No Comments » July 10th, 2008 posted by // Categories: General Articles


Since the inception of organized constitutional democracy that brought government by dialogue and consent, nations and their leaders have tended to deploy plain old hypes, clich�s or slogans as selling points aimed at igniting and sustaining the tempo of public consciousness. Repeated often enough, slogans or the like help to psyche lackadaisical citizens and prepare them to accept difficult public policy shifts necessary to making a clean break from business as usual and priming the nation to embrace new cultural paradigms that she must pass through to endure and prosper. Slogans worked, primarily because the message they bear is so hip and commonsensical that any coinage contrary to the message can only be laughable, if not downright bizarre.

Another reason is that the nation or locale must have come to such a sorry pass in that particular stage in its history that it can boast no other option than to embrace the radical message embodied in that slogan if it must thrive as a dynamic entity. The key does not lie in the slogan but in measures employed to making it a reality. In motherland Nigeria of today, President Yar’Adua is making sure that Nigerians will not as soon forget that ‘rule of law’ is not only the slogan of the moment but a real policy choice upon which Nigeria can no longer afford any further hesitation. History indicates that Yar’Adua is right and Nigeria stands to benefit to boot. And world history is on Yar’Adua’s side.

From pre-Emancipation America to Africa’s struggles against colonialism, sloganeering (of the positive kind) was the new art form that propelled societies to act and engage on a course that changed national attitudes for good. Slogans were legion, attractive, and they often worked wonders. Desegregationist newspaper proprietors in America known then as ‘pamphleteers’ screamed the libertarian catchphrase: ‘desegregation now or never’ to whip up and sustain America’s wavering interest in President Lincoln’s arduous anti-slavery or desegregationist agenda. It also carried a subliminal incitement to African-Americans in the Jim Crow South to rise against white slaveholders and resist racial supremacists.

Later, Lincoln’s war effort against the Confederates succeeded more on that slogan than on any other that may have stressed the simultaneous need to prevail against rebellion and unify the colonies. Imagine the derision that would have greeted any opposite attempt by the rebel south to coin the counter phrase: ‘segregation now and forever’. So, at the end, President Lincoln and his fellow Unionists carried the day with what most Americans had been psyched to see as the only sensible thing to do in that era.

I figure that out of the many slogans bandied around at that time in America’s history, what might have helped most to change America for good was the one that held the best prospects of a desegregated continental United States, free from slavery and crass inequality between blacks and whites. A close second was the other one emanating from the first Continental Congress that declared that all men are created equal – a sort of Yar’Adua’s ‘rule of law’ in so many words. Slogans or not, the important thing is that America did not rest on her oars on the vaunted temerity of slogans per se but actually went to war (or took other tangible measures) to prove that she meant business in taking them from mere public policy clich�s or expressions of the popular will to making them a reality and a way of life for generations to come.

Back home in colonial Nigeria, the rallying slogan of the time was ‘self-government’. It was so quaint that even songs were written with it and it ultimately prevailed against any colonialist slogan that purveyed the opposite connotation. Our nationalists made it real when Enahoro made a motion on the floor of the House for Nigeria’s independence, much to the admiration of Nigerians who have been successfully psyched by a robust anti-colonial media not to accept anything less or in opposite. Today, an ordinary run-of-the mill but highly effectual slogan has been brought to bear on the mainstream polity by President Yar’Adua. Besides his many policy rollouts, mostly couched in simple slogans, the one that Yar’Adua loves most and which has taken most root is ‘Rule of Law’.

There is hardly any important public forum the President addresses without him lacing his speech with some reference to his iron-clad commitment to getting Nigerians to love ‘rule of law’ again. And he does not do so with undue levity but with much gravity and poise. If it is the President’s intention (as a scientist) to psyche Nigerians to get used to this new order, he is succeeding because it is now hip for a vast majority of Nigerians to talk about rule of law as the most fundamental path to Nigeria’s redemption and match to modernity. From the talking heads on our morning television talk shows and Nigerian Diaspora internet discussion boards and Blogs to the sidewalk parliaments or legislative chambers, one can see this admirable tendency on the part of Nigerians to be well disposed to the President’s vigorous postulates on rule of law. It is a win-win situation that is fast rising to a national groundswell, with the Supreme Court and sections of the judicature also rising to the occasion.

This is not the first time Nigerian leaders have expressed some commitment to rule of law. But this is the first time Nigerians have seen a credible and noticeable presidential effort geared to converting the doctrine from a mere populist slogan to a cultural revolution of sorts. The difference lies in the fact that previous attempts failed to take hold because they remained mere slogans, sadly lacking in any bonafide and concrete measures on the party of the government of the time to make it a way of life for Nigerians and our institutions. Today, President Yar’Adua seems to have departed from that tradition as amply demonstrated by some of his actions to date.

Think Yar’Adua’s executive order that compelled immediate enforcement of the court rulings in the states where a few elections were upturned; the President’s ram-rod reluctance to intervene in, not to talk of manipulating the House ‘failed’ contracts hearings; and the many other hot-button issues of the day where the President left no one in doubt that he preferred to let matters play out within the procedural framework. In all of these situations, the President never pussy-footed and you don’t have to look far to notice the gathering diplomatic windfalls for Nigeria, coming from even the most cynical and hostile of nations. Here in America, Yar’Adua’s sincerity on rule of law has sunk in and is credited with an extraordinary degree of respect Nigeria is known to now enjoy at the highest levels of the Bush administration, and amongst congressional circles.

Those who are wont to belittle the President for his bold strides on making rule of law a reality may be doing so on a misreading of a history that demonstrates that there are precedents everywhere to support Yar’Adua’s proactive mien. Again, in America, during the civil rights struggle, President Kennedy ordered the National Guard to enforce the controversial judgment of the US Supreme Court declaring segregation inherently unequal and unconstitutional in the United States. Kennedy used the National Guard because under the 11th Amendment to the US Constitution, Kennedy had no authority over the white-led police establishments in the states, most of which were at that time pathetically resistant to the new order. A non-serious or merely sloganeering Kennedy would have done nothing and still be able to take umbrage on some stretch of the constitutional restrictions found in the said 11th Amendment. And I reckon that Kennedy’s eagerness to enforce federal court orders energized conservative US judges to begin a systematic dismantling of an entire body of laws – mostly comprised of America’s half a millennium legalization of racism. Yar’Adua’s immediate order to the Inspector-General to enforce the judgments in the governorship elections nullifications is in pari materia to Kennedy’s rapid deployment of the National Guard to enforce his desegregationist agenda.

Better yet, my guess is that Yar’Adua’s focused leadership on adherence to rule of law may be the new tunic that will as yet embolden a Nigerian judiciary that sadly stagnated under over three decades of martial rule. There is nothing that ignites a court on an irreversible path of gutsy and well-reasoned rulings on difficult questions of law than an executive branch led by a President standing at the ready to enforce those rulings even when some may be clearly detrimental to his narrow partisan or strategic interest. In other words, Yar’Adua must be praised for his courage and patriotism in following a path that is known to be strewn with prospects of self-endangerment. ���

When Trent Lott, the powerful Republican Speaker of US House of Representatives strained the boundaries of free speech by using racial epithets, the nation was in uproar and demands for his resignation crossed party and racial lines. Resisting the tempting prospects of reaping a political capital, the President of the United States spurned every pressure to be drawn into the matter much like Yar’Adua risked alienating PDP apparatchiks by refusing to intercede on Etteh’s behalf. The more extreme example was when Kennedy courted danger to his personal safety by ordering his younger brother – Robert, the Attorney-General to crack down on the Mafia despite America’s duplicitous and bewildering romance of sorts with the Mafia. Kennedy took such bold step because he believed that, until then, America had merely paid lip service to riding itself of organized crime and he found that laxity to be inconsistent with the country’s avowed commitment to rule of law.

To be sure, President Yar’Adua courts danger of alienating the establishment ranks who remain unaccustomed to the President’s consistency on rule of law. In other words, taking the doctrine of rule of law from a mere policy slogan to an everyday reality requires mettle and can sometimes be unpopular and dicey,�and as above examples indicate, it also takes focus and exceptional presidential temperament to stay the course. Yar’Adua seems to possess them all. Thus, by his actions so far, there is no doubt that the President understands that separating the reality from the slogan on rule of law is the only option when you are serious about building a new and well-ordered society. He deserves a pat on the back from any one or nation that wants to see Nigeria succeed.


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