Although lawyers’ umbrella body, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has since rejected President Muhammadu Buhari’s elevation of national security and public interest above the rule of law, the Executive Director of Access to Justice, Mr. Joseph otteh, at the weekend lauded the NBA for defending the rule of law.
President Buhari had on 26th August, 2018 told lawyers in Abuja that the “rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest and where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place in favour of the greater good of society.”
But NBA in a swift reaction tackled the president, insisting that the rule of law was central to a democracy as any national security concerns must be managed under the provisions of the law.
It said: “The conference completely rejects the presidential statement subordinating the rule of law to national security. The NBA restates that the rule of law is central to a democracy and any national security concerns by the government must be managed within the perimeters and parameters of the rule of law.”
However, Otteh in a chat with New Telegraph Law bemoaned President Buhari, describing his elevation of the national security and public interest above the rule of law as misplaced.
He said: “Nigeria’s President missed the mark when he gives the impression that national security and rule of law are competing or exclusive notions or that a state must prioritize one over the other.
“National security and the rule of law do not contradict one another, neither are they mutually exclusive concepts.
“The rule of law embodies the principle of governance that all persons, institutions and entities, including the state itself, are bound by duly made laws, including laws on national security.
“A state of war or emergency may be legitimate grounds for limiting the exercise of some human rights, but even then, the limitations have to be imposed in accordance with law.
“There is, therefore, no conflict between the two notions. In any event, no state of emergency has been declared in Nigeria, neither is the country in a state of war with another country.
“The president’s remarks come against the background of his government’s persistent disregard of court orders and judgments, repression of media freedom, gross human rights abuses by security and law enforcement agencies, intimidation of, and interference with the functions of other branches of government.
“National security did not require the government to behave the way it has done in all of these cases, and clearly did not require security forces to commit large scale extrajudicial killings, or for the police to arrest and imprison female protesters for protesting.
“State or national security ought not to be the parochial interest of any government, or the security, for that matter, of that government; it is not the peculiar interest a government has with respect to specific people or their causes, or its interest of stifling political opposition.
“Access to Justice urges President Buhari to respect the limits of executive powers and not misuse those powers on the grounds of national security; indeed to recognize that national security is compatible with, and could be better realized by adherence to the rule of law.”
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