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The Place of Law In National Development

economic, social, educational, foreign policy and environmental policies; as well as frameworks for the nation’s cultures, mass media, national ethics and citizens’ duties.

With this constitutional background, personal liberty and economic development are legally enhanced: All laws enacted in the various sectors of the economy and the Nigerian Legal System generally, are required to conform to these underlining principles to be valid.

Nigerian courts have upheld the constitutionally entrenched rights of the citizens without prejudice in many cases. In Governor of Lagos State v Ojukwu ([1986] 1 NWLR pt. 18, p. 636 & 647-648), the Supreme Court held that “In the area where rule of law operates, the rule of self-help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being one of the countries in the world even in the third world which proclaims loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self-help by force to operate ... here in Nigeria even under a military government, the law is no respecter of persons, principalities, governments or powers and that the courts stand between the citizens and the government, alert to see that the State or Government is bound by the law and respects the law”.

Similarly in Olatunbosun v NISER ([1988] 3 NWLR pt. 80, p. 25 at 49), Oputa JSC in emphasizing the fundamental right of citizens to fair hearing, cited with approval the dictum of Fortescue J in the 18th Century English case of R v Chancellor, Master and Scholars of the University of Cambridge ([1723] 93 ER 698 at 704), and stated that “the laws of God and man both give the party an opportunity to make his defence, if he has any … Even God Himself did not pass sentence upon Adam, before he was called upon to make his defence …” These instances are examples of the influence of law on liberty, equality, and development in our jurisdiction.

Worthy of note is the fact that social, political, environmental, economic, and foreign policies of a country will not bind elected and appointed leaders until the policies are backed by enabling laws. Similarly, national development goals and policy directives, however laudable, remain mere wishes or at best some sorts of moral suasion which are non-binding on policy makers and regulators, until they have the force of law. This was the main reason why many national planning schemes in the past like the Vision 2000 or 2010 for example, did not achieve targets or make tangible contribution to national economic growth until investment promotion laws that opened up the economy and enhanced private participation in public enterprise; began to translate policy thrusts into national development.

In April 2014, Nigeria rebased its national income figures to become world’s 26th biggest economy and Africa’s largest. The attainment of this new economic status was facilitated through laws that opened door for the privatization of sectors which previously were managed exclusively by the government. Some of the notable milestones reached in recent times, through the instrumentality of the law are hereby outlined:

Privatization of public enterprises and promotion of local and foreign investments, with the attendant growth of the economy and national development, were achieved through setting up of relevant legal frameworks for their operations pursuant to constitutional foundation already laid. The enactment of the Privatization and Commercialization Decree No. 25 of 1988 began the liberalization of the Nigerian economy to bring private sector expertise and funds into transforming inefficient public utility corporations; and in line with the laisse faire policy promoted in that era by the Bretton Woods institution. The Public Enterprises (Privatization and Commercialization) Act of 1999 which established the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) was later enacted to provide a legal regime for divesting government’s interests in major public enterprises.