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Addressing the rate of disobedience to court orders

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By Obike Ukoh

On many occasions, concerned citizens in Nigeria have expressed worry about the spate of disobedience to court orders in spite of democratic governance.

They observe that some elements saddled with the responsibility of protecting the law are somewhat found to be abetting disobedience to court orders in some cases.

Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court, Lagos, in his opinion, said “disobedience to court order in the country has become an endemic disease which has eaten deep into the fabric of Nigerian society’’.

According to him, the situation requires urgent attention to restore sanity in the Nigeria judicial system.

Corroborating this viewpoint, Mr Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), recently called for the efforts of all stakeholders at checking the rate of disobedience to court orders.

He insisted that the Bar has a great role to play in that regard, noting that in the past; it was the responsibility of lawyers to ensure that people complied with court orders.

Falana recalled that when the late Mr Alao Aka-Bashorun was the president of the Bar, he directed Nigerian lawyers to protest the disobedience to a court order during a military regime.

“Then, for the first time, Nigerian lawyers went on strike to protest the disobedience to court order; but this day, it has become part of our culture of impunity,’’ he said.

Sharing similar opinion, Gov. Adams Oshiomhole of Edo, challenged members of the Bar to fight against disobedience to court orders.

He said at the opening ceremony of the 2014/2015 Edo Legal Year recently in Benin that disobedience to court orders constituted a threat to the rule of law.

“Every lawyer must endeavour to uphold the law and those that live by the court must not be seen to aid and abet disobedience.

“If senior advocates of Nigeria advise people to disobey court orders, it is a sad thing and if the Bar keeps quiet in the face of such disobedience, then it is a terrible thing for the rule of law.

“If court bailiffs are assaulted in public view and senior advocates and other learned members of the community keep quiet, it is not the best.

“This is because those who may not be affected today may be the people to be affected tomorrow, particularly where the rule of law operates on the basis of precedent.

“The challenge of defending democracy demands that we have not just an independent judiciary, but a courageous judiciary with potent teeth to bite or  smile regardless of those appearing before us,’’ he said.

Observers, however, note that Oshiomhole’s view represents the recent occurrence in Edo House of Assembly where members of the house refused to obey court order that barred them from entering the legislators’ quarters in Benin.

They note that disobedience to court order by the members obviously escalated the crisis in the house.

They recall that the crisis was preceded by the suspension of the Deputy Speaker of the house, Rep. Festus Ebea of All Progressives Congress (APC) and three other members who defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

They also observed that the house leadership secured a Benin High Court order, restraining the defected lawmakers from entering the assembly complex and legislative quarters in Benin but the orders was not obeyed.

According to them, the fallout of the disobedience is that both parties are still in court, the House of Assembly has two speakers and the lawmakers are divided.

Citing a similar example, observers recall that in spite of the order of Jos Federal High Court, barring the conduct of the election of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA), the association recently went ahead to conduct the election.

They note that in disobeying the court order, the Aminu Maigari led faction of the association conducted the election that produced Mr Amaju Pinnick as the NFA chairman.

Stakeholders insist that such practice is worrisome and can cause anarchy if not checked on time.

Mr Sunday Ameh, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), stressed that court judgments should be obeyed always, until they are set aside, saying that “affected parties are under obligation to face the judgment being executed against them.’’

Also, an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr Terkaa Aodoo, said there was no justification to disobey the orders of court.

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