The national interest and the government interest

GENERALS are, by experience and training, men of courage. They are hardy perennials; men who have distinguished themselves over the years in the field of battle. They are military tacticians who devise the ways and means for defeating the enemy. Great generals fear no foe, even those battle-ready and well-equipped. Buhari visits Plateau state to condole with families who lost members to herdsmen killings One such general must surely be Muhammadu Buhari, the current president of Nigeria. It is always necessary to remember that before President Buhari became president, he was a general. As a matter of fact, our dear president has been, for the major part of his life, more general than president. If the popular Nigerian axiom says: “once a Senator, always a Senator;” it is even more appropriate to say: “once a General, always a General.” President Buhari was, is, and always shall be, a General. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, displaying the fierce courage of a general, President Buhari took the battle directly to the homestead of the Nigerian Bar Association. Asked to deliver the keynote address at their latest convention, the President decided to give them a lecture on the finer points of the law. He provoked them by choosing or agreeing to talk about “The National Interest and the Rule of Law.” Just in case they were unaware of this, the President pointed out to Nigeria’s legal luminaries that the national interest has supremacy over the rule of law. These were his words: “The rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest. Our apex court has had cause to adopt a position in this regard and it is now a matter of judicial recognition that, where national security and public interest are threatened or there is likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place in favour of the greater good of society.” Outrage The learned men and women of the Nigerian Bar Association are not unruly university students, therefore, they listened politely and respectfully, as they should to the president of the country. But you just knew this could not possibly go down well with them. Immediately after the speech, all hell broke loose. Lawyers all over Nigeria cried foul. Where, they asked one and all, did Mr. President get this settled “matter of judicial recognition” from? Even the president’s host, the Nigerian Bar Association, quickly put out a statement saying emphatically that the President’s statement went over the bar. It said: “The NBA 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. As a corollary, (the NBA) frowns at the present growing trend whereby government decides on which court orders to obey. The court has exclusive duty under a democratic dispensation to interpret the Constitution and other laws, and government and the citizenry must comply with court orders at all times until set aside”. No one, not even Mr. President, should be surprised at this reaction. Surely the President must have known that Nigerian lawyers would not take kindly to being lectured about the law by a president with a military, as opposed to a legal, pedigree. Military generals can also be expected to be offended if they were to be lectured on the art of war by a lawyer. Which raises the question of why President Buhari decided to stir up this hornet’s nest? Rule of lawyers In any case, it is necessary for even those of us who are not lawyers, who know next to nothing about legal matters, to take up President Buhari’s gauntlet. Mr. President seems to have overlooked one simple fact. The rule of law is precisely what it says: it is the rule of lawyers and judges. It is not the rule of presidents, governors and politicians. The rule of law keeps presidents in check in democratic settings because presidents cannot be relied on to check themselves. Therefore, presidents don’t preside over the rule of law: lawyers do. Neither is the national interest determined by politicians. If the national interest is to be supreme, it must be subject to the rule of law. That means politicians and government officials must appeal to the courts on a case-by-case basis for the applicability of the supremacy of the national interest. In every situation, the national interest is not defined by the government; it is defined by the courts. Otherwise, the national interest would easily become the government’s interest. But the government interest cannot be the national interest, otherwise all opposition to the government would be deemed contrary to the national interest. Democratic systems guarantee the rights of the opposition. As a matter of fact, the opposition is required to oppose the government in the interest of national security. As it is, Nigeria’s national interest is different from the interests of the APC or the PDP. Nigeria’s national interest is not subject to parochial self-interested considerations. It is a moot point whether it is in the interest of Nigeria for APC or PDP to win the next election. The victory of neither and the defeat of either should not, in any way, affect the interests of the nation.https://olaworld.blog/2018/09/11/the-national-interest-and-the-government-interest

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