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Nigeria's Legal Cobwebs: A Permeable Net For The Powerful

Feature Article Nigeria's Legal Cobwebs: A Permeable Net For The Powerful
FRI, 14 JUN 2024 LISTEN

In the intricate tapestry of law, Jonathan Swift's metaphor resonates: "Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through." Swift's astute observation encapsulates the paradoxical nature of legal systems worldwide, including Nigeria's. As this writer delves into the Nigerian context, not a few readers will find that these legal cobwebs, once intended to ensnare all, have become porous, allowing the powerful to slip through unscathed.

Nigeria's legal framework, like any other, is woven from threads of statutes, regulations, and precedents. It seeks to maintain order, protect rights, and ensure justice. Yet, as the nation grapples with economic woes, political turmoil, and social inequality, the fabric shreds.

For the average Nigerian, the legal cobwebs are tangible. They entangle the small flies, the common people, often ensnaring them in bureaucratic complexities. Petty offenses lead to fines, while minor transgressions result in legal proceedings. The system, though imperfect, attempts to maintain order at this level. The foregoing situation was lyrically captured by a popular musician, African China, in one of his tracks, where he partly lyricized, “One day for owner e Poor man wey thief maggi/Omo, dem go show im face for crime fighter/Rich man wey thief money/Omo, we no dey see their face for crime fighter…”

However, the powerful, those who are literarily akin to wasps and hornets, navigate these cobwebs with ease. Their influence stretches beyond the courtroom, infiltrating legislative chambers and executive offices. They exploit legal loopholes, manipulate due process, and evade accountability. Their wealth and connections grant them immunity, rendering the cobwebs ineffective.

Consider the rising cost of garri, a staple food in Nigeria which the ordinary flies are grappling with since May 29, 2023 when they were told that subsidy is gone. As inflation soars, the average citizen struggles to afford this basic necessity. Yet, the elite remain insulated, their tables laden with abundance. The cobwebs meant to protect the vulnerable shreds further, allowing the privileged to feast while others starve.

Without a doubt, Nigeria's political landscape exemplifies Swift's metaphor as laws designed to safeguard democracy and uphold citizens' rights often yield to political expediency. This can be seen in putrefying level of corruption, electoral malpractices, and persistent impunity across the country. This is as the powerful break through the cobwebs, securing their positions while the electorate grapples with disillusionment.

Given the foregoing, there is no denying the fact that the judiciary, too, grapples with its own cobwebs. This can be seen in prolonged court cases, adjournments, and backlogs of hinder justice that characterize Nigeria’s judicial system. The small flies, which literarily represent ordinary litigants, wait endlessly, while the wasps and hornets, which represent the-high-and-the-mighty manipulate the system. Without a doubt, justice delayed becomes justice denied, reinforcing the perception that the legal cobwebs favor the powerful.

Certainly! Instances where laws have been softened for political leaders in Nigeria abound. For instance, in democratic systems, the principle that no one is above the law is fundamental. However, prosecuting high-ranking political officials in Nigeria can be challenging due to the interplay between legal proceedings and partisan politics.

The perception that politicians' sins are forgiven when they join the All Progressives Congress (APC) is a common sentiment. However, it is essential to recognize that this perception can be subjective and influenced by political biases.

Without sounding audacious in this context, it is expedient to urge Nigerian judges to resort to administering justice impartially, without favor or bias or concern for which way the winds of political expediency may blow. The reason for the foregoing is that it seems the rule of law in Nigeria largely depends on the willingness of the political actors, to abide by court rulings. Again, there is need for the Nigerian judicial system to be deepened with public trust as declining faith in the courts affect respect for the judiciary as a whole. Given the foregoing, it is germane for judges to reverse the trend.

The reason for the foregoing sentiment cannot be farfetched as politicians often switch parties for strategic reasons, such as gaining access to resources, securing electoral victories, or aligning with prevailing power structures. Therefore, when a prominent politician joins a ruling party like the APC, there may be a perception that their past actions are overlooked or forgiven.

In fact, not a few critics argue that selective justice occurs when politicians face legal consequences based on their party affiliation or political loyalty. Instances where politicians switch parties and subsequently avoid prosecution can fuel this perception, even as legal proceedings require evidence, due process, and adherence to the rule of law.

Given the foregoing view, it will not be out of place in this context to suggest that Nigeria's legal cobwebs need repair. This is as transparency, accountability, and equitable access to justice must replace the porous threads. The powerful must not break through unchecked. As citizens, we must demand a stronger fabric of the law, one that ensnares all, regardless of status. Only then can we weave a just society, where laws serve as a shield, not a sieve.

In fact, to attain a legal system that would be fair to all, political leaders must be subject to accountability for violations of the law. Their political status should not immunize them from criminal prosecution.

In a similar vein, the criminal justice system should enforce the law fairly and evenhandedly. While law enforcement should not undermine election integrity, candidates cannot use their status to avoid trial.

Also, it is germane to opine in this context that protecting core democratic principles requires investigating and prosecuting political leaders when they engage in criminal conduct. These actions should not be seen as inherently politically motivated but as it would serve in the maintenance of accountability.

Still in a similar vein, prosecutors must ensure fair and evenhanded justice as selecting defendants based on political views or personal agendas conflicts with this duty.

At this juncture, the fact will not be skipped that civic leadership often challenges our paradigms about politics and leadership, therefore, understanding these complexities are crucial.

Above all, balancing accountability, fair elections, and the rule of law remains essential in prosecuting political leaders.

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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