By Emeka Ugwuonye
For some of my readers who wouldn’t know, the term “state” is the same as “country” when used generically. When you address a very diverse audience, you have to explain words that could be misunderstood by many. Country and state mean the same thing in international law. So, we are to discuss why Nigeria is less than what is ideally expected of a country.
What are the key elements of a modern state? One is either the reality or at least a convincing pretense that nobody is above the law, that there is a genuine aspiration to the principles of rule of law, that the constitution is either supreme or that it would take quite an exceptional event for it to be discarded or ignored. If you were in any doubt about Nigeria in the context of the absence of the aspiration for the supremacy of the constitution, you only need to look at what happened in court yesterday between the DSS and the prison authority. The Court ordered that Emefiele be remanded in prison. The prison officials were there to take him, but the DSS preferred to keep him in their custody contrary to the order of the court.
Yes, based on several indicators now available for all to see, Mr. Godwin Emefiele is probably the worst Central Bank Governor in the history of Nigeria and he probably engaged in primitive corruption and theft of public funds to a degree that will shock the mind of even the worst thief. But Emefiele’s wrongs cannot excuse the impunity and shameless arrogance with which the DSS officers have conducted themselves over the matter. How could they humiliate and ridicule the courts in such a consistent and blatant manner?
But the status of Nigeria as a country that is based on democracy and rule of law does not depend on one criminal defendant. It depends on the extent to which power is subordinated to law. It was clear from the beginning that the DSS leadership has no confidence in the laws of Nigeria and has placed its officers above the law. When anyone disregards the constitution to such a degree and is able to do so without anything to stop him, that amounts to an overthrow of the constitution. It is a coup. Otherwise, they should have known that denial of liberty and restraints on the rights of a citizen can only be done through the courts. The courts are constitutionally and technically best equipped to determine the conditions and circumstances under which the rights of a citizen could be taken away or restricted.
In this particular case, the DSS had gone to the court way before Emefiele was suspended and sought an order of the court to detain Emefiele. The court refused to grant that order because the DSS failed to meet the litmus test to justify their request. From that moment, the DSS saw the court as its enemy and has done everything to undermine the court, robbing it of honor and sanctity. The rampant disrespect for the court is the greatest crime in Nigeria as well as the greatest threat to national security and political stability of this country. It is an irony that it is a key agency for law and order such as DSS that threatens law and order the most.