society in general and individuals members in particular then, whatever status, whatever post we hold, we must succumb to the rule of law.
The alternative is anarchy and chaos…” Howbeit, like every concept, this principle is not cast on the stone; that is to say, there are limitations to its application, and we have seen this severally play out in Nigeria and across the world.
We witnessed this when the 7th Nigerian Senate invoked the so-called Doctrine of Necessity in 2010 to make the then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, acting president to save the country from constitutional precipice.
National interest and national security had become threatened at the material time leading to the lawmakers’ intervention.
Maybe, President Buhari’s mind was operating in this direction when he made that remark, or perhaps, he was simply saying this to justify his government’s continuing disregard of the subsisting order of the court granting the detained former National Security Adviser, Col (rtd) Sambo Dasuki bail.
In fairness to President Buhari, the Nigerian courts have had to take a position on this controversial issue and even appeared to lay credence to his argument.
Indeed, President Buhari alluded to a Supreme Court decision that agrees with his view.
Nevertheless, it should be clearly pointed out that the power to determine when the national interest or national security takes prominence over the rule of law is the exclusive reserve of the judiciary and does not domicile in any other arm or organ of the government.
And this conclusion is usually reached after a careful evaluation of evidence and material particulars presented before the court.
To do otherwise, is to descend into the era where life is nasty, brutish and short, according to the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes.
A lot more, however, needs to be done by the judiciary to restore public confidence in the administration of justice system and truly make it the bulwark of the nation’s democracy and bastion of hope for both the strong and the weak.
Okoro Gabriel, Esq.
Lagos

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