The Imperatives of Rule of Law for Governance and the Improved Service Delivery

By Aliyu  Wamakko

Contemporary concerns about good governance essentially stems from the widespread recognition of the palpable failure of many Governments in parts of the world, but especially in the African continent, to measure up to the yearnings of the citizens for better life. In Nigeria, the vociferous clamor for the redirection of the polity and its public policy towards ends that could help uplift the standards of life of the people in all its ramifications could be understood as the direct result of the disenchantment of the citizens with the current state of affairs in the country. Perhaps, this state of affairs, as evidenced by the pulls and strains from which the polity suffers over the years, only serves to reminds about some of the evidently salient problems about how the Nigerian Political System and its processes is managed, including the health of the structures and processes in place to facilitate and monitor effective governance.

It is a well acknowledged fact that a corollary of governance is what is continuously referred to as good governance, defined in terns of
the efficient application and utlisation of State Resources in the delivery of services to the people. Of necessity therefore, good
governance must not only draw attention  to the nature and the patterns of policy formulation and execution, including concerns over
accountability, transparency/openness, inclusiveness/participation, efficiency and integrity, but should also provide a window as to the measure of regime performance as it affects constitutionalism and the promotion of the welfare and wellbeing of the citizenry.

Many commentators on the political process have drawn attention to the governance deficit afflicting Nigeria. International organizations, including the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP), Transparency International, the World Bank, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have at various times quarrelled with Nigeria’s scorecard in matters relating to the indicators of good governance. At the local level, the obvious descent that saw the use of repressive tactics against the perceived opponents of the State coupled with other acts that malign the country’s belief in the inviolability of the fundamental human rights of the citizens, have fuelled the spectre of concerns over the state of the rule of law in the country. What then is rule of law? What principles under-guide its practice? How does the rule of law interfaces with good governance. These are some of the issues this paper will address.


Rule of Law refers to the absolute predominance or supremacy of ordinary law of the land over all citizens no matter how powerful. It
is at the heart of the social contract between the citizens and the State and is based on the principles that where they erred or run foul
of the law, all citizens are liable to fair and equal punishment in accordance with the law and all are accorded same rights as enshrined
in a country’s constitution and other laws. It is the principle that all are bound or subject to the stipulations of the law. Alien to the
concept of the rule of law therefore is the propensity for the selective applications or enforcement of laws that regulates conduct
of the State.

Rule of Law requires fairness and consistency in the enforcement of rules and judgements or some other judicial decisions. It negates the selective applications of rules and unequal treatment of persons in similar situations. Specifically, rule of law envisages that in the dispensation of justice, the principles of fairness, equality andjustice must be respected such that every citizen get equal treatment
in all respects and without reference to position, wealth or other such differentials. For example, it is in line with the precepts of rule of law that apprehension and prosecution of corrupt officials or persons must proceed in ways that spares no one, while enforcement of rulings or Court verdict, say in election disputes or property ownership must be consistent and equitable. It also suggests that the
agents of State including the Police, Military and other Security bodies must be fair and just in their dealings with all manner of
persons, ensuring among other things that the constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms of citizens remain inviolable.


The preceding has drawn attention to the utility of good governance for the prosperity of States. Such attention clearly flows from the
recognition that good governance shapes governmental process along the line of leadership responsiveness and responsibility to the needs and preferences of the citizens in the social, political and economic realms. The refrain therefore has been that States that are governed in line with the established principles of good governance are likely to thrive and prosper better than those afflicted with the vices of corruption, inequality and all kinds of arbitrariness. Good governance, in effect presupposes the existence and flourishing of the following:

a)    Representation
b)    Equity
c)    Rights
d)    Rule of Law
e)    Independence of the Judiciary
f)    Efficient law enforcement
g)    Equitable revenue system
h)    Transparent and equitable procurement system
i)    Transparency/accountability in resource management


Good governance addresses the extent to which Government enjoys legitimacy to discharge its statutory responsibilities including
getting or making services available to citizens quickly, affordably and effectively. Rule of law as a key indicator of good governance and as a principle that helps restraints behaviour in politics, not only involves the notion that States operate on the principles of fairness, equity, justice and conformity with the letter and spirit of the constitution in all its actions, but also the effective and equitable delivery of services. In other words, the principle of the rule of law is anchored on the notion of the supremacy of the rule of law and the subjection of all persons and institutions to the law irrespective of status and/or other personal or group considerations, while also guaranteeing the timely and fair meeting of the needs of the people.

It is a common knowledge in regards to the letter that the challenges of development in Nigeria, as in elsewhere, have questioned the
capacity of States to engineer and champion sound policies that could ensure efficient and effective delivery of services. This becomes more critical in view of the fact that governments everywhere are looked upon as the key institutions that must act to meet the varied needs of their citizens. This partly explains why the potential of any given government is measured by what it has been able to achieve for the citizens in the social, economic and the political realms, amongst others.

Yet it remains quite obvious, most especially in the context of Nigeria that the contract between the citizen and his State, has been
far from being effectively executed. A number of reasons could have accounted for this state of affairs. Suffice to say, however, that
afflictions suffered by the polity in especially the kind of twists and turns in the governance realm have made it impossible for
governments in the country to address and solve the multi-variety of the developmental issues in the contemporary period.

An important measure of the aforesaid could be seen in the failure on the part of successive governments at the federal, states and local government levels, to diligently implement and therefore achieved the desired outcomes of the many laudable policies of government in education, health, energy, agriculture, economy and other sectors of life of the society. It is not far-fetched, therefore, to claim that in spite of the robust nature of the country’s policy packages, not much is seen as dividends that could resolve the myriad of concerns that bedevil the life of the citizens.

Deriving from the above, it then becomes obvious that the rule of law as a regulatory mechanism necessary for the promotion and sustenance of orderly conduct and good governance in any given society remains very critical. It not only seeks to institutionalise adherence to the constitutional provisions in all dealings, but also expects the transcendence of the virtues of accountability, fairness and equity in service delivery as well as the dispassionate application of the law across every member of the society.

Indeed, the utility of the rule of law for good governance becomes apparent where governmental institutions and their personnel are
involved in that it serves as a bulwark against arbitrariness and all manner of impunities. This is so because it limits the ability of
holders of power and other positions of authority to act extra legally in the management of the State.


We have earlier seen that concern about good governance is linked to the issues of transparency, accountability, efficiency and citizen’s involvement in issues affecting their lives. To this extent, it is safe to aver that good governance sets the normative parameters or standards of development in the democratic states. This argument’s firmament is given bent by the insistence on the rule of law which guarantees equity, justice and the impartial and impersonal application of laws without reference to one social, political or economic leaning.

Broadly, ethics is defined as right conduct and/or good life. It is the personification of those attributes that promotes right action and
preoccupation with the greater good. Ethics is not limited to specific acts and defined moral codes, but encompasses the whole gamut or moral ideals and behaviours, a person’s philosophy of life. Ethical values have far-reaching consequences for the health of organisations. They water the fountain of the organisations, often accounting for their ability to perform optimally in meeting stated goals link individual actions to organisational and societal life thereby establishing the intricate link between individual and/or personal conduct to system growth and survival.

It is significant to note that concern with ethics and its potential interface with governance is a long standing one. The assumption is
well grounded therefore that moral prescriptions, such as provided by religious precepts possess the power to address some of the failings represented by such vices as corruption, nepotism, violence and other ills that pervade many societies.

Equally implicit in the above notion of good governance, perhaps, is the relevance of sound ethical and/or standards in the realm of
governance and at all strata of society. Concerns about transparency, equity, justice, decorum, accountability and interpersonal trust and respect, among others, are equally concerns over raising the moral tone of both the individual and the society. Noteworthy, too, is the fact that these standards are universal such that all groups, in all contexts, seek to promote same and reject their antithesis. In the context of States, the preoccupation with these ethical prescriptions is predicated on their interface with the developmental objectives. It can be argued that the crisis of governance, occasioned mostly by the salience of some of the issues raised above has been the hallmark of the Nigerian society. The country’s political landscape, in particular, has suffered enormously owing largely to the inability of its leaders to effectively handle the affairs of the country in such ways as to lead to the attainment of better life for all. Thus, not only are the citizens denied the latitude for the actualisation of their cravings for prosperous living, but being largely dissatisfied with the prevailing situation, they may resort to all manner of actions that may further plunge the country into chaos.

The question still remains: is there a link between ethics and good governance? If as we have seen earlier, good governance is about
enthroning and sustaining accountability, transparency and the general prevalence of those conditions necessary for good politics, then one may rightly claim the existence of linkages between good governance and sound moral conduct. This is so, because, even where governance is\ used in a limited sense to connote effective government performance and by extension, effective problem solving, it has relevance with the essential basis of ethical conduct.

In other words, the concern with ethics is essentially concern over the purification of the governance realm, as to purge it of the
monster of arbitrariness, corruption and nepotism, and in their stead, allow for the flowering and blossoming of the very principles of good governance, including the rule of law, respect for human rights, transparency and accountability and the actualisation of the welfare of the citizens. That, perhaps, remains the context within which the persistent push for ethical reform and improved service delivery in Nigeria and by extension, many parts of Africa must be located and understood.

*Wamakko, governor of Sokoto State, delivered this lecture at the African Mayors Panel of High Level Consultation on Enhancing Constitutionalism and Rule of Law in Africa, (organised under the auspices of African Union Commission) in Dakar, Senegal.