Disobedience to Court Orders: My Opinion vis a vis Solution By Toheeb Mustapha Babalola
The distinguishing hallmark of democracy is the pre-eminence of the rule of law. In the pristine practice of democracy,the rule of law reigns as supreme law and serves as the beacon or bastion of activities by the government and the governed.
There is simply no room for tyranny, arbitrariness, despotism and their ilk in whatever guise, form or tenor. In order to promote rule of law in Nigeria,it is the duty of the judiciary to make decisions, settle disputes between warring parties,interprete the constitution and make orders as enshrined in section 6 generally of the Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
To ensure that there is obedience to court orders, it is provided in the constitution that the decision of the supreme court shall be enforced in any part of the country by all authorities and persons and by all inferior courts. The Courts in plethora of cases has emphasized on the need to obey court orders both under military rule and democratic dispensation.
In view of that, the supreme court,PerUwais,JSC (as he then was) put it thus in Governor of lagos state v. Ojukwu (1986)
“I think I should stress that it is a matter of grave concern that the military government of lagos state should be seen to disregard a lawful order by a court of law. If anyone should be wary of orders of court it is the authorities: for them, more than anyone else, need the application of the rule of law in order to govern properly and effectively.”
Justice Oputa JSC( of blessed memory) also opine in that same case that:
“The court system cannot be maintained without the willingness of parties to abide by the findings and orders of a competent court until reversed on appeal. This presupposes that no party and no court of subordinate or even co-ordinate jurisdiction can say:’I do not like the order made and I will not obey it’. And that is exactly what the Lagos State government is doing in this case and that posture has to be condemned in the strongest terms if we are not to say goodbye to the rule of law.
Justice Nwodo JCA opined in Kalu v FRN.(1990)
” In general, orders of a competent court should not be flagrantly disobeyed. Our nascent democracy and the Constitutional provision enjoins orders of a court to be respected. This is corrolary to strict adherence to the rule of law. Obeying of courts orders is not just legal but also a moral obligation.”
Nnaemeka-Agu,JSC in Hart v Hart , had this to say:
“.…Disobedience to an order of court should therefore be seen as an offence directed not against the personality of the judge who made the order,but as a calculated act of subversion of the peace,law and order of court is therefore a duty which every citizen who believes in peace and stability of the Nigerian state owes to the nation.”
In Amaechi v Inec& 2 ors., The court opined that:
“Before I close this judgement,it is important that I discuss briefly the approach of the respondents to this case.The political parties in Nigeria are the creation of the Constitution. They therefore have an important stake in flying high and loftily the banner the rule of law. In this case,the PDP did not live up to that standard. It did everything possible to subvert the rule of law, frustrate Amaechi and hold the court before the general public as supine and irrelevant. Sadly INEC and Omehia also did the same. I am not complaining about the fact that PDP had followed a wrong approach to substitute one candidate for another. That may as well be put down to a honest mistake as to approach to be followed in doing so.”
In view of the above, it is unfortunate that one of the biggest problems faced by a successful litigant is the disobedience of court orders and judgments which is witnessed in the country today.
The Nigerian Government, its agencies, political parties and even some of the masses have the effrontery not to obey simple court orders and the simple reason for this is the difficulty in bringing to effect the procedure for punishing those offenders.
The solution to this is embarking on the right procedure for committal for civil attempts and in view of this, the right procedure is to serve on the contemptnor Form 48 and Form 49 pursuant to the sheriffs and the Civil Process Act, the procedure is simple and effective and once it is followed up diligently, the contemptnor whether a highly placed government official or a commoner realize the that the game is up and would take steps to obey the order or judgment or find a way of resolving the issue.
It is to be noted that in some cases, it may appear very difficult or extremely difficult to effect personal service of Forms 48 and 49 respectively on certain contemptnors such as highly placed government officials such as IGP, Comptroller Gen. of custom, Ministers or commissioners or other crafty offenders who will ensure he evades service at all cost. The best way to get these individuals is to resort to substituted service. An application made to court in the usual way for an order of substituted service, if the Order is granted, the processes will then be either pasted or published in the newspapers depending on the nature of Order of substituted service granted.
I can assure you no prominent government official will want his name to appear on newspapers with notice of consequences of disobedience of Court Order; such individual will make amends or find a way to accept such service to prevent publicity.
See also the case of A.G Anambra State v. Okeke SC 102/1997
In conclusion, I appeal to all individuals and authorities to always endeavor to obey court orders in order for us to promote rule of law in the country which the Judiciary are vigorously trying to achieve.
God bless Nigeria!
Toheeb Mustapha Babalola is a pupil of law and also a student of faculty of law, Bayero University, Kano.
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