Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
In all good democracies, constitutionalism and ethics cannot be ignored, lest law and order will be compromised and the immediate effect will be anarchy. But the superstructure upon which this process hinges is the grundnorm, the supreme law of the land. This is a territory of the rule of law in its classical context. The rule of law is the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individuals and government officials.
It primarily refers to the influence and authority of law within society, particularly as a constraint upon behaviour, including behaviour of government officials. This principle implies that every citizen is subject to the law, including lawmakers themselves. In this sense, it stands in contrast to an autocracy, dictatorship or oligarchy where the rulers are held above the law. It is sad that most African countries including Nigeria are still battling with strict observance of even the supreme law, let alone other subsidiary enactments and ethical values through extant rules and regulations. It is, however, gratifying to note that some African countries have been trying to live up to global standards, in this connection.
We can see what is currently playing out in South Africa where a president in council has been ordered by a court to refund part of public funds used in upgrading facilities in the private residence of the president. And the opposition elements in the country are still protesting against continued stay of the president in office after so many scandals. The state media cover these events very well. This is democracy and the rule of law. So, it is with Ghana where a robust journalistic legwork has uncovered massive judicial corruption that has affected many ministers in the temple of justice (judges). What is more significant, a recent mere car gift to the president in the country (Ghana) has sparked off some row that has attracted members of the public in the West Coast.
The curious story from Ghanaian democracy is that three months to the country’s general elections, the parliament has initiated moves to impeach President John Mahama despite the fact that the legislators are on recess. What is the offence? The president is alleged to have received an expensive car (Ford) as a gift from a contractor, who is a national of Burkina Faso.
It is remarkable that the Ghanaian constitution bars a sitting president or political office holder from collecting a gift, either in cash or in kind because, it is tantamount to “bribery” or “undue influence”. As it is typical in some African countries including Nigeria, the Ghanaian information minister had interpreted the bribery saga in an inverted way by dismissing it as a donation from a political friend in West Africa. The boldness of Ghanaian legislature in shaking up the presidency is commendable. All these infractions are clearly the little foxes that spoil our vines in the eyes of the world. Certainly, we have been very long in provisions of the law in the continent (of Africa) but have been very short in enforcement of same laws. And so most of the time, we have strong men in office and in power who violate the laws that govern institutions that should be stronger than the men.
Again, the Ghanaian media should be commended for not sweeping the vice under the carpet. It means ethical journalism is evolving in Ghana where some corrupt justices have just been brought down by some intensive investigative journalism. Investigative journalists made it possible for the whole world and in particular the Ghanaian electorate to know that such outlandish gift transpired between Ghanaian president and his foreign friend.
In some jurisdictions in Africa including Nigeria, instead of covering such corrupt acts, they can be covered up by some reporters and gatekeepers. No doubt, the media should be the fourth estate of the realm that should expose executive excesses, legislative absurdities and judicial corruption. Most Nigerians would like to see more of such journalistic legwork that will make the world to respect our democracy. No, not media trials of accused and suspects through information artfully supplied by anti-graft agencies.
Another lesson for Nigeria’s fledgling democracy and other African states is that the news of the car gift had hardly filtered from the fourth estate when the largest opposition political party in Ghana began interrogation of the issue and reported same to the parliament. The opposition insisted that the president of Ghana’s action violated the country’s constitution as well as the code of ethics that he framed for his political appointees.
It is the same wind against official corruption and misconduct in South Africa. In 2014, a report from a South African code-of-conduct body, the Office of Public Protector that South African President, Jacob Zuma had unduly benefitted from non-security vote to renovate his rural home in South Africa. The issue became a public interest case in parliament and in court. President Zuma was subsequently found guilty by the constitutional court and asked to repay $509,000 to the government this year. This is democracy in action. When the law rules, there will be order and when the man rules outside the provisions of the law, there will be disorder and progress will be a bridge too far. This is a big lesson for Nigerians where there is a constant clash between advocates for the rule of law and rule of man.