It is a question I am sure many of us ask ourselves time and again. Are the people made for the law or is the law made for the people?
Culture, which sets a major foundation for most customary laws, is a way of life or a set code which a collection of people have devised and are bound to live by. Same with laws. Laws should be mutable to suit an ever evolving culture. It should never be static and deaf to the constantly moving gyre of time. Therefore as culture changes, the law should move with it.
There was a time in some cultures, even the European culture, when homosexuals were put to death. There were times in the past when people practicing witchcraft were burnt at the stake. There was a time in some cultures when the second of twin babies is put to death immediately after birth. And there was a time when jungle justice was so rife that thieves caught in open markets were immediately burnt, without recourse to the sentencing of even the king. At least, the code of “being innocent until proven guilty” should be the ideal. Perhaps we now know better and we should do better too. This is why even in Nigeria, we must continually seek to renew ourselves by reviewing our cultures and laws. Perhaps there had been times in the past when we were less informed about the truth of our ways.
Some do say that laws are made for the poor and that the elite are immune to any effect of the law. They may be right too. But this is only the case in a society where the majority have gone to sleep and have abandoned governance in the hands of exploitative charlatans who misuse power for their benefit. There are also those opportunists who often exploit the cracks in the walls of the law and desecrate its purity.
When Segalink and a group of other well-meaning Nigerians came under the umbrella of CitizenGavel, to protect the rights of the ordinary Nigerian against police exploitation and extortion, some of us felt a relief that the baton of human rights activism and advocacy has been passed on from the likes of Gani Fawehinmi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Olisa Agbakoba and others, to a newer generation. Each generation of these advocates had a somewhat unique problem they dealt with. Some of the older generation of activists got executed and some saw the prison more than they knew holidays.
While the current administration in Nigeria still throws some journalists in prison for exposing their dirtiest secrets, it is increasingly more difficult in democratic Nigeria to incarcerate an advocate without letting all hell loose on social media.
This was why the systemic abuse of youths trying to make ends meet by desperate SARS personnel could not be swept under the carpet. Human rights advocacy was more the reason why it was easier to stage a campaign against men of the force who recently were harassing the prostitutes they arrested in Abuja. It is for the grace of these changing times that an advocacy for laws which criminalises sex work and cannabis use and homosexuality will be deemed as discriminatory and people will easily queue behind such a campaign for laws prohibiting them to be repealed.
We must therefore, as dutiful citizens, pressure and lobby our lawmakers to ensure that our laws are kept abreast of modern times by enabling a constant review of the constitution and other enabling laws by consensus, lest we and our culture remain in the dark ages, enforcing something neither God nor nature ever commissioned us to in the first place.