Disobedience to court orders constitutes threat to the rule of law

If there is anything that the current administration is increasingly being notorious for, it is in the manner it disregards court orders. Former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as well as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) Leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife have all, at different times, secured judgments to be admitted to bail. All the orders have been ignored.

What is more worrisome is that, apparently taking a cue from the federal government, several state governments have also now adopted the habit of ignoring court orders such that today, there are over 100 of such judicial decisions that are being disregarded by the various elected governments in the country. In many of the cases, the Attorneys-General (including SANs) have filed appeals and motions for stay of execution just to circumvent the law.

To the extent that Section 287 of the constitution which the president, governors, ministers and legislators swore to uphold has imposed a binding duty on all authorities and persons to obey the judgments of our courts, the flagrant disobedience to court orders constitutes the greatest threat to the rule of law. The silence of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to this dangerous trend is even more disturbing against the background that the NBA once boycotted courts to protest the flouting of a single court order by a military regime in the 1980s.

Asked last year why the federal government was holding on to Dasuki and Kanu despite meeting bail conditions, President Buhari said: “If you see the atrocities these people committed against this country, we can’t allow them to jump bail. We cannot allow that… And the one you are calling Kanu, do you know he has two passports – one Nigerian, one British – and he came into this country without any passport? Do you know he came into this country with sophisticated equipment and was broadcasting for Radio Biafra?”

This recourse to self help has elicited condemnations from several Nigerians, including Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka. “If a court grants an individual bail, I don’t care what crime the individual is accused of,” said Soyinka. “There are many avenues for security agencies to pursue their quest without flouting the orders of the court. It is wrong, and we dare not continue to keep silent when one of us – a citizen of this nation, whether militarised or civilianised – is granted bail by the court and some excuse is given for flouting the order of the court. That is the only arbitration avenue that belongs to all of us. We must put an end to this contempt of the orders of the court by any government”.

We agree with Soyinka because the federal government cannot continue to trample on the law. But the judiciary must also purge itself of bad behaviour. For instance, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Dahiru Musdapher, once decried the slow dispensation of justice in the country while expressing regrets that some judges intentionally disobeyed court rules by not sitting at the statutory time, thereby contributing to the slow pace of justice.

Besides, a situation where courts of concurrent jurisdiction would give conflicting orders on the same matter, where politicians will not only buy “justice” but boast about it to opponents, where judges are available to be used by the same government expected to obey their orders, where some senior lawyers write judgments for some judges to adopt, do not help to encourage respect for the judiciary.

However, nothing can justify the current situation where the federal government would wilfully disregard court orders, and thus setting bad examples for the states to follow. It has dire implications for the sustenance of our democracy.