There are a lot of questions surrounding the rule of law in Nigeria. The system seems broken, and it is generally accepted that the level of justice is shallow. Civil rights communities keep talking about these issues. Even artists and musicians use their platform to speak on the degree of injustice in Nigeria. So, we have decided to write about the challenges facing rule of law in Nigeria.
What is the rule of law?
The rule of law is a principle or system where a society or nation is governed by a set of legislation instead of by an individual making the whole decision. Rule of law makes it impossible for one person to have the unrestrained exercise of power over a society or nation. It applies and puts a limit or check to the behavior of everyone including government officials. Under the rule of law, everyone is subjected to the law and no one is above the law. The rule of law is what governs most civilized societies or democratic states in this modern day. It is to protect citizens’ interests, lives, and property against oppression. Although, there are limits and differences from one country to another.
Just like in every other country, there are certain principles on which the rule of law in Nigeria is founded. They include:
● Supremacy of the law
As the famous saying goes, “nobody is above the law”. For the rule of law to be effective, it has to be powerful and should have absolute predominance over everybody in the country. This includes those in the position of power and the hem of governance.
● The principles of equality before the law
Also, for the rule of the law to be effective, everyone has to be treated equally. The same laws have to bind everyone whether young or old, poor or wealthy, a citizen or a government official, literate or illiterate. The same punishment for any crime goes for everyone irrespective of their societal status.
● The principle of individual rights
The rule of law is designed to protect citizens’ right to freedom and an equal chance for a good life. Under the rule of law, everyone has their individual rights which must be no infringement to them either from another person or government.
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Limitations of the rule of law in Nigeria
Top government officials, especially in the executive branch, are granted some discretionary powers. This allows them to perform their duties efficiently. However, due to the fact that human beings are selfish and love power, this opens up the opportunity for them to use this privilege against citizens. It is most time referred to as the abuse of power. A government official can make lawful sanctions that abuse the rights of an individual or society when they are administered.
Some people enjoy special privileges and exceptions under the rule of law in Nigeria. These people have immunity against the law. They include the President, Vice President, Governors, Members of the House of Assembly and some other top government officials. Also, a judge is immune from the law while presiding over a court session. This is to allow them to go about their duties without favour or fear.
Diplomats and Ambassadors have immunity against the rule of law in the country they are serving. They are above the legislation of that country. For example, an envoy from the United Kingdom cannot be charged or tried in Nigeria. They have to be sent back to their country.
State of emergency and war
In cases of conflict or situations which require the government to declare a state of emergency, the government enforces discretionary powers. And when the government exercises these powers, it denies people of their constitutional rights. People are restricted from carrying out their normal day to day activities and forced against their wish.
Illiteracy, poverty and ignorance
The level of poverty and illiteracy in Nigeria is also a limitation to the rule of law. A lot of people live in ignorance of their constitutional rights which makes it easy for people to infringe their rights.
Major challenges facing the practice of the rule of law in Nigeria
High level of corruption in government
One of the primary responsibilities of the government is to enforce the rule of law. However, due to the degree of corruption at every level of governance in Nigeria, this has not been so. The people who are meant to enforce the rule of law keep undermining the rule of law by their actions. The rule of law demands accountability from both individuals and the state as a whole. Until the people in governance are accountable and they provide good leadership, the full potential of democracy might not be attained.
There is no clear separation of powers
Nigeria constitution states that we have three arms of government:
● The Executive arm
● The Legislative arm
● The Judiciary
Power is split among these three with laws making sure that power is not abused by an individual. These three arms of the government are designed to function independently but also in a coordinated fashion. However, today, the government officials do not adhere to this and this makes it difficult for the rule of law to be practised. There is a lot of manipulations going between these three arms of the government.
Societal class and their interests
In Nigeria, people from the higher class enjoy some kind of favoritism and see their interest being protected at the expense of others in the lower class. In a lot of cases, justice is perverted to the favour of the wealthy and higher class. There are Nigerians who are technically above the law because of the influence they wield and also some clauses in the constitution.
A broken justice system
The justice system is broken. There is a lot of corruption going on. Judges accept bribes and powerful people and politicians manipulate the system. It can be hard for a common man to get justice in Nigeria because of this.
Another challenge faced in Nigeria is the problem of tribalism
Currently, Nigeria is in a volatile state. There are conflicts, tensions, calls for separation and calls for restructuring. Nigeria is made of hundreds of tribes, but there are three major tribes identified. Because of the history of Nigeria and unresolved differences, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the constitution to be fully effective.
Insecurity and insurgencies
Also, there is a high level of insecurity in Nigeria. There are different insurgencies also present in the country. There are the Boko Haram insurgency, Fulani insurgency, militancy, widespread kidnappings, and many others. All these put together are threats and challenges to practising the rule of law in Nigeria.
Poverty and ignorance
As we have stated above, under the limitations of the rule of law, poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance are major problems. Most Nigerians don’t know their rights. A lot of people are too poor to fight for their rights, and they are at the mercy of the wealthy and corrupt politicians.
There are many more challenges facing the practice of the rule of law in Nigeria but the ones above are the major ones and the root of other problems. If these things can be tackled, Nigerian laws and constitution will be of more effect. Also, until good leadership is provided by democratically elected leaders, the practice of the rule of law will not be fully realized. Nigeria is still young when it comes to democracy and we hope that as time goes on, democracy will grow and mature. But everybody has to put in the work.