President Muhammadu Buhari chose the most auspicious place to officially declare his disdain for the rule of law and his avowed preference for the rule of man, his own rule, in the Nigerian nation-state, where he has been deploying his might in its vast capriciousness and whimsicality since he stepped in the saddle on May 29, 2015.
The declaration was last Sunday at the venue of this year’s Nigerian Bar Association conference. Members of the Bar and the Bench were there in their numbers. The assemblage of officers in the temple of justice was representative of the nation’s judiciary, an independent arm of the trinity of government.
Buhari unleashed his affront at the underpinning of that independence, reinforced by the doctrine of separation of powers. His speech had a tinge of fury in it. He did not pretend about his aversion for that arm of government and the bastion of the rule of law within which the rights of the government and the governed find protective accommodation.
He must have perceived that the judiciary remains the single most irritable stumbling block to his anti-corruption war. That was possibly the reason he shunned some lawyers who were chanting: “Sai Baba!” when he was leaving the venue at the end of his well-orchestrated speech that was intended to be frank.
It was very unusual for Buhari not to raise his right hand in a fist in response to such recognition and adulation. Like a ramrod, ironically without a scruple for the law or its rule, he walked and looked straight without a smile, let alone a dimple on his face. He had unambiguously passed across his message even if the message was not in synch with the fine traditions of democracy and the general principles of constitutionalism.
The President had simply exposed his very own underbelly as a dictator or, if he is not, as someone who loves dictatorship as a directive principle of state policy. But Nigerians were aware of Buhari’s military background before they decided to invest their mandate in him to rule as President; that was after he had been rebranded as a “converted democrat”. He was simply dressed in borrowed robes.
And, to be sure, he had in the early months of his Presidency, yanked off the robes to assume his true posture. It was during his maiden media chat that was telecast live that he unravelled when he said that he would not release a former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, despite several court orders.
Buhari said that the two accused persons could not be allowed to enjoy any form of freedom due to the “enormity” of their offences. Kanu had, in particular, been slammed with a treasonable felony charge. According to him, “If you see the atrocities these people committed against this country, we can’t allow them to jump bail.” It was thus clear that the President caused the executive arm to disobey lawful court directives; which is why despite bails granted by no fewer than six courts, Dasuki is still being held in government custody.
The leader of the Shiites, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife have also been held in detention by the executive arm despite bails granted them by the courts. Buhari’s body language and pronouncements had fuelled and continue to fuel disobedience to court orders by agents of the executive. This attitude violates the essence of the rule of law, substituting it, as it were, with the rule of man, which is a throwback to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature where life was nasty, brutish and short.
That is the situation Buhari, in his seeming imperial presidency, has virtually foisted on the nation. The fact that only Dasuki and El-Zakzaky are the prominent victims does not mitigate the existential fears that now stalk the rest of us. More Nigerians may be victims tomorrow. That brazen violation of the rule of law rubbishes the spirit of our nationhood. One would not have had qualms had Nigeria been in a state of nature, where lawlessness and jungle justice were the defining features; and, where President Buhari’s proposition that national security is superior to rule of law was a fitting characteristic.
But good enough, Nigeria is not a jungle. She is a member of the comity of nations whose processes and well-being are circumscribed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended 2010) and other bodies of laws. The process that threw up the Buhari candidature and eventual presidency is constitutionally regulated. He took the oath of office and oath of allegiance to defend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The constitution is still in place and has not given way to a body of decrees by which military dictatorship and its civilian variants rule. It is therefore obligatory that Buhari ensures that his administration defers to the rule of law and not his own rule.
Sufuyan Ojeifo, Abuja, email@example.com