Look who's defending the rule of law


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Look who's defending the rule of law 

Look who's defending the rule of law
 

By Levi Obijiofor 

Wednesday, 7 November 2007 
 

Whoever scripted the speech read by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua at the opening session of the All Nigeria Judges' Conference in Abuja on Monday this week has exposed the president to public ridicule. That speech was contemptuous of high court judges and Supreme Court justices. It was in bad taste. It made Yar'Adua look like an ageing headmaster intent on persuading his pupils (judges) to do their jobs according to the headmaster's understanding of the role of judges in a democracy. But that speech was also instructive because it exposed the contradictions in Yar'Adua's doctrine of respect for separation of powers.  

In strict adherence to the principle of separation of powers, Yar'Adua has no right whatsoever to interfere in the judicial process or to lecture judges and Supreme Court justices on the elements they should prioritise in the process of weighing cases presented before their courts. Here is why.  

Barely two weeks ago, following public pressure on the president to use his leadership position in the People's Democratic Party (PDP) to advise the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, to step aside as a mark of respect for the law of natural justice, Yar'Adua used the twisted logic of respect for separation of powers to explain his silence over the disruptive behaviour of Patricia Etteh.  

If it was okay for Yar'Adua to consecrate the concepts of rule of law and separation of powers when there were leadership problems in the House of Representatives, why didn't Yar'Adua recognise that it was duplicitous of the president to criticise high court judges and Supreme Court justices – even if implicitly – in his speech at the All Nigeria Judges' Conference? Is the judiciary no longer an institution in Nigeria? Where does Yar'Adua's doctrine of separation of powers start and end? 

Yar'Adua is a remarkable politician! When it is convenient for him, he takes the moral high ground on the rule of law debate. This selective application of his ideology of rule of law and separation of powers gives a whole new meaning to our understanding of the government's mantra. By the obscure and manifest contents of his speech at the Judges' Conference on Monday this week, Yar'Adua has seriously undermined the credibility of his own commandment.   

It is incredible that a president who remained silent and watched a recalcitrant former Speaker of the House disrupt the business of government and the legislature should suddenly admonish learned judges on how they should do their professional job. Yar'Adua has transformed hypocrisy from its well-known meaning as a form of bad habit into a highly sought after moral quality discoverable only within the hierarchy of the PDP. Hypocrisy remains an enduring character flaw in political leaders.  

Yar'Adua's oblique disapproval of judgments made by high court judges and the Supreme Court justices was injudicious and highly inappropriate. It was an unnecessary interference in the judicial process. His remarks also threaten the independence of the judiciary. In light of the ongoing legal challenges to the legitimacy of Yar'Adua's government, he ought not to have uttered those comments which held up the high courts and the Supreme Court in contempt. Perhaps Yar'Adua feels seriously worried about the likely outcome of the legal objections to his election. This was decipherable from his body language at the judges' conference.  

In his conference address, Yar'Adua said in a rather harmless manner: "We must state that we do not necessarily agree with all the decisions of the various courts... Nonetheless, we have refused to interfere with the judicial process as it is our firm belief that upholding the rule of law is the only way in creating confidence in our system of government and invariably impact positively on the economic and social well-being of Nigerians in general."  

There are logical cracks in the way Yar'Adua and his government have been marketing their new political incantation known as the rule of law. As a colleague mocked last week, "it seems the president has concluded that due process and rule of law are policies of government. They are not. Any president who does not abide by due process and rule of law is an outlaw president. We need our president and his retinue of aides to do more than announce they will abide by the rule of law." 

The real test of Yar'Adua's commitment to his doctrine of rule of law and separation of powers will come when objections to the legality of his government move up one level to the Supreme Court for a final decision. When that time comes, everyone will be watching closely to see whether Yar'Adua – the apostle of the rule of law -- would abide by his own principles or whether he would willingly fall on his own sword.  

In spite of public apprehension over Yar'Adua's new ideology, he has pressed on in an intense way. On Monday this week, he told the conference of judges in Abuja: "It is important that the judiciary does not fall into the temptation of delivering decision merely because it appears to be the popular one at that point in time… A decision may be apparently popular because it accords with the sensitivity of the people at a given time but may be wrong according to law… We should have in mind that the effect of this apparently popular decision is usually not confined or limited to the case at hand. It will govern subsequent cases on a similar subject matter under our principle of judicial precedent."  

When Yar'Adua said judges should make judgments based on the rule of law rather than popular sentiments, he was in essence accusing the judges of playing to the gallery. He also suggested -- in his speech -- that he understood, more than the judges did, the well-established basis for judicial decisions. That kind of unsolicited layperson's advice was senseless and needless. It must have rattled and irritated the judges when they heard the symbol of the presidency trying to knock the judiciary into shape to fit with the pictures in the president's head.  

Yar'Adua's observations made no impact because, in the past three years or so, the judiciary – in particular the Supreme Court justices -- have made landmark judicial pronouncements to the delight of legal celebrities, legal practitioners and a majority of ordinary citizens. Those who defend Yar'Adua and his principle of respect for separation of powers should be reminded that the president's speech at the judges' conference directly contradicted the president's position on rule of law and separation of powers. 

No one should be persuaded that Supreme Court justices or high court judges are swayed by popular sentiments when they consider the judicial merits of cases presented before them. To suggest, as Yar'Adua implied, that high court judges and Supreme Court justices are engaged in popularity contests is to undermine the credibility of judicial officers and to smear the integrity of the judiciary. Yar'Adua's statements were made out of ignorance. He is not a high court judge. He is not a Supreme Court justice. He has little or no knowledge of the legal issues that judges consider prior to delivering judgments.  

On a larger scale, Yar'Adua's statements reflect wider problems in our society. In Nigeria, everyone claims to be a specialist in everything. We are a nation of specialists and pretenders. Unfortunately in our nation, nothing really gets done in a professional manner. And yet we hold exaggerated opinions about ourselves and our abilities. It is a tragedy that a president should be telling learned judges the difference between courts of law and courts of public opinion. Yar'Adua's distorted knowledge of the judiciary is on display. A court of popular opinion is never the same as a court of justice.  

Is Yar'Adua so scared of what these high court judges and Supreme Court justices will do to his government in a few months' time? Is he worried that if he did not speak out now, the judges might misinterpret his rule of law doctrine and use it to quash the authority of his government? No one has mentioned this yet but it seems the president is sweating well ahead of the likely outcome of the legal challenges to his election.



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Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
Tonsoyo posted on 11-07-2007, 09:31:36 AM
I am not a supporter of this administration's mantra of "rule of law" and "seperation of powers" because I believe that the Attorney General actualy meant "ruse of law".

But for goodness sake this criticism of Yar'Adua's speech at the Judges' Conference is misplaced, uninformed and irresponsible.

The President chose is battle carefully and used the proper forum to carry it out. In the aftermath of the Rivers State election the statement that emerged from the Presidency is that they were shocked by the decision, but that the Supreme Court must be obeyed, I considered that response responsibly measured, only that we do not need the President to validate a Supreme Court judgment.

But alas, the President was afforded the opportunity to voice his opinion when invited to the Judges Conference. We have heard top legal luminaries and laymen hailed the SC in their new found activism, we have also heard highly placed Lawyers and laymen vehemently criticized the judgments.

Both lawyers and non-lawyers alike have every right to voice their opinions on a judgement, it is what it is, an opinion, whether given by the President or a vulcanizer at Oshodi, the SC had already spoken. Nobody can take that from anybody, it is matter of right and entitlement, the least of whom will be the President.

The President voiced is honest advice as was expected as a Guest of Honor at the occasion, while reiterating and emphasizing the sanctity of such judgments even when unpalatable. What else do you want from him? That he should not have an opinion? This is most ridiculous and criticism just for the sake of it. We just had a President who would have defied the judgment!

Your insinuation about his probably preempting the outcome of the challenges to his own election is also mala fide. This President has said categorically that he would probably not appeal the outcome of the judgment if he loses, talkless of defying the judgment. Using your own unfounded insinuations to contradict his express words is what make this piece totally irresponsible.

I am not particularly a fan of Yar'Adua's style, but for God sake, he deserve the benefit of the doubt regarding that statement, as a matter of fact, there is still no reason to doubt him. He has not said anything that is out of place.

The opinion he expressed have been expressed by several top lawyers, he was given a forum to say a few words to our judges, he said it exactly how he felt, now he is getting bashed by you guys for having an opinion.

Jungle journalism is what I call this. Laying ambush for every innocent move.
Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
Kabikala posted on 11-07-2007, 11:31:01 AM
Hi Tosonyo,
Just like you swiftly reacted to Peter Claver's piece earlier, you couldn't wait for this one to land before firing again. However, you cleverly avoided a major issue raised by both writers. I thought you were going to address the principle of separation of powers as proclaimed by Yar'Adua in Patricia Etteh's case. How come the arms of government are only separated when events are playing in his favour and they cease to be separated once they don't work out in his favour?
The truth is that it is not every issue that the President has to make his opinions public, especially not one in which he is indirectly a party to (as a leader of the PDP). It is obvious he is trying to intimidate the judges and brow-beat them into submission.
Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
Wasab2 posted on 11-07-2007, 13:44:45 PM
I think Yar Adua is getting cold feet that the Tribunal might kick him out of office, lets not forget that these Judges or Supreme Court Justices are Nigerians who withness the rape of democracy via the nonsence election (selection) conducted by Iwu wuruwuru. Except they are bribed, they will definately cancel the election of the President with so much evidence pilled up against PDP by the opposition party.

What beat me most is the incompetent way they rigged the election without covering their tracks, the evidence are so overwhelming. What a shame?

Yar Adua is only expessing himself or would I say thinking loudly by his statement to the Judges. There is nothing he can do now than what he is doing now, for villagers, lets just ignore him and I am sure the Judges too will just laugh at him about the nonsense he is saying. I am happy that the opposition has gotten the evidence needed to nail the coffin of PDP and their evil deeds. Time will tell.
Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
TEchi posted on 11-07-2007, 14:34:30 PM
Levi Obijiofor:

My question to you is: what would you have written if he had said nothing? I am sure you would still have criticized him for having said nothing. Layman or not we are all entitled to an opinion in the face of any judicial judgment that affects people morally or otherwise. During the Etteh gate affair he was criticized profusely for not stepping in to bring the whole sordid affairs to a screeching halt. To which he replied again and again that he would not subjugate himself to subvert the rule of law. You on the other hand seem to see this as a twisted logic. How very interesting!

Had the Etteh gate affair happened during the previous administration there would have been fire and brimstones from Aso Rock to fire Etteh with utter disregard to the judges and the rule of law? I think you fail to weigh the issues before doing your write up, unless of course you just simply want to write.

Why do you think your opinion is more valid than his? Consider this. He was invited to the event to give his opinion and he did, now you cry wolf. Why do you think your logic is not more twisted than President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua? The fact is I have never supported this (s)elected President in the first place but still one should use good sense and proper logic when criticizing regardless of who it is we are spewing at..
Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
Ttonjo posted on 11-07-2007, 14:56:52 PM
I do hope and pray that our President is not going to dish out the Pakistani Treatment on our Chief Justice, and replace him with a PDP sycophant. Let's be vigilant, because 'absolute power, currupt absolutely'. We are watching you, Mr. President and PDP power mongers.
Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
Tonsoyo posted on 11-07-2007, 17:04:05 PM
QUOTE:
Hi Tosonyo,
Just like you swiftly reacted to Peter Claver's piece earlier, you couldn't wait for this one to land before firing again. However, you cleverly avoided a major issue raised by both writers. I thought you were going to address the principle of separation of powers as proclaimed by Yar'Adua in Patricia Etteh's case. How come the arms of government are only separated when events are playing in his favour and they cease to be separated once they don't work out in his favour?
The truth is that it is not every issue that the President has to make his opinions public, especially not one in which he is indirectly a party to (as a leader of the PDP). It is obvious he is trying to intimidate the judges and brow-beat them into submission.



Hey Kabikala,

I just happened to be on the patrol in the village when this missile was fired. I therefore intercepted it with my Patriotic Intercontinetal Ballistic missile and send it back to the sender

There is nothing that Yar'Adua has said here that is contrary to the theory of separation of powers. He was invited to a forum where judges are gathered and gave his honest and candid opinion. There is nothing here that is contrary to what he said about Etteh.

If I may ask you, did Obasanjo go to any occasion to criticize judgments before he disobeyed court judgments? Why are so guys sounding like Yar'adua needs to inform you before he disobeys a court order, if he really want to?

The fact that he harmlessly voiced his disagreement openly and at the same time reemphasized the sanctity of judgments and the independence of the judiciary is a reason to respect him.

Any judge that is intimidated by this comment does not even deserve to be a judge in the first place, because there will be people out there that are ready to send assassins after them for giving judgments that they do not like.
If any of them is afraid of open criticism as given by the President, such person is unfit to be on the Bench.

We remember how some members of the Bench always criticize Obasanjo at any giving opportunity, such criticisms are actually essential feature of the principle of checks and balances occasioned by the theory of separation of powers.
Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
What? posted on 11-07-2007, 17:25:42 PM
QUOTE:
It made Yar’Adua look like an ageing headmaster intent on persuading his pupils (judges) to do their jobs according to the headmaster’s understanding of the role of judges in a democracy. But that speech was also instructive because it exposed the contradictions in Yar’Adua’s doctrine of respect for separation of powers.

In strict adherence to the principle of separation of powers, Yar’Adua has no right whatsoever to interfere in the judicial process or to lecture judges and Supreme Court justices on the elements they should prioritise in the process of weighing cases presented before their courts. Here is why.


If we agree with this, then we will have a problem with the American model on which our constitution is supposedly based. A lot of American presidents, notably in recent times Republican, have made more disparaging comments about Federal Judges, and even the Supreme Court. In recent times, there has been the syndrome of sit-tight Judges, scared of what would happen if the President selected their replacement with the help of a Congress dominated by his allies. Thurgood Marshall comes to mind on this issue.

Congress is not immune either, and there have been many cases of congress throwing obstacles, or outright refusing the confirmation of Judges. The Bork and Clarence Thomas cases are recent examples. The Nigerian Judges operate in the same environment as other Nigerians, and are subject to the same sort of prejudice and short sighted thinking common among their fellow citizens. The allegations of bribe taking among Judges is still there and the abuse of dubious ex-parte motions is still an issue. Putting them on a pedestal because they are acting on our whims and caprices is a bit much.

We can make a Nigerian way, between the American model, and the British model of placing the Judges in the midst of the House of Lords to make decisions for the long term outside political pressure. However, as the vague constitution stands, Yar'adua is within his rights in the current system to voice displeasure as many American presidents have done. Once again this is another reason why we need a serious consitution review.

Even if we look at the British system, the House of Lords, and sometimes the Judiciary are there to make decisions for the long term without political pressure. We do not know what the fallout will be yet from this decision, but saying it is good because it is popular might be very wrong. A long time ago Judges sent men to the gallows because they said the Earth was flat and everyone thought so. Nigerians need to form a space in their mental Universe to acknowledge that they, and even the majority might be wrong. A while back most of us believed Army Coups where redemptive, but now knowing the business-like nature of up front cash payments, horse-trading and unaccountability, we are now suspicious of Coup plotters. As Yar'adua could be wrong, the Supreme Court could be wrong. An American Supreme court once declared all black people to be property, even if they had no owner as in the Dred Scott case. These were Yale and Harvard graduates who went to Church on Sunday. No one is infallible.
Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
Frisky Larr posted on 11-07-2007, 17:33:58 PM
Tonsoyo sir,

Your views and representation so far, are a sound and precise representation of my line of thought. They are so healthily presented in both write-ups in question that was absolute no need for me to ad my view any more.

Many thanks for that and keep it up sir!
Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
Bob posted on 11-07-2007, 20:27:44 PM
QUOTE:
Levi Obijiofor:
Had the Etteh gate affair happened during the previous administration there would have been fire and brimstones from Aso Rock to fire Etteh with utter disregard to the judges and the rule of law? I think you fail to weigh the issues before doing your write up, unless of course you just simply want to write.
..



if obj were president and etteh in her good books, the speaker will still be sitting pretty.
Re: Look who's defending the rule of law
Olusola posted on 11-07-2007, 21:28:56 PM
Wasab2,
Imagine these scenarios

Yar Adua kicked out and a fresh election ordered

David Mark assumes office as acting President as there cannot be a vacuum

Obviously, INEC is incapable of holding a fresh election within the next 6 months after the tribunal ruling

The senate (Mark's constituency) is persuaded to extend the tenure of the acting President for another 6 months in order for INEC to be fully prepared for a new election

And remembering that Mark is a PDP senator and by then as Acting President, the PDP adopts him as their candidate for the presidency(he is from the north and will apply incumbency)

And the ANPP under Ume Ezeoke and Yerima Sanni refuse to sponsor Buhari as their candidate anymore

And with the death of AC, what next will happen?
The rule by the PDP continues!












QUOTE:
I think Yar Adua is getting cold feet that the Tribunal might kick him out of office, lets not forget that these Judges or Supreme Court Justices are Nigerians who withness the rape of democracy via the nonsence election (selection) conducted by Iwu wuruwuru. Except they are bribed, they will definately cancel the election of the President with so much evidence pilled up against PDP by the opposition party.

What beat me most is the incompetent way they rigged the election without covering their tracks, the evidence are so overwhelming. What a shame?

Yar Adua is only expessing himself or would I say thinking loudly by his statement to the Judges. There is nothing he can do now than what he is doing now, for villagers, lets just ignore him and I am sure the Judges too will just laugh at him about the nonsense he is saying. I am happy that the opposition has gotten the evidence needed to nail the coffin of PDP and their evil deeds. Time will tell.
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