Those who argue that Nigeria is not a lawless society have a truckload of statistics to back their claim. They would, for instance assert that in every minute or so they claim, about ten women are raped in South Africa. Before you could counter that, they reel out more statistics of the crime rate in New York and other American cities. If you are not convinced, they would readily cite instances of other world capitals where you can only come out of your house or take a walk on the streets after a specific time at your own risk and they will tell you that these statistics pale into insignificance when juxtaposed with what happens in Nigeria.
All these may be true. Indeed Nigeria may be termed 'a crime-free country' bearing in mind what happens in other parts of the world. If this is true, then the question to ask is, why has Nigeria such a frightening reputation as if it is the crime headquarters of the world? Why is it that anytime the name Nigeria crops up, the international community grows goose pimples? Again, if you ask the self-acclaimed patriots, they would blame the media, which is increasingly becoming the whipping boy of elitist malfeasance and executive lawlessness. When our leaders refuse to do what they ought to do or do what they ought not to do and their action or inaction attract a backlash, they heap the blame on the media. And to them therefore, international perception of Nigeria would have been a country that is literarily speaking, heaven on earth if not for the Nigerian media.
And you ask yourself, what has the media done apart from reporting the follies of the high and mighty? They (media) don't necessarily create stories. The bulk of what journalists, not only in Nigeria but worldwide do is to report events as they happen. So when President Olusegun Obasanjo shoots himself on the foot by violently doing harm to the spirit and letters of the Code of Conduct as he did recently with the launching of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, journalists cannot but write. So why would Governor Gbenga Daniel turn round to blame the media for the public outcry that has trailed the obscene launch as he did in Abuja last week? The media did not convince Obasanjo to build a library. Even the promoters of the project said he had the dream almost two decades ago. It wasn't journalists that signed the letters to parastatals, companies and individuals with which money was extorted from them (apologies to Prof. Wole Soyinka), or would Daniel have preferred that the event was not reported?
Now the president's Bell University has been approved by the same Federal Executive Council, which he presides over as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And a man of conscience that he is, Obasanjo does not see any conflict of interest in applying for and getting approval for a license to build a private university while he is still a president? Perhaps, before the year runs out or next year, he will organize another launching to raise money for the university. Yet, this is a man that would take umbrage at Governor Orji Kalu (with whom he has turned out to be bird of the same plumage) for setting up and running private businesses while still in office. There are reports that the president is always at Ota on weekends whenever he is not out of the country to tend to his numerous private businesses. He sees to the day-to-day running of both Ota Farms and Bells schools. So what is the media supposed to do in the face of these infractions of the country's grundnorm? Turn a blind eye? Now, back to where we started. Perhaps, the difference between the countries where there is a higher crime rate even as those societies remain not only orderly but enjoy the confidence and goodwill of the international community and our own country is the prevalence or otherwise of the rule of law.
In a country like South Africa, not even the venerated Nelson Mandela can spurn a court ruling and get away with it, not to talk of President Thabo Mbeki. When a court of competent jurisdiction gives a ruling on any matter, the most anybody can do in a civilized society is to appeal to a higher court to vacate such a ruling. Until and unless that is done, such ruling subsists. This tangent marks out the civilized from the primitive societies because there can be no rule of law without respect for the judiciary. A system that contrives a way of spurning court ruling crosses the thin line that demarcates rule of law from the rule of the jungle.
Perhaps the greatest problem confronting Nigeria today is that we are increasingly relapsing into an invidious tradition that exalts the rule of man rather than the rule of law. Obasanjo has become the Nigerian state writ large. He alone is the executive, judiciary and legislature. The legislature can make laws from now till eternity and unless those laws are agreeable to Mr. President, they are repudiated. Now, when the executive in dealing with court rulings exhibits this culture of impunity, it is a pointer that the country is crossing the threshold of decency and wallowing deeper into an anarchic jungle. Not a few people had expected that the least President Obasanjo would have achieved in eight years would have been to make the rule of law the gasoline that revs the engine of the Nigerian state.
But increasingly, we are witnessing situations where public officials particularly political appointees repudiate even the country's constitution if only that will make their political benefactor (the president) happy. Governor (or is it still minister) of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has elevated this unbecoming attitude to an art. He would tell you that the only Nigerian he is responsible to is the president and it is only him that he can listen to. But he is not alone. The chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Col. Ahmadu Ali has also joined the club. He would not obey court rulings because the president has not asked him to. Therefore, to him the Anambra State governor, Dr. Chris Ngige remains expelled from the PDP because Obasanjo wants him out and to Ali, it is the wish of the president rather than the decisions of the law court that determines whether Ngige remains a member of the ruling party or not. Ahmadu Ali has suddenly realized that "we don't have a court of justice. What we have is the court that deals with technicalities." Ali has become aware that the PDP is above the courts in the land and therefore should not abide by their rulings because "if the court tells us how to run our clubs, there will be no clubs in Nigeria."
But assuming one forgives Ali for not being a learned gentleman, how can one forgive the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Akin Olujinmi who is said to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)? I don't know if it bothers Olujinmi that as sure as the sun rises from the East, Obasanjo would one day seize to be the president and he will be left in the cold hands of history, which will judge what manner of public officer he was. Many people still cannot believe that the country's Chief Law Officer would ask the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Masari to stay action on the swearing in of a man who has been declared winner by the Nigerian court of last resort in election petitions, the Court of Appeal because ECOWAS Community Court of Justice ordered so. And the Attorney General gave such a jaundiced advice because the man who is to be thrown out of the House, Dr. Jerry Ugokwe is one of the characters in the Chris Uba camp that have cast a spell on the president. And yet this is a president who claims he will never deceive Nigerians, who claims that he is erecting structures that can sustain Nigeria's democracy. But the fact remains that democracy cannot thrive in a country where the rule of law is on the retreat as it is in Nigeria today.
Ikechukwu Amaechi is the editor of the Sunday Independent newspaper based in Nigeria.