Impunity Within The Arms And Tiers Of Government By Ebun Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
The next culture of impunity is found within the three arms of government (executive, legislative and judiciary) and the three tiers of government (federal, state and local). It can be argued that the emergence of sovereign states and nations arose for the purpose of the common good of the society. According to Thomas Hobbes, in order to check the default state of mankind to which life was nasty, brutish and short; there was a need to enthrone an organ with legitimate authority above and over the rest of society and thus leading to the emergence of the political state. As shown from the preamble of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the basis for the existence of the geo-political entity called Nigeria is for the promotion of good government and welfare of all persons in Nigeria on the principles of Freedom, Equality and Justice.
Sadly, from the brazen disregard of court orders and the rule of law by the Executive to the legislative recklessness of budget padding in the Legislature and miscarriage of justice by some corrupt judicial officers, it is not in doubt that impunity has been re-enforced across all boards. It is why funds meant for roads and several capital projects to name a few, are embezzled whilst the State continues to fail in securing lives and property of its citizens. This should not continue.
Impunity amidst the common man
This class of impunity persists in everyday life, in diverse ways amidst the common man. In this context, people are seen as a law unto themselves whereby they believe they can do whatever they want regardless of the dictates of the law. It ranges from the unlawful eviction of tenants by landlords to indiscriminate dumping of refuse on the road sides and violation of traffic rules by motorists and pedestrians. In this context, impunity is seen to have permeated all facets of our national life. Another product of impunity amidst the common man is the entrenchment of mob violence where angry disgruntled members of the society carry out the lynching of suspected criminals such as petty thieves, rapists and armed robbers. This form of impunity persists because perpetrators are seldom brought to book by the Criminal Justice System due to the deliberate subversion of institutions of Justice by the Executive. Hence, as the confidence of the common man in the justice system has been eroded, a number of the citizens begin to resort to self-help, jungle justice and further breakdown of law and order. The notable pronouncement of the Supreme Court in Governor of Lagos State v. Ojukwu (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 18) p. 621 as regards enthronement of anarchy in the absence of the rule of law still remains relevant over three decades when the Court held thus:
“If the Government treats Court order with levity and contempt, the confidence of the citizen in the Courts will be seriously eroded and the effect of that will be the beginning of anarchy in replacement of the rule of law. If anyone should be wary of the orders of the Court it is the authorities; for they, more than anyone else, need the application of the rule of law in order to govern properly and effectively.”
In this case, Oputa J.S.C. admirably quoted the famous dictum of Lord Atkin in the locus classicus case of Liversidge v Anderson:
“In this country amidst the clash of arms, the laws are not silent. They may be changed but they speak the same language in war as in peace. It has always been one of the pillars of freedom, one of the principles of liberty for which on recent authority we are now fighting, that judges are no respecter of persons and stand between the subject and any attempted encroachments on his liberty by the Executive, alert to see that any coercive action is justified.”
From the foregoing, one can safely profess that the Rule of Law and Impunity, just as like poles of a magnet repel against each other, would surely fail to operate side by side in a sovereign state. It is thus evident that the enforcement of the rule of law in a State is measured by the level of impunity therein. Put simply, the rage of impunity implies the dearth of the rule of law and the introduction of anarchy and double standard before the law.
Accountability as the major panacea to impunity
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to observe that Nigeria is in dire need of accountability as a panacea to the rot of impunity in her polity. The concept of ‘Do and Get Away With It’ can be considered as the root of impunity and lawless conduct in the Nigerian society. Accountability in this context thus refers to the responsibility for an individual’s action and inaction whereby the government and the governed render account of their stewardship and followership respectively. A socio-political system in which there is no answerability for one’s action and inaction is a dysfunctional one and by implication will be unable to sustain the rule of law, good governance and true practice of democracy.
To be continued…
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).