The integrity of law

gavelThe Decree No 24 of 1999 which is paraded as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and is inherently illegitimate having been dictatorially foisted on the country, many of Nigeria’s laws fail the test of acceptability by the population as well as the other desiderata of King Rex as outlined by Lon Fuller1 and thereby end up being honoured more by their breach than observance. Unlike in many countries where the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances is alive and well and the adjudicative role of the judicial branch is well defined and appreciated by the population, the situation in Nigeria is not that clear-cut so much so that the question can rightly be posed as to how well the Nigerian judiciary has performed.2

Our judicial officers do not seem to have apprehended their role as the sentinel of democratic praxis. Their penchant for looking elsewhere when litigants engage in forum-shopping and the frivolous issuance by some of them of ex parte interim and interlocutory orders as well as conflicting decisions by courts of coordinate jurisdictions have gone a long way to cast a pall on the judicial process and erode the integrity of the law and confidence of the generality of the population in the judicial process. A situation where opportunistic and self-serving behaviour by lawyers and increasingly rife incidents of judicial rascality are, undoubtedly, dysfunctional to the integrity of the legal process which is premised on certainty and predictability of rules. The recent admonition by the Chief Justice to para-legals to ensure probity and decorum in the discharge of their duties bespeaks the odium and malfeasance embraced by some servants in Nigeria’s temple of justice.

Accordingly, one cannot dismiss, in its entirety, the suspicion entertained in many quarters that the pervasive odour of corruption can now be smelt in the precincts of the judiciary. Admittedly, the National Judicial Council has been doing what it can to sanitise the nation’s court houses, but the rise in the incidence of what is popularly termed “midnight” or “black market” court orders would seem to have called into question the integrity of both the Bar and Bench.

Furthermore, the palpable instances of self-help and police-assisted impunity across the country belie the notion of equality before the law and exclusive or tone of finality of the courts in the resolution of conflicts and controversies in the society. Whereas in other climes all and sundry surrender their disputes to the courts for determination, in Nigeria, there does not seem to be a unanimity of views regarding the prerogative and sanctity of judicial pronouncements and the obligation to respect and uphold same. The existing situation of ignoring court orders or seeking ways and means of undermining same has done incalculable damage to the integrity of law.

Re-discovering the Integrity of Law

Law, we are told, is the glue that holds society together.3 Put differently, law and society are two sides of one coin, a situation captured in the motto of our Law Society: Ubi societas, ibi jus. If maintenance of law and order and the necessity to uphold the tenets of law are to be considered as the categorical imperatives of a well-functioning society, it stands to reason that members of society are joint stakeholders in ensuring that the integrity of law is not compromised.

However, it has to be conceded that Nigeria is still very much a transitional society where the pillars of society and fundamental issues are yet to be fully decided or implanted in the popular consciousness. To the extent that the Nigerian nation remains a work-in-progress, to that extent would it be illusory to seek here all the pre-requisites that make law possible in the advanced, industrialized world. A developing society qua one lacking in capacity to fully harness its natural resources or engage optimally its human resources cannot ensure or widen the role of law as an enhancer of values and ultimate instrument of social engineering.

The entrenchment of the integrity of law warrants inevitably jettisoning the infelicities and distortions in the legal order manifested in the malaise of today. Accordingly, there is a felt need to re-configure both the form and content of our legal education in order to inculcate proper values and orientation in coming lawyers and judges. Our law syllabus would need to be refurbished and modernised such that the deleterious aspects are done away with in order to adequately prepare future lawyers to cope with the demands of the 21st century. The disclosure recently of some lawyers hiring out their knowledge and expertise to lazy and unworthy students at the Nigerian Law School should sound alarm bells in the ears of concerned Nigerians regarding the necessity to salvage the legal profession from disrepute.

As priests in the temple of justice, our legal practitioners should live above board and no longer feel comfortable that some of the less than virtuous among them occupy critical and sensitive positions dealing with sanctions and preferments within the Bar. After all, as people observe, what would iron do if gold rusts! It is a matter of dire necessity that the Rules of Professional Conduct should be strengthened and rigorously enforced in order to sanitise the ranks of legal practitioners.

Specifically, there is an urgent need to reappraise the imposed English law, especially adjectival law so as to limit the capacity of legal practitioners to extract the loopholes therein to the benefit and advantage of litigants. The record of trials of politically exposed persons and the highly heeled for corruption and stealing of humongous monies from the public treasury leaves a lot to be desired. The adversary system copied from England regarding matters such as the presumption of innocence and proof beyond reasonable doubt now need to be re-considered in favour of social and distributive justice.

Specifically, there is an urgent need to reappraise the imposed English law, especially adjectival law so as to limit the capacity of legal practitioners to extract the loopholes therein to the benefit and advantage of litigants. The record of trials of politically exposed persons and the highly heeled for corruption and stealing of humongous monies from the public treasury leaves a lot to be desired. The adversary system copied from England regarding matters such as the presumption of innocence and proof beyond reasonable doubt now need to be re-considered in favour of social and distributive justice.

The integrity of law demands a social consensus regarding the preeminent role of law in the ordering of the human destiny. Accordingly, Nigerians, as a people, must make a commitment to place law at the helm of human affairs. Without general acceptance of the pivotal role of law, Nigeria can only continue to wobble and, ultimately, face the odium of instability and catastrophe. To parody Joseph de Maistre, it can be stated that a people get the law they deserve.

In the final analysis, therefore, all who wish the country well must enlist in the ranks of forces struggling to re-discover the integrity of law in Nigeria. Accepting the morass of confusion, drift and lack of cohesion that afflict the law is, quite frankly, an untenable proposition. The current situation is dire and a drastic situation warrants a drastic remedy.

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1 Comment
  • Basil Ogbanufe

    1. You don’t put the cart before the horse. It certainly won’t move. Nigeria is not a nation and such assumption is a fraud. Laws emanating from fraudulent assumptions are frauds.

    2. The legal profession is already in disrepute not as a result of its making but its foundation. Nigerians are not a people and it cannot be attained through legislation.

    3. Any and every legal reform will be meaningless until Nigeria becomes a nation.

    4. Politics is the decider. Once the politics is wrong all else including the laws will be wrong. Laws cannot be used to correct politics.

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