No matter what anybody may say, the most recent Federal High Court Judgments, notably, the judgment declaring as unconstitutional the Federal Road Safety Commission’s newly-imposed number plates on motorists in Nigeria; the judgment ordering the House of Representatives members who defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All People’s Progressive Congress (APC) to vacate their seats; the judgment declaring as illegal the toll collection on the Lekki-Ikoyi Suspension Bridge; the judgment ordering the Federal government and its agents to pay a whopping sum of N50 million to the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as exemplary damages for illegal detention and seizure of his international passport have, to a certain extent, helped in restoring the waning confidence of the people in the Nigerian judiciary, the merits or demerits of the judgments notwithstanding. The judgments have also shown that the rule of law is the bulwark of our democracy.
Agreed, appeals have been lodged against most of the judgments. Even if the appeals succeed in the future and the judgments reversed, the point has been made that those who manage the affairs of their fellow men should always abide by due process. Put differently, the rule of law is a pre-requisite for the sustenance of the Nigerian democracy and for good government to thrive in Nigeria.
So, let the judicial activism go on. Excited by the judgments declaring the newly-imposed number plates and thetoll collection on the Lekki-Ikoyi Suspension Bridge unconstitutional, most members of the public now reckon with the judiciary as that vital thread that knits human society together. It has dawned on them that with some measure of courage and, of course, persistence, they could successful tackle the scandalizing oddities and illegalities making Nigeria look like one lawless country. We live in a country in which one man can wake up one morning and unilaterally impose any law on the people without first ascertaining whether the law attunes with the social reality in Nigeria. Somehow we have grown accustomed to tolerating all sorts of illegalities including illegal killing of human beings. For example, the 2014 Amnesty international Report on Nigeria alleges many illegal killings in the North-East of Nigeria and other human rights abuses. But even in the absence of Amnesty International Report, the magnitude of gross human rights abuses across the country could be disturbing. Just take a look at any Police Station around, and you would probably find a suspect being subjected to one torture or the other. Imagine Mr. Ebere Wabara, The Sun Newspaper Associate Editor and Special Assistant, Media to Dr. Uzor Orji Kalu, abducted in front of his wife and children two weeks ago. The journalist was reportedly arrested in his Surulere residence and whisked off to Umuahia by the Abia State Police Command on ground of alleged seditious publication. If this report is true, then something seriously needed to be done to stem the tide of human rights violation in Nigeria. It will be naive to think that the actions of government are always guided by law to promote the Common Good. In his appraisal of the English form of government in Common Sense, Thomas Paine writes that government is a necessary evil. French political economist and philosopher Federic Bastiat, stresses in his classic bestseller, The Law, that most government activities are legalized plunders. According to him, the greatest threat to personal liberty is when a government turns against those whom it is meant to protect. Of the ancient philosophers, Plato was particularly hostile to democracy because he felt that democracy could be abused to the detriment of the governed whose interests it is supposed to protect. It was to guard against the abuses in democracy that Plato wanted the experts, the enlightened or the guardians, as he called them in the Republic, to be in charge of politics.
Point being made is that we should not readily assume that government is conscious of its proper roles in society and is out to promote the rights and welfare of citizens. That’s why the people must be vigilant. The people should be ready to go the extra mile in righting a perceived legal wrong. Nothing is to be gained by being passive. Interestingly, the aforementioned judgments are all judgment of the Federal High Court which hitherto had been slow in advancing judicial activism in Nigeria. So, impelled by their sense of justice, the Nigerian judges should be unafraid of delivering judgments detestable to the government. They should be unafraid of doing what has not been done before, for in the words of Master of Rolls Lord A. T Denning in Parker V Parker, “if we never did a thing which has not been done before we shall never get anywhere”. If the Nigerian judiciary fails to make our political leaders accountable through law, we would continue to have misfits and nincompoops in office as leaders.
Being an untried system of government, constitutional democracy in Nigeria is challenged from within by greed, corruption and pursuit of personal interest. Therefore, the rule of law is the ultimate safeguard of our constitutional democracy.