The refusal of law enforcement chiefs to enforce court orders is a recipe for chaos, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
Last week, two high officials of the federal government were convicted of contempt of court because of their wilful disobedience to valid orders of the court. Actually, the convictions were the third in a month.
The hit conviction was that of the baby-faced Usman Baba, the inspector-general of Police, who was sentenced to three months imprisonment by Justice Mobolaji Olajuwon of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja on 29 November 2022 for refusing to enforce the 11-year-old order of Justice Donatus Okorowo made on 21 October 2011.
Just as the sentencing of the IGP made the rounds in the media space, Justice Halim Abdulmalik of the High Court of Niger State in Minna, four days later, ordered the remand, for six days, of Faruk Yusuf, the chief of staff of the Army, also for disobedience to a court order.
Earlier last month, Rasheed Bawa, chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, made the headlines when he was convicted by Justice Chizoba Oji of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja for contempt of the 2018 order made by the court. He was to stay in prison custody until he purged himself of contempt.
The courts, in all the cases, ordered the IGP to enforce their judgements. None of the orders was enforced. Of course, the IGP after failing to arrest and take Bawa into custody could not possibly take himself to prison nor did he have the moral basis to take in Yusuf. It is, however, unfortunate that those who are saddled with the responsibility of law enforcement have not only neglected to do so but have also become a danger to law enforcement through their misconduct.
“It is unfortunate that the chief enforcer of the law is one who has deliberately refused to comply with the same law,” Justice Olajuwon said in the judgement on Baba, pointing out that, “It is important to state that obedience to orders of the court is fundamental to the good order, peace and stability of a nation.”
The judge’s tongue-lashing of the IGP speaks to the general tendency of high government officials to set aside rules and act in accordance with their whims. All the instant cases point to this contempt for the application of rules. The IGP, for instance, got into trouble because of an officer, Patrick Okoli, who was compulsorily retired from service in 1992. Dissatisfied with the procedure for his retirement, the officer complained to the Police Service Commission, the body charged with the responsibility for the welfare, discipline and promotion of officers.
It took Okoli 17 years to receive some form of justice from the commission, which directed his reinstatement in May 2009. But the Police management under the command of the IGP ignored the commission’s directive, forcing the estranged officer to approach the court for redress. Two years later, Justice Okorowo handed him judgement, ordering his reinstatement in accordance with the PSC directive of 2009 and awarded him N10 million as compensation. Again, this was ignored for 11 years.
Rather than seek the discharge of the contempt order as Bawa did, Baba’s response was to issue a lame statement through Olumuyiwa Adejobi, a chief superintendent and Force public relations officer, to plead ignorance of the 2011 judgement. Of course, this is a lie as the judgement of Justice Olajuwon shows.
“This court has bent backwards over and over again for the respondent (the IGP),” the judge said, explaining, “This court even ordered the Assistant Chief Registrar (Litigation) to write to the respondent to inform him of the pendency of this matter, which he did and the proof of receipt of same in the office of the respondent is before this court.”
Yusuf, on his part, has remained silent over his conviction even as he, like Baba, remains in continuous contempt of the court. This aberrant behaviour of law enforcement officers rudely undermines the rule of law and questions the basis of their own institutions that are charged with ensuring that citizens comply with the law.
More disappointing, however, has been the silence of Abubakar Malami, the attorney-general of the federation and minister of Justice, who is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with and enforcement of judgements of courts by the 1999 Constitution as altered. Although someone said he appeared to be more interested in settling financial disputes between states and commercial entities, like the Paris Club refund row between governors and a consortium of consultants, it remains a clear dereliction of his duty for this wilful disobedience to persist.
In a way though, the security chiefs’ misconduct is part of the general tendency of the executive arm of government to bully and undermine the other arms. The refusal to implement court judgements is in the same category as the habitual failure of ministries, departments and agencies of government to honour summons by the National Assembly over audit queries.
Earlier this week, the Senate threatened to withhold the 2023 Capital Budget of 100 MDAs until they answer the queries raised against them by the Auditor-General of the Federation. This was in response to the complaint by Matthew Urhoghide, chairman of the Senate Public Accounts Committee, who reported the recalcitrant attitude of these agencies of the executive arm to explain the gaps in their accounting.
Top on the list of the deviant agencies is the State House, which is the administrative arm of the president’s office; the Presidential Fleet, which handles the aircraft of the president and incurs humongous amounts on maintenance; the Police Affairs; the Nigerian Intelligence Agency, Nigerian Airforce; and Ministry of Petroleum.
Obviously under pressure from his colleagues, Ahmad Lawan, president of the Senate, a self-confessed lap dog of President Muhammadu Buhari, had to issue the threat that all defaulting agencies would not have the estimates approved until they honour the legislative summons.
It is really unfortunate, as Justice Olajuwon pointed out, that those saddled with the responsibility for maintaining law and order are the very persons undermining public order. This is particularly so when the account is taken of the fact that several parts of the country are under the siege of criminal non-state actors who have turned the polity into a huge crime scene.
To have law enforcement officers and government institutions misconduct themselves the way they do is nothing but a sure recipe for chaos. This must stop. Baba and Yusuf, therefore, must utilise the appropriate legal channels available under the law to vacate those convictions instead of remaining in contempt of courts of competent jurisdiction.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from firstname.lastname@example.org