During the public presentation of the report, SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare highlighted some of the court judgments which his organisation had secured against the federal government but which no action has been taken to implement.
According to him, “The first of such judgments is the judgment by Justice Hadiza Shagari delivered on July 5, 2017 ordering the federal government to tell Nigerians about the stolen asset it allegedly recovered, with details of the amounts recovered.
“The second judgment, by Justice Mohammed Idris, on February 26, 2016 ordered the federal government to publish details on the spending of stolen funds recovered by successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999.
The third judgment by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo on November, 26, 2019 ordered the federal government to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly to collect such pensions, and to recover pensions already collected by them. The fourth judgment, by Justice Mohammed Idris on May 28, 2018, ordered the federal government to prosecute senior lawmakers suspected of padding and stealing N481 billion from the 2016 budget; and to widely publish the report of investigations into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget.
The fifth judgment by Justice Chuka Obiozor on July 4, 2019 ordered the federal government to publish the names of companies and contractors who collected public funds since 1999 but failed to execute any electricity projects. These judgments and many others by the courts have remained unchallenged till date and the federal government has refused to obey them.”
Litany of other court judgments
Aside from the judgments enumerated by SERAP, the federal government has also demonstrated a similar attitude towards other judgments and orders of the court. For instance, on many occasions, the federal government refused to release former National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki, after the court had granted him bail.
The federal government also refused to obey court orders granting bail to Ibrahim El Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, and wilfully disregarded the rule of law by continuing to detain him long after the court granted him bail.
The federal government in another instance disobeyed the orders of the Federal High Court in Abuja on the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu’s bail and access by his legal team and family members. Justice Binta Nyako had to question the Department of State Security, DSS on such disregard at a time, yet the situation remained the same.
SERAP warns of consequences
Giving insight of the implications of the federal government’s continued disobedience to court judgments, Oludare warned that the country stands at a dangerous point if such action is allowed to continue.
He said: “The failure and/or refusal to enforce and implement legally binding judgments of the court is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.
“It is unacceptable to take the court, which is the guardian of justice in this country, for a ride. A democratic state based on the rule of law cannot exist or function if the government routinely ignores and/or fails to abide by court orders.
“The persistent and deliberate disobedience of judges’ decisions would, ultimately, shatter citizens’ confidence and trust in the ability of the justice system to render justice for victims of corruption and human rights violations.
Addressing the issues raised by SERAP, the federal government recently took a swipe at the NGO accusing it of engaging in what it referred to as publicity stunts by bringing spurious suits against President Muhammadu Buhari.
Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu did not address the issue of government’s disobedience to court but rather said despite filing numerous suits against the president of the country, the group has not managed to pursue any of it to the conclusion.
He said while SERAP sponsors are unknown, it had continued to sue President Buhari over a range of issues including human rights abuses.
FG’s action, dent on democracy —Ubani
Reacting to government’s aparthy to court judgments, Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law, NBA-SPIDEL, Dr. Monday Ubani said disobedience to court judgments by the federal government, is a dent on democracy.
He said: “Every government in Nigeria has always disobeyed court orders and trample upon the rule of law with impunity. Our thinking was that Buhari’s government that promised change would have been different but that is not the situation.
“The present government has surpassed previous governments in disobeying Court orders and trampling on the rule of law. We have lost count in the number of court orders they have disobeyed. In disobeying court orders, the present government does not do itself any good as the records are there for future use and will remain a permanent dent to those who operated our democracy within the time in question. They still have enough time to change their behaviour and cleanse the negative image they have created for themselves in their penchant for disobeying court orders.”
Govt afraid of critical voices —Evans
Executive Director Cadrell Advocacy Centre, Evans Ufeli said Federal Government’s continuous involvement in disobeying court judgment and clamping down on critical voices is a brazen display of a lack of understanding of the principles and tenets of democracy.
He said: “Rule of law is the hallmark of democracy and obedience to court order sets the country on the part of socio-economic development and rule of law. It’s quite saddening that this government has adopted gangsterism as a social objective.
The consequence of this is that the judicial institution as sacred as it ought to be has been forced into carnality by a government that actually benefited from the rule of law and a judicial system they now chose to destroy. Government must stop desecrating our democracy and live up to expectations of the led or leave the stage for those who can do the job.
“Every society has arrays of critical voices and the intention is to keep the government on its toes and direct their attention to critical issues that must be addressed. You cannot shoot people down when their actions are derived from a right to convey to them constitutionally.
FG’s action encouraging impunity—Awe
Also speaking on the issue, Babatunde Awe said: “The law is very clear that no matter how perverse a party perceives a court’s decision to be, it must be obeyed. The implications for state actors refusing to obey court orders are profound. Locally, it encourages and entrenches impunity and internationally, it sounds a message that the government is untrustworthy and consequently dangerous and uncertain to deal with.
“This is unhealthy for our overall national development and we have seen huge FDI diversion to less economically viable countries by virtue of the mistrust of our state inclinations to honour obligations. On the disturbing issue of unabated clampdown on voices of criticism, the government must understand that the cornerstone of democracy is the tolerance of dissent. Democracy cannot prosper or even exist where legitimately dissident voices are silenced with impunity.”
Nigeria sliding towards autocracy —Ojo
Senior lawyer Gbenga Ojo warned that Nigeria is gradually sliding into autocracy with government disobedience to court judgments. He said: “This is very unfortunate. It is the duty of the government to obey the judgment of the court. If the government is not satisfied with the judgment, the remedy is to appeal. This is where the Attorney General comes in.
“Though now a member of the executive, he is first and foremost, a legal practitioner who has a duty to ensure that the judgment of the court is obeyed by the government he is serving. This issue is a blot on our democratic governance of this country. Nigeria is gradually sliding towards autocracy as against democracy.”
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