Ade Adesomoju, Olaleye Aluko and Oladimeji Ramon
A human rights advocacy group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has called on the United Nations to prevail upon President Muhammadu Buhari to put a stop to wilful disobedience of court judgments by his government. The organisation, in a petition dated May 11, 2018, to the UN, lamented the Federal Government’s habit of picking and choosing court judgments to obey.
It expressed concern that if not checked, a situation where the Federal Government wilfully disobeyed court judgments would ultimately “put the rule of law in Nigeria under siege.”
The letter, signed by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, was addressed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mr Diego García-Sayán.
SERAP urged García-Sayán to use his good offices to prevail upon President Buhari to ensure the sanctity of the country’s constitution as well as respect for the country’s international obligations.
Among others, SERAP noted that the Federal Government had so far refused to obey the court judgment ordering the release of the leader of the Shi’ite movement, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenatu, who have been in military detention since December 2015.
It noted also that despite a court judgment, a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), was still being detained in prison custody.
Besides these, SERAP noted that it had got two different judgments against the Federal Government, which the Buhari administration had continued to disobey.
It said, “Other court orders that the government continue to disobey include: the ECOWAS court judgment ordering the Nigerian authorities to provide free and quality education to all Nigerian children without discrimination; the rulings by the Nigerian courts ordering the authorities to establish education banks to assist poor students to obtain loans to pursue tertiary education and the restoration of people’s bank to give loans without collateral to underprivileged citizens.
“At least two of the court rulings SERAP recently obtained from the Federal High Court have been disobeyed by the Nigerian authorities. The first involves a case with suit number FHC/IKJ/CS/248/2011 delivered in March 2016 where Justice Mohammed Idris ordered the Federal Government of Nigeria to widely publish details on the spending of recovered stolen funds by successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999.
“The details ordered to be published by the court include: detailed information on the total amount of recovered stolen public assets that have so far been recovered by Nigeria; the amount that has been spent from the recovered stolen public assets and the objects of such spending; and the details of projects on which recovered stolen public assets were spent.
“The second court judgment involves a case with suit number FHC/CS/964/2016 delivered in July 2017 where Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari ordered the government to tell Nigerians the circumstances under which allegedly recovered stolen assets were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official.
“However, the Nigerian authorities would seem to have only partially obeyed the court orders in this case. The authorities are not known to have appealed any of these court judgments and rulings.
“Under both the Nigerian constitution and international human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, everyone is entitled to the right to an effective remedy, and to seek justice in courts in cases of violations of human rights.”
SERAP warned that continued disobedience of court judgments and rulings would undermine “the crucial role of the judiciary in combating corruption and obstruct access to justice, contrary to international standards, including Article 11 of the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”
FG has no reason to disobey judgment – CACOL
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday, the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Mr Debo Adeniran, shared in SERAP’s concern, particularly as regards El-Zakzaky.
Adeniran said, “It is not right for the Federal Government to disobey court orders even if it is a drunken judge that delivered the judgment, it should be obeyed. Once a court gives a judgment, if it is not immediately appealed and there is no stay of execution of the judgment, there is no reason for the government to disobey it.
“They claim to be keeping El-Zakzaky in protective custody, but if he says he does not need government’s protection, it is uncharitable for them to continue to keep him.”
Falana hails SERAP, spanks FG
Also, a human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), on Sunday, described the effort by SERAP to institute a case against the Federal Government at the United Nations as commendable.
Falana who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone secured the yet-to-be-obeyed December 2, 2016 judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja ordering the release of El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeinab, from the custody of the DSS.
He noted that it was embarrassing that a government that promised to end impunity and with at least 12 of its cabinet members being lawyers, including two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, in the persons of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, could be treating court orders with “absolute disdain.”
While urging the Nigerian Bar Association to take up the challenge of fighting against the ugly trend, he recalled that a former NBA President, the late Alao Aka-Bashorun, led lawyers to boycott courts to protest against the then military regime’s flouting of court orders.
He said, “It is a very commendable effort. Since the government has shown unprecedented contempt for our courts, the United Nations will have to intervene to remind the government of its obligation to operate under the rule of law.
“It is particularly embarrassing that the government that promised to end impunity would treat valid and subsisting court orders with absolute disdain.
“It is more embarrassing that there are no fewer than 12 lawyers, including the Vice-President and the Attorney-General of the Federation, who are Senior Advocates of Nigeria, in the government. It means two of the cabinet members are SANs.
“I do hope that the Nigerian Bar Association would take up the challenge. Under a military dictator, Nigerian lawyers, under the leadership of the late Comrade Alao Aka-Bashorun of blessed memory, boycotted courts to protest against government’s disobedience of court orders.”
We’re in military democracy – CD, CDHR
Also, two civil society organisations, the Campaign for Democracy and Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, have condemned the Federal Government’s continual disobedience of court orders, noting that such amounted to “executive recklessness and a military democracy.”
The CD President, Usman Abdul, said the civil society stood with the SERAP’s UN petition, noting that the Federal Government, by its continual disobedience of court orders, was taking Nigeria back to the military era.
Abdul said, “This disobedience shows that the dictatorship in the military era is playing out in this government. The President should be aware that these cases of disobedience will not go in vain. Therefore, the CD will join other groups to seek redress of justice at whatever level.
“We are not in a lawless country and so we expect this government to abide by the core values of democratic ethics. It is baffling that the Federal Government wants to be a judge in its own cases and undermine the judiciary. This is not in tandem with the principle of separation of powers. As investigations continue, the government ought to obey the court orders and release these persons.”
Also, the CDHR President, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “It is completely condemnable that the Federal Government has refused to obey several court orders regarding the release of El-Zakzaky and Dauski.
“Section 287 of the 1999 Constitution states that the government is bound by the decisions of the court and obligated to implement them. So, it is a constitutional duty. To refuse to do that is to show executive recklessness and impunity.” (Punch)