The Balogun Market Imbroglio  

SONNIE EKWOWUSI examines the legal tango between the Balogun Business Association, Lagos (BBA) and some members  

To assert that we are presently witnessing the summit of the steady and progressive deterioration of all that we hold dear in Nigeria is an understatement. Never in the past had our country been so challenged on practically all fronts–politically, socially, culturally, rule of law, governance, intellectually and morally–than now. While terrorists and bandits and continuously and progressively lay siege to different parts of the country, there is a complete collapse of state the machinery for protection of lives and property. Perhaps the best way to put it is that anarchy is loose upon Nigeria at the moment.  

Barbaric abductions, bloodletting, kidnappings, banditries, gun running and so forth now reign supreme in different parts of Nigeria including, for the first time, the hitherto peaceful Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Amid the reign of mayhem in different parts of Nigeria, frustrated and fearful ordinary citizens on social media, in the pulpit, lecturer rooms, marketplaces, stadia and other fora are soberly asking the pertinent question: What does the future hold for us and our children? As far as they are concerned, the future is bleak. As far as they are concerned, there is a betrayal of hope and optimism by those who ought to labour to promote peace and peaceful co-existence in Nigeria.  

The most pathetic aspect is that the judiciary which is supposed to be the last hope of the common man is presently engulfed in a serious crisis of integrity. The National Judicial Commission (NJC), the disciplinary body, which ought to discipline corrupt judges, is seriously ailing and needs urgent redemption. Life Bencher and Chairman Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) Mr. Emmanuel C. Ukala resigned over what he conceived as lack of discipline and undue interference by the Body of Benchers in the activities of the LPDC.   

Meanwhile, flippant abuses of court orders continue unabated in Nigeria.  For example, anybody who has been following the multiple law suits between the Balogun Business Association, Lagos (BBA) and some members over the last few years could readily attest to the serial abuses of court orders and disobedience to court orders by these disgruntled members of the BBA. The story started two years ago when the incorporated trustees of the BBA brought a lawsuit against these members as well as the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) Abuja.   

Despite being served with the necessary court processes relating to the suits, the CAC cancelled the certificate of the BBA as well as imposed some new officers on the Association. Impelled by the action, the BBA approached the Federal High Court and obtained a court order stopping the implementation of the CAC’s cancellation of the certificate until the determination of the suit. The BBA also filed a stay of execution against the said order after going on appeal. The court processes relating to the Appeal and the stay of execution were duly served on these members.   

Unfortunately, in disobedience to the aforesaid court order and in utter disregard for the court processes relating to the stay of execution and the Appeal duly served on them, these members mobilized more than 300 policemen from Lagos State and Ogun State and proceeded to Balogun Market and attempted to take over the Market and install themselves as the new management of the BBA. But the attempt failed.  

It is trite law that any party who is aware of a court decision against him is obliged to uphold, comply with it or obey it until it is said aside by a court of a court of competent jurisdiction. It is incomprehensible that a group of people can ignore a court order obtained against them and court processes served on them to resort to self-help and over-reaching both the High Court and the Court of Appeal and other litigating parties in the suits. Once a party submits himself to the jurisdiction of a court for the purpose of adjudication of a suit, whatever actual or perceived rights he has or may think he has subsumed under the jurisdiction of the court and the parties must maintain the status quo until the court pronounces on their rights. The party must not dispose of or tamper or attempt to tamper in anyway with the res or the subject matter of the dispute through self-help or otherwise, so as to render the courts decisions on the suit nugatory.   

Specifically in the case of Ezegbu v First African Trust Bank Limited (1992) 1 NWLR (PT. 220) page 699 at 724 the court held: “It is trite law that where a matter is before a court of law, none of the parties can legally or wrongfully take any unilateral action that will prejudice or tend to prejudice the hearing or adjudication of the matter by the court. Parties who have submitted to the jurisdiction of the court are under a legal duty not to do anything to frustrate or make nonsense a possible court order. They must, whether they like it or not, wait for the court order. They must, whether they like it or not, wait for the court to take a decision one way or the other…the parties cannot jump the gun and do their own thing in their own way. That will be tantamount to undermining the integrity of the court”  

Rather than resort to self-help and forceful illegal activity of the Balogun Market, one would have expected the aggrieved traders to seek remedy in a court of law as stipulated in the 1999 Constitution. Resorting to self-help or force in the settlement of disputes is a recipe for anarchy. Consequently, the police hierarchy is humbly advised not to allow the police to be used in settling civil disputes which are already before the courts. The Balogun Market, arguably, is an economic behemoth of the nation. Therefore, anything hampering the Market will hamper the economy.    

These disgruntled members of the BBA should allow peace to reign at the Balogun Market.  They should approach the court to seek remedy, if any. Nothing is gained by resorting to violence. The function of the judiciary as a dispenser of justice, sustainer of good governance and economic growth is endangered by the undermining of the integrity of the court and disobedience to court orders. Our democratic experiment will be aborted by undermining the integrity of the court and resorting to self-help in settling disputes.  

   Ekwowusi writes from Lagos

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