Types of Rule of Law in Nigeria

The concept of rule of law has long been adopted in Nigeria to maintain a free, democratic, and fair society. Rule of law comprises several principles of formal and procedural characteristics known by both the government and the citizenry, which covers both the government and the governed, and dictates how the country is run. This article will discuss some of the components of rule of law in Nigeria.  

Types of Rule of Law in Nigeria

The types of rule of law in Nigeria would be discussed below: 

  • Separation of Powers

Separation of powers is one of the principles of rule of law upheld by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The concept of separation of powers under the Nigerian Constitution is a two-pronged approach in that state powers have been separated and dispersed both horizontally and vertically.

The vertical separation of powers implies that the governance in Nigeria is divided in terms of federal, state and local government. In this regard, each tier of government is independent of the other, and in control within itself. In addition, the Constitution allows for the Federal government to check the State governments, and vice versa. 

On the other hand, the horizontal separation of power entails that the Federal Government (as well as the State governments) is separated into different branches in terms of the identifiable functions they play, thus the government is divided into executive, legislature and judiciary. With the state powers divided and separated horizontally across the three arms of government, checks and balances are possible within the government. The Constitution also stipulates that the composition of each arm of government is distinct and separate in that public officials should not be part of more than one arm at the same time. 

Here are some instances where separation of power in Nigeria helps to achieve checks and balances within the government: 

  • The President would only nominate a member of the Supreme Court on the advice of the National Judicial Council (NJC), of which the National Assembly must confirm such an appointment before the Judge is deemed to be properly appointed. 
  • Although the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, he can’t declare a state of war between Nigeria and another country unless there’s a sanction of resolution in a joint sitting by both levels of the National Assembly.
  • The President can veto any bill passed by the National Assembly, but this can be overturned 

by a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the bicameral legislature. 

  • Equality before the Law

Equality before the law, which can also be referred to as legal egalitarianism or the principle of isonomy, is a component of rule of law in Nigeria upheld by Section 17 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). In the Nigerian context, equality, before the law means thus, means that every Nigerian citizen regardless of ethnicity, place of origin, sex, religion, or political opinion shall be considered equal before the law, without privilege, discrimination or bias.

Although provisions of the principle of the rule of equality before the law have been established in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, there have been cases where it has not been strictly observed as it should have been. 

  • Fundamental Human Rights 

Fundamental human rights are a component of rule of law entrenched in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Nigeria, just like most countries, makes provisions for certain rights that ensure the basic needs of the citizenry are met and vulnerable groups are protected from abuse, among other things. Fundamental human rights in Nigeria are, however, not absolute as they are subject to certain limitations as outlined in Chapter IV of the Nigerian Constitution. 

The fundamental human rights in Nigeria, also referred to as inalienable rights, include; the right to life, right to dignity, right to a fair hearing, right to privacy and family life, right to freedom from discrimination, right to freedom of movement, right to peaceful assembly and association, right to freedom of expression and press, and right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. 

  • Presumption of Innocence 

Presumption of innocence is a component of rule of law that upholds that every person who is charged with a criminal offense shall be considered innocent until a judicial pronouncement on the guilt (or otherwise) of the accused person is made. In Nigeria, this legal principle is entrenched in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution in Section 36 (5), so any accused person that is suggested to be guilty without the pronouncement of a competent court of law, can sue as that would be a breach of the fundamental human right of the individual. 

Another element of this legal principle of presumption of innocence is that the prosecution bears the burden of proving the guilt of the accused individual. This means the accused can be adjudged guilty only if the prosecution can produce enough evidence and arguments that prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. So, this implies that regardless of the indictment or formal charges levied against an individual, if the government prosecution cannot decisively prove the guilt of the accused in a trial, then such a person is free.

  • Open Government 

All Nigerian citizens and public offers are subject to accountability per the rule of law.  Hence, the accountability of the government to the public is a central aspect of rule of law in Nigeria. There are several dimensions to which the Nigerian government displays accountability, such as through compliant mechanisms, civic participation, the right to information and publicized laws and government data. 

The dimension of publicized laws and government data is a dimension of open government that ensures that public laws and information on legal rights are readily and publicly available and presented in simple English so the citizenry knows what constitutes the law of the land. On the other hand, the right to information entails that information relating to budget figures and other government projects is easily accessible to the public. 


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