By Emmanuel Onwubiko
THE enduring beauty of democracy as practised in civilised climes is the institutional framework put in place to ensure that nobody is above the law. In those climes, the supremacy of the constitution is not merely uttered by mouth but applies in all aspects of their national lives.
Checks and balances are effective and because absolute power corrupts absolutely, no individual is clothed with such unwholesome power that such a person can afford to arrogate to himself the power to undo the constitution.
Few months back, a certain Federal Court in a remote part of the United States of America issued a mandatory judgment invalidating the Presidential order put into place by the President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump, which sought to exclude visitors from seven largely Moslem nations from visiting the USA.
The swiftness with which the United States’ President obeyed the verdict even when he holds a diametrically opposed position and indeed strong view against that judgment which frustrated his plot to implement one of his cardinal electoral promises, remains the clearest indicator that democracy is working in America.
The Congress is such an independent institution that has the capacity to sanction the holder of the office of President should he decide otherwise not to follow extant antecedents, practices and principles to obey the validly issued order of a competent court of law.
Another instance of how democracy works when the decisions of the courts are respected by holders of executive or Presidential powers is United Kingdom (with parliamentary system of government in place) when the Supreme Court ordered the parliament to conduct a congressional vote before Article 50 could be triggered to begin the exit of Great Britain from the European Union.
The British parliament which was the defendant in the suit filed by a private citizen immediately complied with the order of the highest court of the land.
On the corollary, the weakest link of the sort of distorted democracy that is practised in most of Africa and Nigeria particularly is the absence of strong institutional mechanisms for compelling the executive arm of government to play by the rule of the democratic game by complying with binding court orders or judgments.
To make matters worse, the parliamentarians are mostly made up of politicians who lack the strong will to use the constitutional powers of impeachment enshrined in section 143 of the Constitution against the head of the executive branch of government for serial breaches of binding judgments and orders of the courts of competent jurisdiction which, to all intents and purposes, amounts to gross misconduct or even high treason. The judiciary itself has so far failed to exercise its internal strength to force the enforcement of the judgments made by Courts.
The ease with which some judges fraternize with and grant wee hour ex parte orders to some security agencies whose heads clearly have no modicum of respect for the judicial institution tells a lot about the inner decadence within the judicial system that must be dealt with.
Since some judges of high courts, especially in Abuja are in the habit of granting ex parte injunctions authorising prolonged and extra-constitutional detention of accused persons, it makes the judiciary a laughing stock before the Presidency, thereby emboldening the President to persistently disobey court orders in favour of persons perceived as his enemies.
Some judges are also guilty of not showing strong will to refuse to entertain cases from the executive that fails to comply with decisions of competent courts of law.
Aside the judges, the body of lawyers in Nigeria has the power to put pressure on the executive arm of government to obey the courts but right now the Nigeria Bar Association is itself in breach of a judgment of a federal high court annuling the legal foundation upon which the election that swept the council members of NBA at the national level into office was based.
Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, whose headship of the private bar is facing tough legal battle, has so far refused to vacate office even when a Federal High Court said the amendments done to the NBA’s constitution, which brought them into office, is null and avoid.
The leader of the public bar who is the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has also failed to compel his boss, the President, to respect the various court verdicts which the President has so far breached such as the plethora of court orders asking that immediate past National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, and leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheikh Ibrahim El-zakzaky be freed.
And because the NBA under Mr. Mahmoud faces ethical and legal dilemma, the NBA disciplinary committee that ought to sanction the Federal Attorney General and possibly strip him of the prestigious title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, seems to have gone into functional slumber. This is tragic.
Sadly, the Presidency has tried to justify the illegality of flouting the competent orders of the Courts of competent jurisdictions by manufacturing some unbelievably untenable excuses.
But try as the Presidency did, the nakedness and ugliness of these flagrant disobedience of the court verdicts and by extension the impeachable offence of disobedience to Section 6 of the Constitution is beginning to show on the faces of some of these officials and security forces generally who are actually detaining these Nigerians.
What kind of dishonesty is this when Garba Shehu one of the many spokespersons of President Muhammadu Buhari said his boss won’t release the duo of Colonel Dasuki and El-zakzaky because of other cases and for protective custody due to insecurity in Zaria whereby the leader of Islamic Movement of Nigeria ought to have returned?
Even as some of the executive supporters such as Prof. Itse Sagay and Mr. Femi Falana have begun asking their friends in the executive arm of government to obey the court orders, it is still shameful that both the legislative and judicial arms of government have stood by without doing anything to stop the sacrilegious disobedience of court judgments by the Federal Government.
This is an invitation to anarchy which has for long been foretold by an erudite Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Justice Niki Tobi.
Let us see how some justices see or view disobedience of court judgments by the President.
To be concluded tomorrow
Onwubiko is head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria