Table Of Contents
1. Meaning Of Law
2. Meaning Of Rule Of Law
3. Principles Of Rule Of Law
4. The Benefits Of The Rule
5. Punishment For Breaking The Law
6. Offences For Which Individuals Can Be Found Guilty And Punished
7. Equality Of All Citizens Before The Law
Meaning Of Law
Law means the whole system of rules that everyone in a country or society must obey. Every state or society tries to develop this body of principles or norms that govern the conduct of its members and how to make sure that they are strictly carried out or enforced.
In case of a state like Nigeria, the law controls both the government and the governed, or the rulers and the ruled. In the traditional societies, these laws can come in form of unwritten customary ways of carrying on social activities to avoid friction or conflict.
In modern society, such laws are contained in the constitution of that country. This constitution can be written as in Nigeria or unwritten as it is in Britain.
Meaning Of The Rule Of Law
The rule of law means that the action of government must be according to the laws of the land. Government must not act according to their own will or how they feel; and must not misuse power.
The rule of law is the supremacy of the law of the land as administered by the law court. The doctrine of the Rule of Law was an idea that came to a man called Professor A.V. Dicey, which he wrote down in his book titled, “Introduction to the law of the constitution”, which was published in 1885. Every country tries to practise the rule of law, but the way it is practised differs from country to country.
Principles Of Rule Of Law
There are three principles upon which the rule of law is based:
1. The Supremacy Of The Law
This means that the law is the highest authority in the land. The rulers must rule the people according to the law. Both the rulers and the ruled are under the law. It is also referred to as sovereignty of the law. The Queen or King, president, governor and legislators, who make the laws must act according to the law of the country.
Punishment for breaking the law must be given according to what the law says and not according to what the President says. No one is punished except the person has been found guilty by the law courts. This is the principle of impartiality. A suspect is innocent until the court finds him guilty of an offence.
2. Equality Before The Law
This means that all persons are equal before the law and the law should be applied equally to all citizens of a country, whether you are very rich or poor, a president, governor, minister, or military officer. The law does not respect anybody, no matter your rank or position in society. Everybody is subject to the law and treated equally.
3. Right To Personal Liberty
This means that the rule of law protects or guarantees the rights of an individual in society. Professor A.V. Dicey calls them the natural rights and gifts from God and they should be exercised by everybody, within the limits of the law of that land or how the constitution of a country allows it. Some of these rights are right to life, speech, association, property, etc. These rights make citizens of a country happy and without them, life becomes dull and uninteresting.
The Benefits Of The Rule Of Law As Against Arbitrary Rule
When the rule of law operates in a country, the citizens enjoy a lot of benefits. Below are some of the benefits:
1. The rule of law ensures the independence of the Judiciary. The Judiciary is faced with the task of interpreting and preserving the constitution and fundamental human rights, etc. Therefore, the rule of law protects it from influence or interference by government, powerful individuals or mob.
2. The rule of law ensures the supremacy of the law. It makes the law to be above everybody in the state, and by so doing, the government, its agencies, and the people are subject to or under the law. Nobody, no matter how powerful is above the law.
3. The rule of law gives all citizens equal protection before the law. Through this way, the rule of law safeguards individual rights and liberty and makes sure that these basic rights such as right to life, personal liberty, freedom of speech and association, etc are guaranteed.
4. The rule of law ensures equality of all citizens before the law and does not offer any special protection to anybody. Where the rule of law operates, both the ruler and the ruled are equal before the law, no matter their position, rank or status in society.
5. The rule of law ensures that no man is punished or made to suffer unnecessarily, until he has gone through normal trial in the court of law. An accused person remains innocent until he is found guilty by the court of law.
6. It eliminates the possibility of tyrants and dictators coming to power in any given society. This is possible because with the rule of law, every ruler must rule according to the constitution. So the possibility of arbitrary rule does not exist.
7. Another important benefit of the rule of law is that it allows an accused person to choose lawyers to defend him, no matter how serious his offence may be. Even in cases where the accused person cannot pay for the services of a lawyer, the state will provide one for him.
8. The rule of law protects and strengthens democracy, separation of powers and checks and balances. All these contribute to the political stability of a given country.
Punishment For Breaking The Law
If a person breaks the law, the following punishments may be given to the person:
If a person is suspected to have committed a crime, such a person is arrested by the police and detained, especially if the person has not been found guilty or innocent. He is remanded in prison custody, until the case is charged to the court, where he is either set free or imprisoned.
When a person breaks the law, he is taken to court and trial. He hires the services of a lawyer to defend him; and if he cannot pay for the services of a lawyer, the government will give him a lawyer. If he is found guilty of that offence, he will be imprisoned. A person can be imprisoned with hard labour (cut grasses, etc).
When a person is found guilty of an offence, he may be given an option to pay fine. This is usually in form of money which will be paid to the court. Some persons may be punished by both fine and imprisonment, depending on the crime they committed.
When a person commits a very serious offence like murder, armed robbery, and kidnapping, he is said to have committed a capital offence; and every capital offence attracts a capital punishment which is death. The person may be killed by hanging or by firing squad or by electrocution on an electric chair.
5. Withdrawal Of Rights
The rule of law protects the rights of citizens of a country, but such rights of citizens can be withdrawn from a person who breaks the law. Therefore, when a law is broken by a citizen, his freedom of movement may be withdrawn from him by remanding him in prison custody or imprisonment.
6. Denial Of Basic Services
When certain people or groups of people break the law, government may stop providing certain essential services to such people. For instance, when people vandalize or steal cables or transformers belonging to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), they may be in darkness for a long time. Those who attack government health workers in their community, may also force government to withdraw such services from their communities.
This is an official order that limits trade contact, etc, with a particular country in other to make it do something, such as obeying international law. For instance, the United Nations Organization imposed sanctions on Iraq when they refused to allow the organization inspect their alleged chemical weapons factory. They ordered all countries that belong to the organization to stop buying oil from Iraq.
Offences For Which Individuals Can Be Found Guilty And Punished
Having discussed punishment for breaking the law, it is necessary for us to discuss also some of the offences for which an individual or a group can be found guilty and punished. Here are some of them:
When a person is found guilty of stealing or taking away another person’s property, he has committed the offence of theft.
2. Membership Of Cult Group
When a person or group of persons form or join any prohibited association which can cause harm, torment people, commit arson, assault, steal, harass or rape, the person or persons have committed an offence punishable by law.
This is a serious offence in which a person kills another person. If an individual attempts to kill somebody and fails, it is called ‘Attempted Murder’ and it is still punishable by law.
4. Kidnapping And Abduction
This is a crime in which some people forcefully take some rich and valued members of our society to an unknown place at gun point. Sometimes, children and some relatives of important members of our society are kidnapped and their family members are told to pay ransom, usually in form of huge sums of money before they are released.
When a group of persons illegally enrich themselves or an individual enriched himself through dishonest means, like diverting public money entrusted in their care to their own private account, it is an offence punishable by law.
6. Human Trafficking
This is an evil in which respected relatives and members of our society mislead and deceive young people, with promise of better opportunities and adventure abroad. They will believe that they will go to school, get good jobs and make foreign money. Unknown to them are the evil intentions of such trusted elders, of subjecting them to evil activities like prostitution and forced labour. This is a crime and it is punishable by law.
7. Armed Robbery
This is when individuals or group of people organize themselves with dangerous weapons, to engage in violently dispossessing people of their property. They may use knives, guns, big sticks to get what they want. Sometimes, they kill innocent people.
8. Drug Trafficking
It is an offence to substances that may have serious negative effects on people’s lives. Examples of such drugs are Indian hemp, cocaine, heroin and morphine. These drugs can cause mental disorder or madness, and people can get addicted to them.
9. Money Laundering
This is an offence in which huge sums of money that has been obtained illegally, is moved into foreign bank accounts or legal businesses, so that it is difficult for people to know where the money came from. This is usually done by cocaine pushers or 419 operators.
10. Illegal Bunkering
This is a crime involving illegal trade in crude oil with foreign countries. Some people are unpatriotic; they dig holes into oil pipelines and siphon oil into tankers which they sell to other countries or local people, in order to make big money.
11. Examination Malpractices
This is an offence committed mainly by students in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in Nigeria. It can take the form of copying things on pieces of paper and using them inside the examination hall or copying from another person’s work. It can also be in the form of paying someone to write an examination for another person or using textbooks to enter an examination hall. This offence attracts some years of imprisonment.
Equality Of All Citizens Before The Law
The citizens must be given equal treatment without any discriminatory laws. As earlier pointed out, the main feature of the rule of law is that every man, irrespective of his rank or positions, is subject to the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts. From the president to the most junior civil servant, all officials must act within legal authority. In other words, officials are not above the law, and if their actions break the law, they must be punished by the court.
However, in the interest of society itself, and for the efficient performance of some public duties, legal immunity is given to some public office holders because of their office. These include legal immunity for the president, governors, judges and also foreign diplomats.
Some persons disagree with the total application or operation of this principle of immunity. There is a common saying that the Judiciary is the last hope of the common man. It is where he can obtain justice for any wrong done to him in society. This shows that the law has no room for preferential treatment.