Is it going to be determined by those in government, who, in their warped belief, think that national interest is their individual interest…?
On Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari dropped all pretences to show the world his anti-democracy tendencies. Looking executives of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the top echelon of the country’s judiciary, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, straight in the eyes, he declared: “Rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.”
If the lawyers present during the declaration thought President Buhari made a mistake, as it is unbelievable that a leader in a democracy could actually give conditions for the rule of law to prevail, they were wrong. President Buhari justified his position. He stated: “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 society.”
First, it is pertinent to understand what rule of law and national interest mean. A dictionary defined rule of law thus: “The restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws.” For Wikipedia, “national interest, often referred to by the French expression, raison d’état, is a country’s goals and ambitions, whether economic, military, cultural or otherwise.”
In President Buhari’s republic, “national interest” and “national security” would be superior to “rule of law.” However, he needs to also tell Nigerians who would determine “national interest,” most especially. Is it going to be determined by those in government, who, in their warped belief, think that national interest is their individual interest and that anything against them is against national interest? That is the point. There is a difference between the interest of Nigeria and the interest of President Buhari, for instance. So, when a presidency, which thinks that it is all-knowing, as the one in power at present, becomes the accuser, prosecutor and the judge, there is everything to worry about. It simply means that the government is gradually turning to dictatorship.
The Buhari government has told the world that it does not want to abide by the tenets of democracy, by the president’s declaration. Indeed, by his actions and body language, President Buhari has directly told us that “an accused is guilty until proved innocent,” against the norm in English law that “an accused is innocent until found guilty by a competent court of law.” Those who thought President Buhari was joking when he said former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, would not be released despite court orders, should now know that rule of law has been given to the dogs. If Dasuki is being held in national interest and national security, does it mean that when former Military President Ibrahim Babangida held President Buhari under house arrest, after taking over power from him in 1985, it was justified, being in “national interest?” If so, why did it take Buhari decades before he said he had “forgiven” Babangida? This is if he truly has.
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We are supposed to be running a democracy, which guarantees individual rights/liberty, separation of power and the supremacy of the law, among others. It is a “system of rule by laws, not individuals.” In a democracy, the rule of law protects the rights of citizens, the maintenance of order and the limitation of the power of government. Therefore, by saying that the rule of law would be subjected to the so-called national interest, President Buhari is telling Nigerians that he wants to become an absolute ruler, who would determine what is right or wrong, depending on how it favours him. He wants to turn Nigeria to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where a few people in power not only manipulated and exploited the public but also entrenched dictatorship.
The country under Buhari is gradually descending to autocracy, whereby the will of one man in government would prevail above the generality of the people who surrendered the country’s sovereignty to him through votes. Now people are no longer free to talk, as the government considers criticisms, more or less, as hate speeches. Government can impound anybody’s property, as provided in Executive Order 6, on the suspicion of corruption. Journalists are being harassed, arrested and detained for doing their job of holding the government accountable. And the freedoms provided in a democracy are being eroded, while some President is saying that this is in “national interest.” This is impunity of the highest order.
Separation of power presupposes that the three arms of government function independently, but with one goal of working for the good of the nation and for good governance. It is insulting for one arm of government to claim to love the country more than the other arms of government. It is unacceptable that a few people in government would claim to know more about love for country than the 185 million Nigerians who are the strength of the nation. The executive, legislature and judiciary have equal stake in the governance of the country. No matter how highly the Buhari presidency thinks of itself, it job is not more important than the legislature and the judiciary. It is absolutely wrong for the executive to run roughshod on everybody or to punish or incarcerate anybody without the directive or approval of the judiciary. And the executive cannot spend money that is not appropriated for or approved by the legislature. Doing so is a breach of the cardinal principles of democracy, which is an offence, impeachable offence at that.
The other arms of government should be blamed for the disregard to rule of law. To say the least, it is shocking that, six days after President Buhari insulted the judiciary right in its face, by his declaration on rule of law, the NBA, in particular, and the judiciary, in general, have not found it expedient to tell him that his position was antithetical to democracy. The judiciary dares not let Buhari’s comments go unchallenged because, by so doing, it is surrendering its independence and powers to an executive that wants to be in maximum rulership. This government is not pretending that it is out to disrespect the courts and the fundamental rights of Nigerians. Incidentally, Buhari, who is now invoking the supposed position of the court on national interest, is not ready to obey court orders. What a contradiction! The National Assembly, nay the legislature, dares not also look the other way when freedom is being raped on the altar of impunity.
A plague now stares Nigerians in the face. It is a plague of authoritarian rule. Therefore, Nigerians should rise up against all anti-democracy behaviours of this government and its agents. If this descent to dictatorship is not arrested now, we will all discover, sooner than later, that we have lost our freedom. For one, such comments by President Buhari do not give anybody hope that Nigerians still have a say in the affairs of the nation. When a government is the absolute determinant of national interest, the people should just resign to fate and take whatever comes their way. Come to think of it: At a time when elections are coming and the President is telling us about national interest, which he is the interpreter, is it impossible that those in government could say that President Buhari’s loss of election in 2019, for example, is not in national interest and, therefore, do everything, including election manipulation, to ensure he wins? I am just thinking aloud.