The Courts as shopping malls

The Courts as shopping malls

Tuesday, August 6, 2019 12:35 pm


Owei Lakemfa

By Owei Lakemfa
Politicians in uniform became the sole authority in the country from December 31, 1983. They removed the elected executive and planted themselves in power. They abolished the legislature, but retained the judiciary  to do their bidding or punish their enemies . For those who did not agree with their policies, there was Decree 2 of 1984 under which people were detained  indefinitely  without trial.
To disagree with government policies  like the Transition Programme was heretical. So when  patriots like the legendary Michael Imoudu, Wahab Goodluck and Gani Fawehinmi disagreed with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and decided to hold a seminar on it, they were detained without trial. Court orders were not obeyed, and even to ask that the regimes obey their own laws, was  seen as treasonable acts.
The jurisdiction of the courts was ousted on many matters  and the regimes  refused to obey court orders or judgements. Those courageous enough to stand up against the military anarchy, characterized  the  refusal to obey court orders as  “Executive lawlessness”
Tired of this, in 1987,  Alao Aka-Bashorun, a 57-year old lawyer with a 32-year experience at the bar decided to contest for the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) presidency with a promise to restore some sanity. Of course the military continued in its old style and not many thought anything could  be done about it. That was until the military government of old Gongola State  disobeyed a court order. The Aka-Bashorun leadership mobilized lawyers to boycott the courts and shut them down. A shocked Babangida regime thought it was unfair; it argued that the lawyers strike should have been limited to the courts in the affected state and not nationwide. But the lawyers  stuck to to guns and told  the  regime it was at liberty to abolish the judiciary, but until it does so, court orders must be obeyed.
At this time, a young Nigerian, Abubakar Malami was approaching his 21st birthday and clawing through education to achieve his ambition to join the legal profession. From this larva stage, he emerged  a lawyer in 1991.
Aka-Bashourun despite his brilliance, sacrifices, fifty years in practice and  being one of the best lawyers in our history, was never conferred with the prestigious title of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) But young Malami had quite a rapid growth; in sixteen years of practice, he became  a SAN, and  a leading politician.
Malami was  a Member of the  Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP)  Legal Team in the 2003 Election Petition, the Legal Adviser of the  defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC)  Member of the  All Progressives Congress (APC) Constitution Sub-Committee  in June 2014 and  gubernatorial aspirant of the APC. In 2015,  he was  appointed Justice Minister and Attorney General of the Federation.
Perhaps in recognizing the struggles of lawyers like Aka-Bashorun and the depths we have come as a country, Malami declared:  “The immediate desire of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation is the enforcement of our laws to confine impunity to the past.”  Ironically, it is for  impunity, Malami has become better known.
He enmeshed his office in a lot of  controversy including romancing a fugitive and giving him security protection. This  re-opened the debate whether the Office of the Attorney General  should not be separated from that of the Minister of Justice so that the former can be professionally run and the latter given to politicians who may be lawyers.
Perhaps the most controversial cases of impunity are those of former National Security Adviser, retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki and Shiite leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky who  have been held for four years despite repeated court orders granting them bail.
The first  judgement on the cleric was given by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja who dismissed government  arguments and warned that: “If the applicant dies in custody which I do not pray for, it could result in many needless deaths”. He ordered that  the government should within 45 days release El-Zakzaky and his wife and  pay them a fine of N25 million each. Four years later, the couple is still in detention.
Malami who has consistently rejected all court orders on Dasuki and  El-Zakzaki, was reappointed  a Minister in July. Not a few expected the Senate which has the constitutional responsibility to screen ministerial nominees, to take him through a drill.  Malami went before the Senate  and declared in the manner of a magistrate which he used to be, that the: “AGF is meant to protect public interest and where the individual interests conflicts with the public interest of 180 million Nigerians that are interested in having this country integrated, must naturally prevail…” Rather than take him up, an obviously impressed Senate asked Malami to take a bow and go. It confirmed him. The House of Representatives also debated the various court orders releasing the EL-Zakzakis and shot down motions by Honourables  Herman Hembe and Linda  Ikpeazu asking government to release them.
It is quite a spectacle that law makers would urge the executive not to obey court orders or be guided by the country’s laws and  constitution.
The judiciary joined the onslaught against human and constitutional rights in the country when on  July 26, Justice Nkeonye Maha of the Federal High Court, Abuja proscribed  the Shiites Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) She  designated the IMN  activities “as acts of terrorism and illegality.” Ironically, while the government has for four years refused to obey the court orders on  El-Zakzaki, it is the IMN that has insisted it does so.
So the Movement in fighting that court orders be obeyed, should be a friend of the court. I thought the judicial mantra is: “He who comes to equity, must come with clean hands” In this case, the hands of the government drip with the blood of the Shiites murdered for demanding the enforcement of court orders, yet it gets judgement against the victims.
Under Nigeria’s home grown democracy, court orders and judgements  have become  like shopping malls where the executive picks and chooses which to obey, which to disobey. Of course, there are reasons or excuses adduced for these including an elastic  definition of “Public  Interest” and “National Security”  The courts are not allowed to determine these; the executive is too busy for such matters; rather, like a superior court, it simply overrides the decisions of the  courts.
Nigeria is a model  democracy in which the Minister of Justice, standing in the sacred groove  of the Senate, and legislators in the hallowed  chambers of the House of Representatives, would pronounce that the Executive has the right to disobey court orders, and the judiciary concurs. Such harmony of the three arms of government is surely unique and I recommend it to other climes.
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