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Rule of Law: In praise of Late Umaru Yar’Adua

I had the singular privilege to address the 58th Annual General Conference of Nigeria Bar Association on Impact of Economy and Poverty on the Ease of Doing Business. Thanks to the outgoing Executive led by my former comrade (or is he still a comrade?) Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) for the extended invitation. 2018 theme: TRANSITION, TRANSFORMATION AND SUSTAINABLE INSTITUTIONS was very apt. With 2019 election fever in the air, no better time to reflect on Nigerian economy and poverty than the transition year. But that is if we all assume that 2019 elections are about poverty eradication and wealth generation not about vote-buying.
Paradoxically NBA which ably set the agenda for transformation ended up with an agenda for reaction and trite conservatism. NBA communique commendably covers critical success factors like poverty eradication, ease of doing business, strong institutions and transformational leaders, good governance and democracy. But it was NBA’s alleged rejection of President Buhari’s “rule of law” linkage “with national interest” comment that captures imagination. I said NBA’s rejection of Buhari’s comment because some members of the NBA actually applauded the President’s address which says national interest overrides the rule of law. At least there was no immediate rebuttal of the President’s position by NBA whose motto is “Rule of Law”.
On the contrary, there was indeed an appreciation for his presence until discordant voices of some members of the bar hit the media. My interest today is not to join the unhelpful binary diatribe between the national interest and rule of law (they are certainly not mutually exclusive). Rather my interest here is to remind us that there was a President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who personified rule of law in theory and practice. He was President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (16 August 1951 – 5 May 2010), the 13th President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As rightly called President Buhari to order to be politically and democratically correct,(with respect to Rule of Law) it’s time we posthumously celebrate late President Musa Yar’Adua for unambiguously (without prodding) adhering to the rule of law. Of his celebrated 7-point agenda, was commitment to due process and deference to court rulings. He did that with significant successes. He was declared the winner of the presidential election on 21 April 2007 and sworn in on 29 May 2007. President Yar’Adua accepted that the election which produced him was flawed and proceeded to set Uwais committee on electoral reform. He promptly declared his assets. In 2007 he accepted commendably the reversal of the twin policies of VAT and fuel prices increases in the wake of NLC/TUC mass protestations on the illegal ground that Obasanjo quasi-military /civilian government jumped due process in the policy pronouncement. Supreme Court pronouncement with respect to Anambra state was promptly enforced by President Yar’Adua making Governor Peter Obi the first executive beneficiary of the rule of law in the new dispensation. Lagos state federation money was equally refunded following a correct interpretation of the Supreme Court judgment in a judicial damnation of the impunity under President Olusegun Obasanjo. The reversal of the controversial sale of refineries in the dying days of OBJ was also done on account of undue bidding and processes.
Never before has a government recorded such qualitative achievements by singular stroke of quality policy control measure with respect to application of the rule of law. OBJ’s decade of impunities was characterized by legal anarchy, riot of court interpretations, court boycotts by NBA to press home the need for court order compliance and serial court pronouncements against executive abuses of due process. The rule of law deficit of the recent past definitely made commitment to it in the new dispensation a logical and worthy imperative. Yet as significant as the adherence to the rule of law was (and still is), it’s time also to problematise the issue of law and order administration in the country beyond the current simplicity.
Rule of law assumes that the laws are there and all what is needed is their enforcement. Nothing could be more presumptuous. There is no doubt that Nigeria’s books are abound with rules and legislations. With as many as ten constitutions since independence, some have even rightly argued that Nigeria suffers under the weight of law overload. Paradoxically, the more the laws, the greater the lawlessness. But these rules and laws are still miserably short for a fast growing society. The existing laws in both number and efficacy still lack behind emerging complicated social relationships. 1999 constitution envisages that the primary purpose of governance is welfare and security of citizens. Yet mass killings inclusive of police men and soldiers are the order of the day, even without official declaration of war. 1999 constitution envisages that the economy would be run in a balanced and fair way without the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. Yet Nigeria produces few richest men and women in Africa while it is now the global poverty headquarters of some 100 million poor people.
There is nothing inherently good or bad with the rule of law. In any case which laws are we talking about? Just or unjust laws?
Nigeria is the only country with highest homicides cases in the world. Proving murder cases – just as proving corruption cases – has proved so difficult such that killers and the corrupt are freely moving around, and even vying for the presidency. No thanks to the rule of law that protects murderers and the corrupt.
Conversely, the electoral laws are made in manners in which the burden of proof weighs down the aggrieved such that elections riggers are not bothered once they are so proclaimed the “winners” by INEC. What then about the rule of law that is not just or justiciable? We must know that it was the rule of unjust law that sent Nelson Mandela to prison for 27 years. It was the rule of unjust laws that imposed the hated system of apartheid. It was the rule of unjust law (judicial murder) that actually led to the despicable and barbarian hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa. The point cannot therefore be over stated therefore that what Nigeria needs is rule of just and developmentalist laws that must break the current underdevelopment impasse and urgently replace poverty with prosperity.

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