Yesterday, the whole country was in an apoplectic fit over the remarks by President Mohammadu Buhari that when push comes to shove, national interest must always trump the rule of law.
Okay, there are a couple of hyperboles up there. First, it wasn’t the whole country. It was just those of us who had online access and bother about statements like that and of course the lawyers whose livelihood was threatened by the statement.
Secondly, not everybody was angry. Some tried to be rational about a clear faux pas by the president.
However, one could imagine a lawyer like Mike Ozekhome going bonkers as he tried to tell nitwits that Buhari is simply removing his gloves and showing his real colors as a tyrant and a dictator.
You could understand people like Ozekhome sweating in an air-conditioned office as he tried hard to bring those sitting on the fence to his point of view. He is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Nigeria’s idea of the rule of law after all.
It is only natural he protects the basis of the billions he is making legally.
That said, you have to wonder what Buhari was thinking when he made that statement. It is very unlike him to make rash statements like that. Forget that sometimes, people paraphrase him badly to make him look bad.
Normally, he chooses his words carefully so that his meaning is not open to wrong interpretations.
In this case, though, there is no amount of fudging that can hide the fact he lampooned the rule of law on the altar of national interest.
What constitutes national interest is such a vast and grey area and is open to interpretation. Any egotist with enough power who thinks the sun shines from his butt hole can decide that a personal attack on his person equates to a national security problem.
We have seen how senators use the phrase glibly when they are about to be compelled to answer for crimes they have committed. The job of lawmaking, which is their primary duty, would be suspended while they discuss how to resolve the current issue of ‘national importance.’
The point here is, defining what constitutes national interest or national security is tricky. It is open to as many interpretations as there are people.
For instance, the former NSA, Sambo Dasuki, has been in detention since 2015 in spite of several court orders granting him bail on the case brought against him by the federal government.
The government though is hiding behind overriding national security issues to keep him in detention. It is very hard not to feel that this is a case of a personal vendetta between the President and the ex-NSA.
Many ex-Boko Haram commanders, who have committed far more heinous crimes, are walking free.
Even the case of Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky, the leader of the Shi’ite movement in Nigeria falls under the same nebulous national interest.
Though most Nigerians hate the blatant disrespect of the laws of this country by the Shia movement, it is no justification for keeping the leader of the group in detention in clear disregard of the law.
Again, national interest is parodied around by government to justify this action.
On the other hand, the rule of law, as it is at the moment, is arrayed against the interest of the common man. It is because of the rule of law several thieving politicians are still moving around using their ill-gotten wealth to oppress the rest of us.
With the same money, they hire the best Lawyers who then bribe bent judges to frustrate any attempt to make them pay for their crimes.
Let’s not deceive ourselves and just be blunt for the heck of it: all politicians charged before the courts for stealing public funds are guilty of the crime.
You don’t have to look beyond their lifestyle that cannot be explained by their cumulative salaries and wages to arrive at that conclusion.
Because of the rule of law, somebody like Olisa Metuh is still in court using every trick in the book to delay the end of his trial. He is as guilty as a rat caught in a trap. He knows it.
And he is not the only one.
James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, had used the rule of law to evade justice in Nigeria only to be nailed in Britain for a lesser offense bothering on money laundry. He simply couldn’t explain to the court in London how he acquired his wealth after just eight years as a governor in Nigeria.
Former Petroleum Minister, Dieziani Allison Madueke must rue the day she exiled herself to England to escape the law in Nigeria. If she had remained here, she wouldn’t be about to face trial in London for money laundry offenses just like Ibori.
Heck, even Dan Etete of the Malabu fame is a free man in Nigeria. He is already a convict in France. Some of his foreign associates are in jail for complicity in his crime.
These instances are legion and they cut across the political divide.
The rule of law? Right now, it is a tool politically exposed looters use to ensure they remain free to enjoy the fruits of their crimes. Because of the rule of law, crime pays in Nigeria.
What Buhari said was wrong. Nigeria though is a country that could do with a disregard for the rule of law, at least, when it comes to politicians who rob us blind.