Justice as the bedrock of democracy in Nigeria (2), By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

Posted by News Express | 29 December 2020 | 1,062 times

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•Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

The introductory part of this piece started last week, in defining the concept of Justice, in the midst of lawyers and other stakeholders, during the Annual Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ibadan Branch. Coined from its ordinary meaning which is the layer of solid rock below the soil, the Word 'Bedrock', according to the Oxford Advanced dictionary, means the fundamental principles and ideals on which something is based. Flowing therefrom, this paper shall conclude that the pursuit of justice lies at the very heart of democracy. In that the tenets of democracy dictate that though the majority would have their way, the minorities must always have their say.

Within the context of the Nigerian state and its multi-plural, ethnic and religious make-ups, there is the yearning for justice from different peoples, regions and age-brackets within the Nigerian state dating back to the Sir Henry Willink Commission and thereafter the Lyttleton Constitution. This is reasonably so because democracy is not a vague concept. It is a system that comes with some expectations from the citizens and where these expectations are met, one can then talk of justice. The Department of State of the United States of America beautifully captures the just and basic expectations of citizens in a democracy thus:

“The legitimacy of democratic institutions derives from an implicit promise to help everyone achieve their full potential within society. Fulfilling this promise requires each element of society to do its part. Individual citizens should vote and participate in the political process, for example, through political parties and civil society organizations. They should respect the rights of others and live their lives under a culture of lawfulness. They should be prepared to exert the effort necessary to improve their work skills and those of their children by supporting and taking advantage of services, such as education, provided by the state. They should partner with their employers for mutual economic benefit. And they must bear in mind that democracy thrives where individual interests are joined by a broad allegiance to protecting the rights of all and providing for the well-being of future generations.” (https://2001-2009.state.gov/p/wha/rls/43521.htm, (retrieved November 12, 2020).

Similarly, Roland Dworkin, in the Bill of Rights for Britain 1990, at pages 35 - 36 stated thus:

“... True democracy is not just statistical democracy, in which anything, a majority or plurality wants is legitimate for that reason, but communal democracy, in which majority decision is legitimate only when it is a majority decision within a community of equals. That means not only that everyone must be allowed to participate in politics as an equal through the vote and though freedom of speech and protest, but that political decisions must treat everyone with equal concern and respect, that each individual person must be guaranteed fundamental civil and political rights no combination of other citizens can take away, no matter how numerous they are or how much they despise his or her race or morals or way of life… It is, in short, a social and political system characterized by a high degree of personal liberty and equally high degree of political liberty, manifested in regular and free competitive elections, protected by a legal system based upon a constitution, and often articulated by means of federalism.” Lakoff, S. (1996), Democracy, Boulder, Colo.:Wiseview Press.(retrieved from https://intime.uni.edu/tenets-democracy, November 11, 2020).

Consequently, democracy is basically set up to deliver justice to citizens in a plethora of ways, which we shall briefly highlight below:

(a) Electoral justice;

(b) Protection of fundamental rights;

(c) Economic justice; and

(d) Judicial justice.


The only legal process for hiring and firing leaders/representatives in a democratic setting is through elections. This is the only means through which section 14 (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) can become real and active, when it  provides that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority”. Consequently, the authority of a state and its governments are created and sustained by the consent of its people through their elected representatives. The consent of the people obtained through free, fair and credible elections, gives legitimacy to the government in the performance of its functions to the people. Elections in this context must not be confined to the casting of ballots on the day of election but the whole gamut of the process, which usually begins with voters’ registration, primary elections of the political parties, campaigns/campaign funding, etc, through to the announcement of winners. The dictum of the learned Jurist, Omoyele, J.C.A. in the case of ANPP & Anor v. Osiyi & Ors. (2008) LPELR-3781 (CA) p. 34 is germane on this point thus:

“The word “Election” in the context in which it is used in Section 137(1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution means, the process of choosing by popular votes a candidate for political office in a democratic system of government. The word “Election” is not restricted to the activities at the polling station on the day of an election. See the case of: Buhari v. Obasanjo (2005)2 NWLR (Pt. 910) p. 241. The process in an election starts from the voting by political party members to choose candidates to represent the political party at the ward level and the primaries up to the polling day when these political party candidates are presented by the political party to the electorate. An election covers all the activities in Part IV of the Electoral Act, 2006 from Sections 26 to 77.”

Thus, any act which compromises any of the stages of the election is electoral injustice. It is electoral injustice where party structures are hijacked by money-bag politicians who foist their anointed candidates on the party. It is electoral injustice on the Nigerian people where the sanctity of the ballot is compromised by the electoral umpire, in concert with security collaborators and a particular political party. It is electoral injustice where the wishes of the people are truncated by judgments from the courts. It is electoral injustice on the Nigerian people for the government of President Buhari to refuse to sign the amended Electoral Act, which would give legal teeth to full deployment of technology in our electoral process. These issues deserve serious introspection if Nigeria must deliver a democracy, where justice is pivotal.


It is the legitimate expectation of citizens in a democracy that justice would be served by their governments, through the protection of their fundamental rights, at all times. The United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, held on September 24, 2010 declared thus:

“Human rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and that they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations. Indeed, government responsiveness to the interests and needs of the greatest number of citizens is strictly associated with the capacity of democratic institutions and processes to bolster the dimensions of rights, equality and accountability.”

The above declaration captures the essence of protecting the fundamental rights of citizens in a democracy. Thankfully, the Nigerian Constitution has also attached the needed importance to same, with its devotion of a whole chapter i.e. Chapter IV, for this purpose. This is an important function of law in a democratic society. For in the absence of law mechanism in this regard, society slides to the Hobessian state where might is right and where life is nasty, short and brutish, in the words of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. One cannot talk of justice in any democracy, where the rights of the citizens are trampled upon by the government they have “elected” to serve them. It is an act of injustice where the forces of state are deployed in an irresponsible manner to repress dissenting voices and foist fear in the minds of the people; for as attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “When government fears the people there is liberty, when the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” It is thus no more democracy, where citizens cannot ‘SOROSOKE’ against the ills of society.


In his description of this concept, Tom Kibasi, former director of the Institute of Public Policy Research, London in his article titled “What is Economic Justice and why does it matter”, defined economic justice thus:

“Economic justice is the idea that the economy will be more successful if it is fairer: that prosperity and justice go hand-in-hand rather than in opposition to one another.” (https://www.newstatesman.com/politics, accessed November 25, 2020.)

Economic justice encompasses the following:

i. Establishment of a thriving economy that produces sustainable growth and increases the prosperity of the people. It involves creating viable opportunities where people who work hard can derive great output for their sweat in a sustainable manner. It is about an economy that is skewed towards dispensing the benefits of growth in the economy to the people, which in turn leads to a virtuous circle of prosperity.

ii. Another element of economic justice is the just re-distribution of wealth in the society, putting into consideration the demography of age groups, region, sex and other indices in the economy. For as Tim Kibasi cited earlier puts it:

“Research from the IMF shows that redistributing income from the richest to the poorest in society, actually boosts growth because poorer people are more likely to spend in the economy (a higher “marginal propensity to consume”). This flies in the face of the free market ideologies who have long claimed that inequality is the price paid for efficiency: that those at the top need to be disproportionately rewarded as ‘wealth creators’.”

iii. Economic justice also projects fair distribution of the wealth of that economy across all generations i.e. the present and future generations. That is the purport of what is captured in the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), which defines sustainable development as “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It is thus a clear mark of economic injustice, for the government and people of this generation, to deplete the environment in an irresponsible manner through indiscriminate waste disposal and non-adherence to building master-plans in urban settlements, continue gas-flaring unabatedly and to keep accumulating loans from developed countries, which are thereafter deployed for servicing recurrent expenditures of governments and heaping for the future generations, unnecessary burden of re-payment of these kinds of loans. That certainly does not accord with the concept of Justice that we all dream of.



•Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) writes from Lekki Lagos.


Source: News Express

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