Mr. Boulevard Aladetoyinbo is an Abuja-based legal practitioner. In this interview with AMEH EJEKWONYILO, he spoke on President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent assertion on the principle of Rule of Law and national security, among other issues.
What are your thoughts on President Muhammadu Buhari’s assertion that Rule of Law should be subjected to national interest and security?
Well, from the scenario that was painted by the President, what constitutes the principle of Rule of Law is not the call of the executive branch of the government, but the call of the judicial arm of government. Now, there were events leading up to the showing up of President Buhari at the NBA conference. We have had series of instances where the executive instead of implementing or enforcing the decisions of the courts, flagrantly disobeyed such orders, and it is very disheartening in a democratic setting. This is an Africa-wide disease: Rule of Law and democracy. The lawful orders from the court which ordinarily should be respected are disrespected with impunity.
You know that, governance is a tripartite structure where you have the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, which according to the principle of checks and balances, must work to check each other’s excesses to ensure that there is a balance of power. So, where the executive fails to obey court orders, it muddles up the entire governance structure. That way, the executive desecrates the hallowed temple of justice. Prior to President Buhari’s declaration before the NBA that rule of law must be subject to national interest, there were events leading up to that. We had about three court orders that granted bail to the former NSA who is being tried on charges that bother on misappropriation of public resources and El-Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, but the Attorney General of the Federation under the directive of the President (probably), ignored the court orders.
Do you think the President was trying to enforce the Executive Order 6, which he signed recently that talks about confiscation of properties allegedly acquired through fraud, when he appeared before the NBA and said Rule of Law should be subjected to national interest?
Where there is no court authorisation on any matter, it is very clear that the executive cannot take any action that would be expected to have a binding legal effect. The executive cannot do that. We are a nation of laws. Rule of law simply means the supremacy of the laws of the land. It is superior to national interest and security.
So, in any case of urgency or national emergency situation, it will be the duty of the court to determine what constitutes Rule of Law.
But the President noted that the Supreme Court says national security is superior to Rule of Law. What do you make of that?
I think the President was referring to the case of Asari Dokubo vs. the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Unfortunately, the President turned that case upside down in order to justify the series of disobedience to court orders that have been perpetrated by the current government. So, it is an afterthought. Buhari coming to present such an argument before an august gathering of lawyers is unbecoming; it leaves a sour taste on the palate.
Some Nigerians have argued that alleged judicial corruption has compelled the executive to disobey court orders. What are your thoughts?
Even if there is judicial corruption, how does that justify the desecration of the temple of justice by the executive? Is that the way out and forward? I do not agree with that. The challenge today is that ordinary Nigerians hardly understand the workings of the courts. People can say all sorts of things in the court of public opinion, but court decisions are based on hard facts and pieces of evidence tendered and admitted before it. The court does not decide cases arbitrarily. Cases are determined based on facts, evidence and law, not sentiments, sensitivity or emotions. So, the law is there to give clarity and kindled a civilised society, but people who are not trained in this area find it extremely difficult to understand the workings of the law and court.
What do you make of the recent NBA general elections?
The recent NBA election generated a lot of controversies; so many irregularities were complained about. Even with respect to the suitability of one of the candidates that contested who eventually emerged as the NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), allegation of bribery were levelled against him. Mr. Usoro was entangled with Honourable Justice, Dr. Agbadu Fishim of the National Industrial Court, Lagos Division, who arraigned by the EFCC. Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) said in a letter he wrote to state his own side of the story that the alleged bribe was a mere “assistance” that he rendered to the Honourable Justice on a number of occasions. Aside from this, there were comments from some quarters that Paul Usoro (SAN) is a canonised candidate who had been chosen to win the NBA election. It was like a prophecy before our very eyes, and it came to pass. So, from the facts leading up to, the facts during and after the election, the election was not free and fair because Arthur Obi Okafor (SAN) who ought to have come 2nd in the race, withdrew from the contest when, according to him, he noticed that the election was not being done fair and square. He has filed his post-election matter over the poll in court.
Finally, what are your views on the issue of the NBA leadership not living up to its billing of promoting Rule of Law, when the FG refuses to obey lawful court orders and other violations of human rights in the country?
With regard to the NBA not living up to its billing of “Promoting the Rule of Law” in the penultimate NBA administration under A.B. Mahmoud, well, the facts and events have shown that this charge somewhat has a ring of truth to it. Except on an occasion few and far between, like when the NBA under A.B Mahmoud threatened to sue President Muhammadu Buhari for constitutional dereliction of duty, regarding the late and reluctant acting on the recommendations by the National Judicial Council (NJC) on the appointment of 13 Justices of the Court of Appeal in 2017, not much can be said about the NBA under A.B. Mahmoud upholding that NBA motto: “Promoting the Rule of Law”.
Muhammadu Buhari had every cause not to trust the judicial branch because of his unsavoury experiences in election cases before the court back in 2003, 2007 & 2011. But there’s no justification for him whatsoever to violate court orders, because he does not trust the court. Nigeria is beyond any individual or their interest, no matter how highly-placed. Except Buhari’s message is that “national interest”/”national security” should be interpreted as his individual interest.
It will go down in the annals of Nigerian political history, that Buhari both stifled and suffocated the Rule of Law, in his second coming as President of Nigeria, because of his misgivings on the judicial ability to render justice based on hard facts and evidence.
Going by a presidential attitude above, there is not much the NBA could do, under an NBA President who had a lacklustre disposition to the NBA motto: “Promoting the Rule of Law”. In the NBA President’s heart of hearts, whatever holds him back, he knows. But that is his private affair locked deep down somewhere in the realm of his conscience. In the old England, this is quite reminiscent of the political play and affairs of State between the Tudor monarch King Henry VIII & Sir Thomas Moore, where one said to the other: “Your conscience is your own affair”.
Nonetheless, lawyers individually condemn various instances where President Buhari trampled on human rights, allegedly violated court orders, or usurps a judicial function by interpreting the law, after a court of competent jurisdiction interprets and gives judgement, or grants an order.
After all said and done, it goes beyond saying that, the NBA under A.B. Mahmoud performed horrendously below expectation in “Promoting the Rule of Law”. This even gave President Buhari the gall to come and tell lawyers to their faces at their last national gathering that Rule of Law is inferior, and thus should be relegated to the background, whenever a “national interest”/”national security” issue comes up for consideration. Buhari embraced Rule of Force at the expense of Rule of Law, even though Rule of Law is obviously the foundation for the Nigerian corporate existence ab initio.