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The Rule of Law In Nigeria: Definition, Principles, Problems, Importance & Possible Questions

The principle of the rule of law may be defined in so many ways. For example, the concept of the rule of law as advocated by A.V Dicey, a British professor, refers to the supremacy of the law as distinguished from any other alternative mode in the process of administering a state, the concepts implies that the no rules and nothing else.



According to Fletcher’s view, “The rule of law is a fundamental principle of the constitution which implies separation of powers since the concentration of powers in one authority may lead to dictatorship and according to liberal idea this may also lead to tyranny or oppression.”

The Rule of Law In Nigeria: Definition, Principles, Problems, Importance & Possible Questions 1

Definition of The Rule of Law

Justice Cardozo, United States judge defines the rule of law as “a principle or rule of conduct show established as to justify a prediction with reasonable certainty that will be enforced by courts if it’s authority is challenged.” the rule of law is a kind of system that try to protect the rights of citizens from arbitrary and abusive use of government powers. It protects fundamental human rights of the citizens from a threat of lawlessness. it implies that all functions and activities of the government must be discharged according to the detect of the law.

The meaning and definition of the rule of law here can be used in any global setting or any situation that requires you to define the rule of law.



In addition to the above, “The New Delhi Declaration/Reformulated Approach of 1958 emphasized that’s any definition of the rule of law must include the need for the provision of socio-economic amenities such as schools and hospitals as the basis for insuring the realization of the welfare of the citizenry. The New Delhi declaration has become known as a formulated or better known as the most modern approach to the rule of law.

Basic Principles and Features of the Rule of Law

The principles of the rule of law can also the referred to as the features of the rule of law. Oftentimes, people misconstrue these terms. Now let’s delve into the basic principles or features of the rule of law.

The principles or features of the rule of law are as follows:

The Principle of Equality Before The Law: the principle of equality before the law states that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, and that no person or group of persons no matter the status is above the law of the Land. It simply implies that existing laws should be applied equally to all persons irrespective of the individual or groups status or position in society. Most importantly everybody must have access to the law courts are there should be a uniform judicial system for all persons in the States and that the poor and the needy should be given legal aids when the need arises.

The principle of liberty: the rule of law features the principle of liberty which implies that liberty is inherent in the individual and that the law is not the source of liberty but the result of the individual’s behaviour and action. This conception of liberty contrast another principle which implies that there are no rights except what the law allows.

Certainty of law: this implies legality which ensures that no person is punished unless he breaks the law. It also implies that existing laws are formally passed by the elected legislative body of the people.

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Principle of impartiality: this is another feature of the rule of law this principle implies to both personal or formal approach two legal cases that are prescribed to avoid injustice. An accused, no matter the circumstance must be presumed innocent until he or she is tried in a competent court of law and judged guilty of an offence. This is a reason why despite an accused being caught in the act is still presumed Innocence nevertheless until these proven guilty but the court of law.

The Rule of Law In Nigeria: Definition, Principles, Problems, Importance & Possible Questions 2

10 Major Problems of The Rule of Law In Nigeria

Being known as a rule of law does not make it perfect problems associated with it and some of which will be discussed below:

I) The Government’s Attitude: The government may undermine the rule of law by refusing to respect judicial decisions. There have been many cases of where the supreme court of law gives final rulings on cases between the government and a well known group and yet the government disregards and flouts the court’s decisions.

A perfect example of such is the case between the Federal government of Nigeria and the leader of the Islamic movement of Nigeria in person of El-Zakzaky where the court ruled that the IMN (Islamic Movement of Nigeria) leader be released on bail to receive treatment abroad and the government flouted the Court’s order by remanding him in Prison. This is an example of government’s attitude towards the respect of the rule of law.

In addition let it be known that countries practicing one-party system of government autonomous unitary system of government or under military rule do not respect the rule of law as they rule arbitrarily.

2) Customs and Traditions: certain customs and traditions of a country may limit the realization of the rule of law. Oftentimes, religious beliefs most especially the Islamic beliefs has been a problem on the actualization of the rule of law.

3) Level of Literacy: The level of literacy also has a way of affecting the rule of law. The high literacy rates among people especially in Africa makes it difficult for them to know about their rights and about steps to take when their rights are violated simply because they did not know how to read and write hence they have no idea or knowledge about what is written in the rule of law.

4) Absence of Socio-economic Facilities: many countries most especially in the African continent do not provide the basic economic social amenities and facilities for the citizens which has always been a major problem of the rule of law. In rule of law States this basic socio-economic facilities ought to be provided for citizens, then in the absence of such, the rights of the citizens I’ve been violated hence posses problem towards the actualization of rule of law.

5) Delegated Legislation: The practice of delegated legislation may give rise to a body of laws, rules or regulations which the individual may not know about or which may intrude upon the individual’s rights and liberties.

6) Diplomatic Immunity: this has been a major problem of the rule of law because generally, Diplomats enjoy immunity from prosecution in their country of accreditation. This is an international practice and it is an affront to the rule of law as it places diplomats somewhat above the Law.

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7) Police Brutality: the brutal or unlawful harassment of the citizens by the law enforcement agents contains the principle of the rule of law. We have seen many cases where the law enforcement agencies like the police Navy air Force army and other civil defence corps entrench on the rights of citizens because of their federal and state authorities. Due to the government backings they enjoy, they have a general mindset that makes them assume superiority over the law.

8) Presidential Immunity: The presidents cannot be arrested if he can meet and crying because of the immunity clause bestowed on his office; this invariably makes him above the law, which negates the rule of law.

9) Financial Influence: the rich always have a way of maneuvering the law simply because they are well connected and can also buy their way out whenever they’re in trouble they believe they are above the law. We have heard of cases or instances where it is believed that the law is made for the poor. It is cases like these that concretise such belief amongst the citizens. Financial influence has been a major setback towards the implementation of the rule of law.

Declaration of State of Emergency: The declaration of state of emergency is a major problem of the rule of law. The reason being that during such. The law is set aside and the imposition of curfew will prevent freedom of movement and other basic rights of the citizens entrenched upon which is a major setback to the rule of law.

Importance of The Rule of Law

Here we shall be highlighting the important of the rule of law:

1) It brings about equality in the political system.

2) It brings about obedience to the law of the Land

3) The rule of law guarantees supremacy of law over citizens.

4) The rule of law guarantees peace and order in the society.

5) it enhances the protection of citizens rights in the state.

6) The rule of law ensures freedom of press and association.

7) It helps in preventing tyrannical rule

8) it guides against illegal and unlawful detention of citizens.

9) universities inalienable rights of the citizens.

Conditions for Realization of the Rule of Law

The New Delhi declaration has spelt out that the following conditions must be met to ensure the realization of rule of law:

I) Entrenchment of Fundamental Human Rights: Fundamental human rights must be entrenched in a written constitution to make it difficult for the government to tamper with them. There should be an existing and effective legislation and a perfect example of such is the habeas corpus act of Britain to protect human rights.

II) Use of Prerogative Writs: Before explaining this, it would be wise to expatiate on what we mean by Prerogative Writs. A prerogative Writs is simply known as official order in the form of an agency, or other courts established by the government with powers to direct and act as a check on the behavior of the three seems of government.

In such case judicial system most feature search prerogative writs as mandamus certiorari (Mandamus is a Latin word which means “we command” while Certiorari means Certified) which simply means a certified agency with the power to command and prohibite and by so doing, ensure the control of institutions within the States in order to safeguard the liberty of the individual.

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III) Independent Judiciary: One of the criteria for the realization of the rule of law is the presence of an independent judiciary with in Port-harcourt as well as other institutions such as the Ombudsman (an individual charged with the duty of representing the interest of the public especially in a law court) public complaints commission to safeguard the rights of the individual and to settle disputes among individuals or between the individual and the state without any interference with the process of administration of justice.

IV) Tolerance of Government: The government must tolerate freedom of expression at the mass media must be allowed to operate without censorship intimidation or coercion. In Nigeria today the serial of the rule of law has been entrenched on by the government there is practically no freedom of expression all the mass media being given the opportunity to operate freely. In this case use of prerogative writs can be used against the government.

V) Socio-economic Facilities: The New Delhi declaration emphasized the need for the provision of social economic amenities for the citizens of the country as a means of ensuring the realization of the rule of law. For the rule of law to be effective they must be basic education health facilities equal opportunities for employment in the public sector recreation and welfare schemes must also be put in place.

VI) Enlightened Citizenry: it is not enough to have the role of law in a written or documented format. Citizens must be aware of their rights and law of the State to be able to fight against arbitrary rule. The government must make concerted efforts in enlightening the citizens about the rule of law. It must be made public so citizens know when their rights are being entrenched upon especially by the government, armed forces or other government established agencies.

7 Common Questions Associated With The Rule of Law

1) Meaning or definition of rule of law

2) You may be asked to explain the importance of the rule of law

3) Discuss the process of rule of law

4) what are the problems associated with the rule of law?

5) Identify and explain the basic principles of rule of law

6) Explain in details, the conditions for the realization of the rule of law.

What is your opinion as regards the rule of law in Nigeria? Of course there are problems and violation of the rule of law in Africa generally. We would like to hear your opinions as regards possible solutions and what needs to be done to better protect the rights of every citizen via the comment section below.





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