The rule of law is expected to be something that should carve out ways and means of a a good governance, principles and Ideals of democracy, peaceful coexistence and uniform rule guided society. Rule of law as a legal principle can be defined as a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are bound by laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.
The general principles of rule of law as expounded by the philosopher A. V. Dicey, has three fundamental attributes, They are:
1. The absolute supremacy of law
2. Equality before the law
3. Predominance of Legal Spirit.
THE PRINCIPLE OF RULE OF LAW UNDER NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION
1. The Supremacy of the Law in Nigeria:
A. V. Dicey spelt out the Supremacy of the constitution which is now enshrined in the provision of Section 1(1) the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which states as follows;
“This constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons through out the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
Thus, Supremacy of law upholds the absolute supremacy or superiority of the basic law as opposed to the influence of arbitrary power and exclusion of the existence of discretionary parts on the part of government. The constitution in Nigeria being the Grundnurm was judicially affirmed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria, per Sir Udo Udoma Jsc in the case of Nafiu Rabiu vs State while observing the provisions of Section 1(1) that; “…the present Constitution has been proclaimed the supreme law of the land; that it is a written, organic instrument meant to serve not only the present generation, but also several generations yet unborn; that it was made, enacted and given to themselves by the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…that the function of the constitution is to establish a framework and principles of government, broad and general in terms…”.
It therefore means that the concept of rule of law is strongly against a dictatorial system but everything must be done in conformity with the supreme law of the land and where there is an inconsistency with the provision of the constitution, the constitution shall prevail.
2. Equality before the law in Nigeria:
This concept implies that noone is above the law of the land but that everyone is equal before the law. This is to ensure that a law under which a particular citizen is judged must also be used for every other citizen no matter the status, power or connection. This concept can be emphasized with the principles of Natural Justice. These principles are the foundation against biasness and they are; Nemo Judex in causa sau meaning No one should be a judge in his own cause and Audi Altarem partem which means hear the other side. Literally, the above principles upholds giving all parties the free and fair chance to present and get judged. This is enshrined in S. 36 of the 1999 Constitution.
3. The predominance of Legal Spirit in Nigeria:
The last principle of rule of law which makes it supreme is that the general principles of the constitution are the result of juridical decisions determining file rights of private persons in particular cases brought before the Court. This signifies that a person whose rights have been infringed upon can seek redress in court relying on the provision of the Constitution. The rule of law then upholds that the judiciary bodies should adjudicate upon this according to the law and not arbitrarily. Though, the Nigerian Constitution upholds the fundamental human rights of citizens, the non practicability and non justiciability of these provisions have made the impact of rule of law in Nigeria a farcry.
From the foregoing, though the Dicey’s Conception of rule of law is properly enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution but myriads of instances are there to challenge the application of rule of law in Nigeria. In observing the Nigerians long legal history, it can be deduced that the enshrined principles of rule of law is only in paper.