The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance: Case for Ratification

The African Union in what has been described by some as unprecedented development adopted on January 30, 2007 in Addis Ababa, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. The adoption of this significant charter was the culmination of a journey started in 1990 with the adoption of the Declaration on the Political and Socio-economic situation in Africa. Against the backdrop of the turbulent political history in Africa marked by military takeovers and civilian dictatorship, African leaders recognise in this charter a need to re-emphasise the integral nexus between free and fair elections, good governance and the promotion of the rule of law. It seeks to promote adherence by each State Party, to the universal values and principles of democracy and respect for human rights premised upon the supremacy of the constitution and constitutional order.', 'The African Charter is remarkable in a lot of respects. It reaffirms Africa’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law. It clearly abhors unconstitutional change of government and provides in article 25(5) a possible framework for international prosecution of people who forcefully take over government. It furthers restates the principle of transparency and accountability in government and provides for the independence of the judiciary. It reaffirms the primacy of the rule of law and calls on state parties to initiate appropriate measures including legislative, executive and administrative actions to bring State Parties’ national laws and regulations in conformity with the Charter.

The Federal Government made a commitment to the promotion of the rule of law. The practical effect of this commitment has not been fully realised largely because of the inability of this government to translate the rule of law ideals into practical benefit to the people. An illustrative example would be the state of the justice sector and the depressing controversies that still plague re-run elections. The genuineness of the government’s commitment to the rule of law is further questioned by government’s failure more than one year after coming to office to ratify the Charter on Democracy; a document that provides a roadmap and celebrates the principles of a rule of law state.

The reluctance of Nigeria to ratify this document is reflective of the lukewarm attitude towards the charter exhibited by leaders around Africa. The Charter needs 15 ratifications to come into effect. One year down the line no country in Africa has ratified this charter. The question that readily comes to mind is “why adopt the Charter if there is no intention of ratifying it?

Nigeria need not delay further in ratifying this important document. Our avowed commitment to the rule of law and dark history of military dictatorship requires enthused spirit towards the ratification of this charter. Our duty as a rule of law country extends beyond ratification. We need to champion the campaign of promoting this Charter around Africa.

The uniqueness of this charter and the timing of its adoption provides solid base in reshaping the Africa rule of law landscape. The charter holds a promise of liberation to millions of Africa who have been subjugated by dictatorial and insensitive leadership. It provides a hard law to address the centuries of hardship visited on African by self professed messiah who act like they have a divine ownership of the seat of power. The Charter proclaims a new dawn of democracy rooted in the rule of law.

The Nigerian Bar Association has been working on the regional promotion of rule of law and human rights. The NBA recently joined the Africa Democracy Forum committed to promoting democracy in Africa. The Charter represents for the Bar the fundamental document for the promotion of rule of law in Africa. In a letter sent to the Foreign Affairs Minister, the NBA argues that there is a moral responsibility on this government to ratify and domesticate the Charter.

The Charter represents our date with history. Now is the time for our government to give practical content to its professed commitment to the rule of law.