The socioeconomically flourishing and developed countries of the world appear to share one common characteristic: a high accountability level. The government accountability factor is, in turn, dependent on two mutually reinforcing parameters; a commitment to the rule of law and eliminating corruption. An accountable government committed to ensuring monetary and fiscal stability will invariably facilitate the fruitful release of most economic actors’ entrepreneurial energies. If sustained, the result is enduring prosperity. Therefore, in conjunction with monetary stability (or instability) and fiscal equilibrium (or disequilibrium), the rule of law and low levels of corruption defines the conditions of social stability or otherwise of any economy. In simple language, the rule of law plus low levels of corruption establishes the environment with maximal private property rights protection. Such a created environment will undeniably be suitable for nurturing domestic investment potentials and attracting foreign investments. This capacity for orchestrating substantial economic growth receives additional fortification through a matching monetary and fiscal stability that minimizes macroeconomic uncertainties. Accountable government pursuing fiscal stability will naturally perform excellently to provide public goods relevant to economic growth and development.
The reverse is the case as typical with the management of our country. Our performance scores on these four prosperity and development drivers have been consistently low. Being inextricably and viciously interdependent, they appear to get worse by the day collectively. Poorly designed and weak implementation of the rule of law will most naturally create opportunities for unbridled corruption that leverages the fiscal instability window to survive and gain strength. Unfortunately, fiscal instability also powers monetary instability, while pervasive corruption will always undermine the prospects for implementing the rule of law. Our global ranking and performance on the rule of law, corruption, fiscal and monetary stability are not mostly cheering. That is also why we suffer national insecurity of immense proportions alongside miserly socioeconomic developmental prospects.
The equality of all citizens before the law; with the state and individuals rendering unquestioning obedience to the same law are the heart of the rule of law. The rule of law distantly differs from “the rule of men”. While the state and the citizens are subject to the law in the former, powerful men are exceptions and can be above the law in the latter. Indeed, the ‘rule of men’ governs Nigeria’s socio-legal environment given the enormity of many questionable disregard for its law. For instance, powerful politicians and other men of influence effortlessly walk away from the so-called long arms of the law, even when it is glaring that they are culpable. Poor people rarely have such privileges. Widespread corruption that the majority silently celebrates has over the years, downgraded our justice system to the level of the implementer of the ‘rules of men.’
However, the problem is not majorly with the machinery driving an effective justice system. It is deeper rooted than that. An even more significant challenge is with the law itself. Last week, the former President General of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr John Nnia Nwodo, advanced strong cases why the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s Constitution represents a quicksand; a terrible foundation that may never support its prosperity. The Premium Times newspaper of January 25, 2021, published his views. According to him, the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, currently in use, cannot substantially command citizens’ loyalty because its origin cut-off the necessary agreeable representative process. It was initially a product of forty-nine members of the Constitution drafting committee appointed by the then military government. Subsequent amendments and the ensuing draft Constitution were successively reviewed and amended by the same military council, which issued a decree enacting it into law. However, under General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Justice Nikki Tobi’s committee had the mandate to prepare a draft constitution reviewed by twenty-four military officers whose selection fell short of fair geographical spread and representation.
A Constitution supposedly put together under military rule cannot deserve the loyalty of all. Such a document can only represent the discretions and the interests of the military ruler atop the command structure. Therefore, Nigeria has been operating under the rules of men defined by military rulers’ choices behind the Constitution handed over to the civilian government. It is a well-established truth that no such document prepared under the supervision of the military head of state can be allowed to contain a set of rules at variance with the interest of the military commander in chief of the Republic. Authentic rules of the law’s mandate are to check these undesirable scenarios. That is why a good Constitution must possess the citizens’ buy-in through equitable representation in its draft, review, and approval processes. It is not a document for a group of hand-picked persons to draft and review. Unfortunately, that is what we currently have. That is also why there are myriads of ethnoreligious schisms and confrontations.
Operating under the rule of men is synonymous with the absence of freedom. It is the same as the absence of the rule of law; the heart of liberty. When citizens of a country are subject to a military ruler’s whim and caprices, they are not further away from being in chains. It is even worse when the military rulers’ interests align with and represents some sectional interests. Incidentally, development and prosperity are hardly achievable under such apparent denial of freedom. In its 2020 index of economic freedom, the Heritage Foundation gave Nigeria a score of 57.2 on a 100-point scale, which corresponds to a ‘mostly unfree’ status. Nigeria has retained this undesirable status for several years, dating earlier than 2014. On the indicators of property rights, judicial effectiveness, and government integrity, Nigeria scored 38.1, 32.2, and 22.3. These scores are also consistent with the status of a repressed country. Similarly, since the year 2013, the world index’s freedom has classified Nigeria as a partially free country regarding political rights and civil liberties.
Contextualizing Nigeria’s property rights situation using Hume’s three law and justice principles can clarify this anomaly. These principles are the stability of possessions, transfer of ownership by consent, and the keeping of promises. First, the many decades of unstable and reckless fiscal policies and programs with the attendant inflation and other macroeconomic uncertainties have made possessions highly unstable for many. Based on the authentic justification by economic theory, such instability in asset worth is always a consequence of ballooned government spending. In other words, the decades of shoddy quality of fiscal expansions inexorably result in more money chasing few goods and creating whirlwinds of inflationary discoordination. Suddenly we realize that we now need a basket of Naira notes to exchange for a dollar unit, which it traded with at par a few decades ago. Second, the “rules of men” also makes it difficult for most Nigerians to transfer ownership of what naturally belongs to them consensually. The Constitution prohibits Nigerians from freely exploring their God-given natural resources. The federal government ultimately determines how to share the tax and other revenue proceeds from the country’s oil and gas in the Niger Delta region. And typical of men’s rules, a state like Zamfara appears to defy this rule without consequence altogether. The state has set up a Gold reserve and has determined how much it would remit to the federal government’s coffers. Meanwhile, other State governments such as Enugu, with vast coal and gas deposits, are hamstrung from embarking on such constitutional violation.
Again, there has also been widespread resistance in the country’s southern parts over the federal government’s decision to arm-twist, the state governments to allocate cattle colonies for nomadic Fulani herdsmen. A somewhat similar plan also appears to be on the drawing board regarding waterways. Massive voltages of resistance over these controversial decisions point to subterranean intends to compel the transfer of possessions without consent [or with forced consent]. Finally, most governments hardly keep their promises to Nigerians. Of course, if they consistently keep promises made in their budgets, Nigeria would have been one of the world’s most developed countries. Unfortunately, budgetary commitments are merely rhetorical rites observed annually by those in authority. Many executives’ intention is never to implement them in line with their design. The numerous cases of misappropriation and embezzlement of governments’ fiscal resources on the table of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission testify to these facts.
Again, the police and law courts hardly defend most Nigerians against their rights violations. Influential individuals and governments in Nigeria almost freely and without questioning, continue to infringe upon many citizens’ rights. In several states of the Federation, the Governor practically operates like God: the law’s giver and by that token entirely above the law. Very few Nigerians appear to have substantial confidence that the court will decide their cases consistent with the law. The same applies to the police. Recently, the country’s youth rose in angry demonstrations against police brutality and other anomalies. Many Nigerians know that the police are not exactly anybody’s friend. Unarguably, this low level of judicial effectiveness gives fillip to massive defaults in keeping promises. Entrepreneurship, the engine of growth, and development thrive on a system of either written or verbal contracts. Regrettably, a justice system that enables either the defaulting parties in an agreement to walk away free or deny justice to the offended party only sows the seeds of thorny weeds that choke development.
Finally, a few days ago, Transparency International put it together in Nigeria’s ranking on the corruption perception Index for 2020. Nigeria scored 25/100 points to rank 149th out of 180 countries surveyed. With that performance, it is now the second leading corrupt country in the West African region after Guinea-Bissau. Four cardinal reasons why it is a global corruption leader derive from the natural empowerment that the rules of men grant. In this instance, they comprise the lack of transparency in the distribution of COVID-19 relief materials, nepotism in the public service appointments and promotions, lack of adequate anti-corruption, legal frameworks, interference by politicians in the operations of the law enforcement agencies and the prevalence of bribery and extortion in the Nigerian police and other security sector corruption. May God help us!