• Friday, July 12, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Governance unconstrained by the law

Election petitions: Can the judiciary save Nigeria’s fragile democracy?

Let’s start by telling ourselves the truth that the survival of any democracy depends squarely on the independence of all the tiers of government, and most importantly, the judiciary. It’s the strength of the judicial system that makes strongmen succeed or have their ambitions thwarted. The door is open to the gradual destruction of democracy if a ruler can eliminate the independence of the judiciary.

The expression “governance unrestricted by the law” suggests a situation in which those in power are able to operate without any constraints from the legal framework designed to limit their actions. This type of governance is generally seen by public intellectuals as authoritarian and tyrannical, as it effectively allows for unchecked abuse of power, corruption, and oppression.

In societies where the rule of law is upheld, there are built-in mechanisms for resolving conflicts through open and inclusive dialogue where every voice is given equal weight and outcomes are deemed fair and just

In a healthy democratic society, governance is intended to be guided and constrained by the rule of law, which ensures that leaders are held accountable for their actions and that citizens are protected from abuse. But before delving into main issues concerning the subject matter, let’s examine the recently released World’s Rule of Law Index.

Rule of law index

It’s no secret that our world is facing uncontrollable challenges that are destroying the very fabric of societies. The cracks are there for all to see, from inequality and political polarization to environmental degradation and dwindling resources. We can’t pretend that things are rosy when the reality is far from it. But the light at the end of the tunnel begins with our recognition that the rule of law is a critical pillar of any successful society.

In societies where the rule of law is upheld, there are built-in mechanisms for resolving conflicts through open and inclusive dialogue where every voice is given equal weight and outcomes are deemed fair and just. It’s time we focus on this fundamental principle to chart a path towards a better tomorrow.

It’s a well-known fact that societies built on strong legal foundations tend to flourish, regardless of their size. These societies demand accountability and transparency, offer equal protection to all individuals, and ensure that fundamental rights are upheld through independent and fair legal systems.

However, according to the 2022 World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, the global trend is unfortunately moving in the opposite direction, with most countries witnessing a decline in the rule of law for the fifth straight year. (See www.worldjusticeproject.org).

Specifically, Nigeria out of 140 countries ranked 118th on the index, with an index score of 0.41. Other countries like Guinea, Mali, Angola, and Liberia also didn’t score well in the rankings. In fact, Nigeria only ranked 24th out of 34 countries in the sub-Saharan African region. Going by the rankings, it’s high time we recognize the importance of strengthening the rule of law in our society if we want to achieve peace and prosperity for all.

The Report shows that as society faces increasing doubt towards the legitimacy of scientific and data-driven approaches to decision making, it is crucial to examine the sources and methods behind such information.

The creators of the WJP Rule of Law Index began by delving into ancient codes and principles of justice from notable figures like Cicero, Confucius, and Hammurabi.

By drawing upon these time-honoured foundations, they crafted a framework for measuring and evaluating the rule of law that is rooted in historical wisdom and contemporary insight.

Alarming news has been brought to the attention of the public as the rule of law has been trending negatively for the past three years worldwide. Of particular concern is the sharp decline in fundamental human rights, governmental power constraints, and corruption measures, with more countries declining than improving in each of these areas.

This negative trend has persisted over a five-year period, with the worst performance globally being attributed to these factors. Sadly, the key elements that uphold accountable governance, as well as citizens’ trust in their leaders, are falling back, even in established democracies like the USA, and in autocracies worldwide. As a result, it’s no wonder that populism and social protests are on the rise globally.

Failure of the rule of law

Recent events have sadly demonstrated that our nation’s tendency to prioritize personality over institutional strength has permeated even those organizations established by law that were once thought to be impartial and self-governing.

In this article, we will delve into some of the most tangled issues facing our country today: the seemingly never-ending fuel scarcity, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN’s) insufficient supply of the new and old Naira notes, and the ongoing fallout from both the presidential and National Assembly elections. These issues have sparked heated debate and stoked controversy across the country, leaving many wondering about the future of our nation.

The 25 February 2023 presidential election was marred by the disappointing performance of INEC in some polling units, despite its assurances to the contrary. Rather than delivering on their promises, INEC seemed to have spent the last four years not tidying up all loose ends in the electoral process that could generate controversy.

The resulting chaos undermined public confidence in the organization and left many feeling disillusioned. If the court ruled that election materials should be made available by INEC for inspection by an aggrieved politician, why was the electoral commission reluctant to comply with the ruling of the court on the matter.

Meanwhile, the CBN, an independent institution created by law, has recently defied the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Despite the court’s ruling in favour of three state governments allowing for the continued use of old Naira notes until 31 December 2023, the CBN remained inactive for almost two weeks. This lack of action highlights a failure of the rule of law and resulted in undue hardship for both the wealthy and the poor.

Many Nigerians were unable to access their funds as a result of the ill-timed and ill-informed Naira redesign policy. After the Supreme Court ruling, Nigerians expected the CBN to promptly provide banks with old N1,000, N500, and N200 notes. Unfortunately, the delay led to significant inconvenience and frustration among citizens. Overall, these recent events reflect the ongoing struggle of strongman mentalities against effective and impartial institutions in our society.

When the courts ruled that the leaders of a religious group and that of a nationalist separatist group should be released, the arm of government holding these leaders in custody should comply. If there are security reasons why they are not to be released, the appeal court should be approached to resolve the matter.

It does not augur well for government at the federal and state levels to disobey court rulings and give different interpretations when the “judgment is very clear” in a democratic society. Even our lawmakers at state and federal levels disobey court rulings at will. There are many examples of impunity that cannot be accommodated in this column.

Disobedience of supreme laws

If the heads of institutions, such as the CBN Governor, INEC Chairman, police officers, or government officials, are not held accountable for their actions, it can erode public trust in the justice system and undermine the legitimacy of democratic institutions.

This can lead to a breakdown of the rule of law and a loss of confidence in the government’s ability to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Additionally, it can create an environment in which corruption and abuse of power thrive, further weakening the democratic system. Therefore, it is important for all officials to uphold the law and remain accountable to the people they serve.

Read also: Election: Can the judiciary save Nigeria?

Erosion of trust in the judicial system

Trust in the judicial system is crucial in maintaining public confidence in the government’s ability to provide justice for all its citizens. When citizens lose faith in the judicial system, it can lead to a breakdown in trust between the people and the government.

An erosion of trust in the judicial system can also create doubts about the legitimacy of the government itself. If the public feels that the judiciary is corrupt, biased, or ineffective, they may question the validity of the entire political system and its institutions.

Without a reliable judicial system, there can be increased social instability and conflict. If people feel they cannot rely on the courts to provide justice, they may turn to other means to get what they need or want, such as violence or organized crime.

An erosion of trust in the judicial system can also have significant economic implications. Businesses and investors may be reluctant to invest in a country where the legal system is perceived to be corrupt or ineffective, leading to a decline in economic growth and development. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain trust in the judicial system to ensure the proper functioning of government and the rule of law in society.

Final remarks

Finally, upholding the rule of law boils down to a critical choice that a society must make – either to cultivate a culture of fairness and justice for all, even amidst tumultuous times, or to succumb to the rule of autocrats and power-hungry politicians. Alas, the present evidence leaves little room for doubt; the latter option currently possesses an undeniable advantage. Thank you.