The Illegality of Mobile Courts in Nigeria – By Douglas Ogbankwa, Esq.
Section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) puts the Judicial Powers of the Federation on the different Judicial Bodies created by Law. Before any Court can function it must derive its power from an existing Law.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal, The High Courts of States, the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were all specifically created by the relevant Sections of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended ).
The Magistrate Courts, Customary Courts, the Elections Tribunals, the Investment and Security Tribunal, Census Appeal Tribunal, Tax Appeal Tribunal and even the the Judiciary Panels of Enquiry of the different States of Nigeria are creations of different enabling Laws of those States, which specifically created them.
In the said Laws, there is a specific section that says There shall be a …Court/Tribunal/Panel That is what essentially confers such Courts/Tribunals/Panels with Jurisdiction to adjudicate over any Matter. The Law that creates a Court delimitates the Jurisdiction of the Court and jurisdiction is intrinsic to adjudication. It is the live wire of adjudication and the essence upon which the power of the Court Rests. For this proposition See APC v. Engr. Suleiman Aliyu Lere (2020) 1 NWLR (Part 1705)254
The Mobile Courts in any State of the Federation are not Courts created by any written Law in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A Practice Direction of a Chief Judge of a State can not create a Court. A Practice Direction only gives directives on the Procedure to be adopted by a Court that has been created by Law.
In the same vein, the mere mention of the Mobile Court in any Law does confer the Mobile Court with Jurisdictional Competence as the Court is not in existence in the first place. You can not put some thing on nothing and expect it to stand . See UAC v. Macfoy (1962) A.C.150 at 160
Another thorny issue in this Matter is that the Mobile Courts are operated in many instances as a Native Court and not a Court of Proper Records, with just the records books of the Presiding Officer and a scribbled sheet paper called Charge Sheet and the Presiding Officers until very recent, churned out very obnoxious and unreasonable penalties, including sending the poor and the vulnerable to Prison Custody.
There are in most cases no Statements of Witness, no Statements of Defendants, No Investigation Reports of the alleged infractions of the Defendant. Every thing is left to Viva voice evidence and the Powers of the Presiding Officers all which are against Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999, (As Amended).
Some times, Defendants ask for time to enter their Defence, but they are refused, but coerced to give evidence contrary to Section 36 (11) of the Constitution of Nigeria which provides that:
No Person who is tried for a Criminal Offence shall be compelled to give evidence at the trial
In another vein Section 36 (6) & (8) provides thus:
(6) Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to:
(a) be informed promptly in the language that he understands and in detail of the nature of the offence;
(b) be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;
(c) defend himself in person or by legal practitioners of his own choice;
(d) examine, in person or by his legal practitioners, the witnesses called by the prosecution before any court or tribunal and obtain the attendance and carry out the examination of witnesses to testify on his behalf before the court or tribunal on the same conditions as those applying to the witnesses called by the prosecution; and
(e) have, without payment, the assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand the language used at the trial of the offence.
(7) When any person is tried for any criminal offence, the court or tribunal shall keep a record of the proceedings and the accused person or any persons authorised by him in that behalf shall be entitled to obtain copies of the judgement in the case within seven days of the conclusion of the case.
The above sections are clear and unambiguous, they need no further adumbrations.
For Civic Wrongs, many Citizens have been sentenced to Prison Summarily. They are tried right there with out being afforded an opportunity or time to be able heard or to prepare for their Defence/and to be represented by a Counsel of their Choice as provided for by Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended).
It does follows that any Judgment obtained from these Mobile Courts alien to the Nigerian Jurisprudential Trajectory are liable to be set aside the those illegally convicted can sue for damages from the State or be compensated by the State.
Nigeria is a Society guided by Laws and not the whims and caprices of Officials of Government.
I hereby call for the immediate disbandment of all Mobile Court’s in Nigeria. A Court can not Mobile. A Court is avowed for its certainty of venue, certainty of purpose, certainty of procedure/Law and strict adherence to Laws of the Land!