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Legalities, democracy and anarchy


Dayo Sobowale

I delve today into the history of the ancient Roman Empire  to illustrate the prevailing attitude in many democracies in the world today.

Especially in the last few days on the issue of elections, political succession, protests  and the institutions in operation to facilitate that political actions and decisions conform to  rules and laws made  to control them. Attila the Hun   who   once invaded    a trembling Rome, the capital  of the Ancient Roman   Empire,  was     also  called ‘the Scourge of God ‘by historians. Attila reportedly  boasted that  ‘there, where  I have  passed, the grass will  not grow again. ‘Attila’s war strategy  was total  destruction of enemy  territory in   a manner of no return  in terms  of future human habitation or  existence. The  equivalent of that is  another war terminology    called  ‘the scotched earth policy‘. The French  who later invented the guillotine to   behead  their rich and mighty   defined such  total   annihilation of the opponent or  enemy  as  –‘après moi la  deluge ‘which  in English  means –‘after me, destruction’

Obviously  these are examples of war  situations and  should  be avoided in times  of peace. But  then surprisingly politics  nowadays is becoming a do or die situation  with a no holds barred, might is right disposition that seems to say that  everybody  should  fight for himself to grab  what is available on the table to eat or squander and, may  the devil take the hindmost. To illustrate what some may  perceive as my exaggeration  is the  purpose of today’s discourse.

Just  look at the state of American politics after the November 3 presidential  elections and the daggers or guns drawn between the Republicans and Democrats gladiators on who  has won and who has lost and who should concede or take  power. It  is a clear grim simulation of the definition of politics as – Who  gets what, when  and how. Again  look at the situation in Nigeria where  the CBN, on a court order has frozen the accounts of promoters of the last Anti SARS protests while  the government has branded such  activists as  terrorists, a charge  the activists and protesters loudly deny,  although the destruction of police stations nationwide, the killing of policemen and   the burning of public buildings and properties seem,   so eloquently and  vividly  like acts of arson, vandalism  and of course terrorism. Indeed a lawyer charged some  activists to court  for destruction of his  property during the anti SARS demonstration and arson but another group of lawyers promised to take the name of the lawyer  to  the disciplinary committee of the  Nigerian Bar Association for disbarring. These  then are  the knotty issues we shall  look at in today’s  narrative.

We shall  look at the legalities of the American presidential politics in the light of the broken tradition of concession which President Trump has so personally and powerfully demonstrated. We shall  look at the responsibility of the Nigerian government  to maintain the rule of law and the legalities  of such actions  to prevent the nation from sliding to anarchy when the anti SARS  demonstration was violently   highjacked  by  hoodlums and  miscreants   who looted and destroyed police stations and public properties. We  shall also  see  or look for the legality of a lawyer suing the protesters for  destruction by protesters who were mostly  led or galvanised into action by a body or collection of people who were mostly lawyers.

On  the impasse in the US presidential election it is difficult  to  sit on the fence so I will try to present the position of  those for Joe Biden, the perceived or projected winner, since the electoral  college has not met, and that of the incumbent  president who insists  he has been cheated and has since  gone to court. In  terms  of votes cast the Democrats insist that  every  vote  must be counted. The Republicans  insist  that  only  legal votes  must  be counted and illegal  ones cannot  be  counted pointing out that votes are  meaningless  until examined and found to be valid. The  Republicans insist ominously  that the polling center has shifted in this election  to the post  offices  where votes are being counted and their polling agents are being denied access and votes are  being counted for deceased and dead voters. So  in a way  the Democrats have prevailed in the post  offices where posted votes favor them over personal and election day voting that favoured  Republicans.   But  the courts are the arbiter in election litigations  and voting  audit  and the Supreme Court which is the highest court in the US,  is tilted towards the Republicans as Trump indeed recommended three of the present judges for appointment  and  the Republicans have 6 such pro Republican judges on the bench to the Democrats three. So  the die is cast and the arena is the US Supreme Court and it is there that we shall see which will  prevail between the endless counting of the post  offices or the fine points of law on   participant   observation and   legal  or illegal  ballots. Surely,  as  the  tumultuous crowd   historically hailed in the arena, as the gladiators of ancient Rome fought to the death,  – ‘let the games  begin’

We    now  focus  on the anti SARS  protests and the characterization of the promoters as terrorists. Really I think this is a serious  mischaracterization as the government approved of the demonstrations very quickly and banned SARS but the demonstrations persisted which  can  be attributed to youthful exuberance. Surely  it is within governments right to ban terrorists accounts as is done in the EU or US  with ISIS, Al Quada, Boko Haram but  these promoters are not of such caliber and government should temper  justice with mercy. Indeed the anti SARS organisers should issue a statement condemning the arson and looting by those hooligans who brazenly hijacked the protests to  give it a bad name. But definitely anti SARS demonstrators  were  public spirited and  just  wanted a more equitable  and just  society and government  should indeed let bygones be bygones, unless there is an obvious   illegality  in the  use  of funds against the public interest and security.

Now  we  look  at the threat  to take   to  the   Bar  Disciplinary   Committee a lawyer suing  the anti SARS protesters for  damage  to  his property arising from the carnage of the anti SARS protests. I  think  the lawyer is within his rights and should not be threatened with  disbarment as a practicing lawyer. This  lawyer’s motive is similar to that of government in the mischaracterization of anti SARS protests  promoters as terrorists but  his own grouse is personal and he should  not be silenced. Indeed  those who  live in glass houses should not throw stones on this matter and the lawyer should be allowed to have his day in court without any threat  of disbarment from practicing his profession. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Once  again From the fury  of this raging pandemic  Good Lord Deliver Nigeria.

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