Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BSAN) and the Sultan of Sokoto, yesterday weighed in on the recent invasion of an Abuja courtroom and the rising cases of disobedience to court order, which they described as recipe for anarchy.
They spoke just as the Senate has resolved to probe the incident.
BSAN called on President Muhammadu Buhari to set up a Judicial Commission of Enquiry to probe into the alleged invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja, by operatives of Department of State Services (DSS).
The body said the event was troubling, particularly the audacity with which some of the actors stormed the courtroom.
“They exposed our hallmark of indiscipline to the whole world in a matter of seconds. The way out is an independent commission of enquiry under the law. This can be achieved.
“The Body of Senior Advocates hereby demands that Mr President considers without delay, the setting up of a judicial commission of enquiry to hear publicly and determine the perpetrators of the acts, their sponsors and their objectives,” Mr. T. J. Onomigho Okpoko (SAN) said in a paper he presented on behalf of the group at the valedictory court session in honour of Justice Kumai Akaahs, who retired as a justice of the Supreme Court, yesterday.
The DSS had on Friday, allegedly invaded the Court of Justice Ifeoma Ojukwu in a bid to rearrest the co-convener of RevolutionNow and presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the February 2019 general election, Omoyele Sowore.
Mr. Okpoko, who spoke on behalf of the Chairman of the body, Chief Richard Akinjide, went down the memory lane saying judiciary enjoyed respect, honour and dignity.
“Treasonable felony is a grave crime in the statute book but there is nothing special about it. Chief Obafemi Awolowo and others were once charged and tried for it. So, Sowore is not the first to be so accused. He will certainly have his day in court.
“The troubling aspect of the incident is the audacity with which some of the actors entered the courtroom vi et armis. They thus exposed our hallmark of indiscipline to the whole world in a matter of seconds…
“As I speak, no one has owned up to be responsible for what everyone saw on the television screen. The question is now, how can we curb that kind of behaviour in the future? The NBA has come up with statement from the Bar condemning the action. As members of the NBA, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria associate itself with the condemnation of the show of shame.
“It’ll, however, go one step further to suggest that this matter should not be swept under the expanding carpet of deceit in Nigeria. The pertinent question is who was responsible for the action in the courtroom?
“This is a task that the government must carry out to ascertain the truth. The Nigeria Police is a sister agency to DSS, they cannot, therefore, investigate this matter, so also the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Custom and other paramilitary forces in the country. The National Assembly is not sufficiently equipped to investigate the matter.
“The way out is an Independent Commission of Enquiry under the law. This can be achieved. The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria hereby demands that Mr. President considers without delay, the setting up of a Judicial Commission of Enquiry to hear publicly and determine the perpetrators of the acts, their sponsors and their objectives. Unless this is done, Nigerians are unlikely to be convinced by any other explanations that the act was not the work of the DSS.
“It is result of any such Judiciary enquiry that will lead to the re-establishment of discipline in the society. The DSS and its officers are not above the laws of the land and the constitution. In Nigerian law and in the common law, the superior orders is no defence to a criminal conduct. It has never been and this administration must not allow it to be.
BSAN recalled that in the days before the military coup in the 1966, “the judiciary was accorded the highest recognition and honour in Nigeria. Judges were well respected and held high in all circles of the society.
“Their orders were respected and obeyed by everyone including the colonial government at all levels. There were clear signs of a disciplined society where the rule of law flourished to a great extent, and the rights of citizens were respected and upheld.
“The society today is one where indiscipline has taken firm root such that judgments and orders of court are now treated with disdain. The measure of value in our country has changed. Name, honour and good reputation no longer count. As such, what counts nowadays is wealth and political power no matter how they are procured. The honour and dignity of judicial officers have been relegated to the background.”
He lamented that “desperate politicians are mounting roadblocks on the path of the rule of law. They are doing all within their power to replace the rule of law with their own selfish interest.”
While noting that the 1999 constitution recognises the judiciary as the third arm of government to which judicial powers of the nation is vested to, Okpoko stated that “a country that does not respect its judiciary cannot qualify as a democratic country.
“It has been clearly stated by our predecessors in the profession of law that the judiciary is undoubtedly the weakest of the three arms of government under the constitution. It has no arms or weapons and controls no force and does not hold the key to the nation’s treasury. Save for the interpretation of the status made by the Legislature, the Judiciary plays no part in enactment of laws.
“By the constitutional arrangement of the country, the only power left to the judiciary is to decide matters in issue and make appropriate orders. Limited in its powers, the Judiciary remains the unbreakable pillar of the nation. The Judiciary was in place in colonial times and it continued thereafter. When the military intervened it did not abolish the Judiciary all they tried to do was try to coerce but it failed.
Also commenting, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) expressed worry over the persistent disobedience and flouting of court orders.
President of the association, Paul Usoro (SAN) warned that if the trend is not addressed, it would lead to anarchy.
“We desecrate the temple of Justice when we blatantly flout and disobey the orders of courts. A court that is made to be helpless in the face of flagrant disobedience of its orders is as useful to society as a toothless bulldog is to owner. No one fears a bulldog that is known to be toothless; it has no capacity even if it has the will, to keep away a marauding army or a band of Invaders.
“That is the picture of our courts we paint and broadcast, both within and to the outside world, when we brazenly flout and disobey court orders. In the process, we disrobe the court and make a mockery of its toga as the last hope if the common man or of any man at all.
“We thereby enthrone anarchy and promote the practice of self-help and the doctrine of might and brute force being always right. That slide into the abyss of anarchy and disorder must be arrested immediately and before it is too late. Our governments must take the lead in that regard. They must be exemplary in obeying and complying with court orders.
“Beyond appealing to the good conscience and sense of responsibility of litigants and Nigerian principalities generally, we urge the courts to demonstrate that they are not toothless in sanctioning persons who flagrantly disobey and flout court orders.
“Our courts are not entirely helpless in this regard; they are remedies in our Rules and statutes. Such persons, for example, must not have continued audience before the courts that they so flagrantly denigrate. They need to be denied audience before any and all courts during the pendency of their contemptuous conduct.
“They need to know that disobedience of court orders can be, and is costly. This requires the collaboration and cooperation of all courts in the land led by our apex court and My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria. We must collectively promote and protect the rule of law by ensuring obedience and compliance with court orders.”