Law News
That law may not obstruct ‘change’

Though not conclusive of all that needs to be fundamentally fixed in Nigeria, the issues already identified in President Muhammadu Buhari’s inaugural speech will need an ideologically sturdy and well retooled legal order for them to get sustainable resolutions.

The legal order must radically and sustainably harmonise its tripod branches of law-making, law enforcement and law interpretation towards ensuring the attainment of genuine unbiased justice, fair economic progress and the protection of the vulnerable, henceforth become the key focus of law-making, enforcement and interpretation in Nigeria. None of the tripods of the legal order should stand in the way of changes that must take place for the nation’s rebirth to become an incontestable reality.

For instance, to entrench a democratic culture across all levels in Nigeria and ‘to consciously work the democratic process’ as the President has indicated, amongst other agendas, requires that the democratic space at all levels of governance, including the civil and professional societies, be opened. A good starting point is to henceforth halt the aberrations which have made local governments retarded appendages of undemocratic state governors over the years. To help the administration ‘work the democratic process’ as it has indicated, the Local Governments must be freed from the chains of authoritarianism which have robbed Nigerians the opportunity to legitimately choose their leaders at the local levels of governance.

The law would be conniving to work against the democratic process if state governors are allowed to continue pocketing the local governments. The condescending practices of state governors such as the unbridled penchant for disallowing periodic, transparent and definitive local government elections across the states while preferring to unilaterally appoint stooges to lord over the people at the local levels must be halted, by law. Such condescending practices emboldened governors to openly violate the Constitution by appointing so-called caretaker chairmen for local governments and also creating all sorts of dubious, subversive mechanisms to starve and control the funds constitutionally meant for local governments thereby stalling meaningful governance at the local level.

The law must now be clear and decisive on the status of the local government as an autonomous tier of government that deserves to hold periodic elections in which the people of the respective localities determine who leads them, and how; contrary to the current atrocious practices of self-righteous state governors denying people in the localities their basic democratic rights to legitimately choose their leaders.

The law would also not be ‘working the democratic process’ if it continues to fail to decisively halt the current subversive practice which somewhat permits political parties to fail to hold party primaries to ensure party members, and party members alone, determine who flies their parties’ flags at elections. Working the democratic process does not start at general elections. It begins with the existence of a virile civil society and a transparent process of ensuring accountability in governance through making clearance to contest elective positions determinable by ordinary party members, and not some incoherent patronage system as currently obtains.

To take a second example, the President has indicated in the unfolding agenda that ‘pervasive corruption’ is one of the enormous challenges confronting Nigeria. No rational person doubts this. But is the law currently modeled to treat corruption as a national emergency that requires dynamic and sustainable annihilation? One is unsure, but either way the law must now align itself, and quickly too, with the aspiration of Nigerians to end corruption. Corruption cannot be successfully fought without a reduction of the mindless public salaries and allowances, especially of lawmakers, to make public service emoluments come in alignment with the realities of our battered economy. The law must therefore be clear that no public official can earn beyond wages and allowances fixed by the requisite agency of government which is currently the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission and it must be clear that the wages and allowances cannot be fixed outrageously by even the RMAFC itself.

Corruption also cannot be fought without open and transparent governance that gives the public access to unfettered information on the true state of public finance, and its use. Here, the Freedom of Information Act must now be allowed to take its prime place in the anti-corruption crusade. First, every state must pass it, failing which it should be made a federal law, binding on every state irrespective of whether the states passed it or not. This will task the law-making and law interpretation foots of the legal order. But none should fail to lend its weight to a long cheated people’s quest for transparency in the affairs of their government.

Every lofty idea, however revolutionary, must have a sturdy legal framework to succeed and be sustainable in the long term. When America needed to lay its foundation for universal freedom and rights, we saw the American Declaration of Independence and the accompanying American Constitution which have both helped to deepen the nation’s democratic growth and its enviable experimentations with the endless possibilities of human freedom. When it needed to checkmate slavery, we saw the Proclamation Act. When civil rights had to be made universal, we saw the Civil Rights Act. When Britain had to lay foundation for civil rights, we saw the Magna Carta. When Depression came, threatening to obliterate the US economy in the 1930s, we saw the Social Security Act, Emergency Banking Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act among several other laws which were all legal frameworks designed to breathe life into the ‘New Deal’ vision of the remarkable President F. D. Roosevelt. The US Congress recognised the urgency of the times and did not constitute itself as a clog to the people’s recovery; neither did any member of its judiciary derail the recovery efforts of the administration with reactionary law interpretations.

When Brazil also needed to lift millions out of poverty, the world saw the “Bolsa Familia Programme” successfully passed into law. The programme made the government to legally transfer conditional wealth to the most vulnerable families in Brazil and it remains the largest wealth transfer intervention in any developing country till date. When South Africa needed to set the stage to ascend from its sordid Apartheid past, its Apartheid era laws were repealed with dispatch and had in their place, a revolutionary Constitution and laws such as Provision of Certain Land of Settlement Act, 1994, Extension of Security of Tenure Act of 1996, Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act, 2003, which all sought to align themselves with the progressive changes then taking place in South Africa. Its Constitutional Court also keyed into the vision to create a new society from the ashes of the failed one and the jurisprudence emanating from the courts have served to deepen the country’s thirst for freedom, rather than diluting it.

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