Rule of Law versus national interest: Ondo lawyers react 

By Kayode Olabanji
In a keynote address delivered recently by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja during 58th annual NBA conference, he proclaimed that the rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security  and national interest.  This has generated several reactions.

In contrast to the position many eminent jurists and lawyers have canvassed, the Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association, Akure Branch, Barrister Olagbenga Olawale, agreed with the position of Mr. President on the place of national security vis-a-vis the rule of law, during an interview with “Hope Law“.

His words: “We should be able to agree that rule of law is the bedrock of every civilised society, it is the rule according to law as against the rule of thumb, abhors arbitrariness.

“Therefore, it is not in doubt that all lawyers, truly so called,value and appreciate rule of law and will always defend and fight for it. This is the reason the anger against the statement of President Muhammadu Buhari, that the rule of law must be subject to national security.

“Buhari, may not know what rule of law means but l am sure he knows what national security means. I believe we also know what national security means”.

The NBA chairman said that, national security is about the security of the nation in the overall interest of every citizen, including citizens who constitute threat thereto. National security has both national and international implications.

 “It is usually not a matter to be taken to the public domain for judicial deliberations and decisions. Every responsible government allover the world keeps issues of national security close to its chest.

“National security is a question of life and death, as fundamental as rule of law in the life of a nation.

“The consequences of breach or breakdown of national security can best explain its central place in the life of a nation.

“This is the reason I agree with the illustrations and conclusion of Mr. President on this matter. While l am not unmindful of the danger inherent in the decision of an individual or a group of powerful individuals on what amounts to national security as a basis to deprive a citizen of his legally recognized rights without any judicial review,” he stated.

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 He further said that, If a man should be deprived of his liberty of a constitutional right, in order to secure lives and properties of many, so be it.

According to him, it is national interest over personal fundamental right.

“Above all, where the government is responsible and loved by the people it serves, the anger or argument generated by Buhari ‘s statement would not have been necessary.

“There are times when any responsible government will put national interest before the rule of law. Each case is subjective and decision to be made depends on individual circumstances”

Another Akure-based, legal practitioner, Barrister Charles Titiloye, in his own view said that, as a human rights activist, he strongly supports the right of the citizen.

“However, the president made that statement in the context of certain happenings in Nigeria.

“Let’s say that somebody wraps himself with explosives. He has a fundamental right to live or not to live, but the truth is that his rights does not include clearing off the lives of other people or to bring calamity upon the nation when he detonates his bombs.

So before detonating, the police or the army will have to use reasonable force to protect others. At that stage, the national security overrides the fundamental human right of such a person in the process of stopping him from detonating the bomb, he narrated.

“The police is allowed by law, not only to apprehend but to cause minimum damage, and in the process such a person may be killed.

“Killings has caused many infractions on our fundamental human right to life but the implication is: what could have happened if that terrorist is allowed to release the bomb? Nothing less than twenty to fifty people will die,  and a whole building will go down. So the president, looking at the security situation in Nigeria, made that statement that National Security is of the upmost in this country and nobody can hide under fundamental human right to take someone else’ life.

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“Frankly today, Nigeria is fighting the war against the insurgent called Boko Haram. Although, the war may not be taking place throughout the country, but in those days military were actively deployed within an area occupied by civilians or in an attempt to flush out insurgents that is what will call defense of nation’s security which will affect all of us.

“So the president is not saying the government will not respect human rights or undermine the right of the citizens. What Buhari, said is that we should have a broader look of what is happening in this country.

“If the court asked somebody to be released on bail, and the government appeal the decision of that court, you cannot say government has flouted the order of the court, as long as an appeal has been filed.

“We are a democratic government, no government will sit down and say no, I choose not to obey the rule of law. But in this country people attack personalities based on their military background.

“Was there no violation of human rights during the regime of ex-President Jonathan? Since 1999 till today, no government can totally beat its chest that there was no violation of human rights during it’s time.

“To find a solution is not all about sitting down and allowing criminal minded people to be going around the streets causing confusion. That is not the spirit upon which chapter four of our constitution was written. That chapter four is to promote national merit, not criminals who want to destroy our country and our joint happiness and peace as a nation. At that point, rights have to be withdrawn for them to be kept in prison for the freedom and liberty of other people and safety of our nation.

“That is the spirit of what Mr President is saying which I believe everybody should understand.

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While speaking with The Hope Law, Barr Emmanuel Bamiduro, does not strongly agree with the statement that National interest supersedes rule of law.

“We need to understand the essence of rule of law and the national interest, which is about the ambition/goals of a country to ensure peace and stability and if you remove rule of law from the consciousness of a nation, national interest will not be guaranteed. To have said national interest supersedes our rule of law and fundamental human right, is totally uncalled for.

“If there is no rule of law, we cannot be talking about economic, cultural or political peace, because rule of law is over the ruled and the ruler. The way Mr president is perceiving national interest is like something  tailored to suit an aspect of the country. If it is done in that way, we can conclude that there is a misplaced  priority”.

He further said that, when you abuse fundamental human rights, it will definitely affect national interest.

“National interest means if human right is protected, there will be peace in the country. You cannot separate them. Rule of law can only guarantee national interest. If there is rule of law, everybody is below the law, and then you will see another man as you fellow.

The goal of a nation whether economic, political, legal or military, will be achieved. But if you are saying you (president) are above the law, what is the message you are passing to your followers, what you can do, they cannot do?

“What belongs to you to be benefited from the government should be guaranteed. But in a situation where you placed somebody above another person, it means you are growing a problem, like someone who is sitting on a time bomb that will explode at any time. Rule of law will mostly guarantee human rights to be protected.

“It is unthinkable that the national interest supersedes the rule of law”.

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