In June 2016, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja fined the Nigerian government the sum of $3.3 million as compensation over the extrajudicial killing of eight persons at an uncompleted building in Apo, Abuja in September, 2013. The court had ordered the payment of $200,000 to the families of each of the persons killed in the raid and $150,000 to the 12 others injured from the attacks. Almost a year on, no steps have been taken to either review the order or obey.
On January 25, 2017 an Abuja Federal High Court ordered the Department of State Services (DSS) to release four teachers arrested in Nasarawa State in March, 2014 on allegations of belonging to the Boko Haram sect. Three months after, the order has not been obeyed. Their liberties are still denied with no formal charge.
Like the above cases, many other victims of civil infringements find it difficult to benefit from court verdicts remedying their situation. Parties whose judgments are passed against take steps to frustrate execution. Having consistently abused the democratic concept of rule of law, many have questioned whether Nigerians should not be free to resort to self-help and jungle justice.
Abuja-based lawyer, Abdul Mohammed blames the problem on the flouting of judgments by law enforcement agencies who are supposed to enforce the orders and their lack of democratic ethos. “The law enforcement agencies have not been able to remove the military mentality where ‘might was right’; where if you have connection with the centre of power, you can do anything and nothing will happen,” he said.
Agreeing with this position, Barr Isaac Anumudu said leadership at the topmost level plays a role on how judgments are enforced in Nigeria. He comparing the era of Presidents Umar Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan where judgements were obeyed immediately and the era of President Muhammadu Buhari, where “his body language is what law enforcement agents consider first.” He also identified the clout and experience of the counsel to the judgment beneficiaries as important factors in enforcing judgments in Nigeria, unlike more advanced countries, such as the United States of America where the order of courts setting aside President Donald Trump’s travel ban was immediately enforced in all airports without waiting for any directives from above.
The common law practice in Nigeria, including enactments, rules or court practice direction may provide different methods for the enforcement of judgment, yet it behoves on the judgment creditor or beneficiary of judgment to adopt the method sanctioned by the rules of the court to levy the execution. “The best method is to follow the relevant rules of the court and the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act. Thus your execution will be in order and will not be set aside by any superior court,” Anumudu said.
According to Abuja-based legal practitioner, Barr Anietie Udoh, while the enactment regulating enforcement of judgment is the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act Cap S6 LFN 2004, the rules regulating the procedure for enforcing judgments is the Judgment (Enforcement) Rules made pursuant to the Act. He said money judgement may be enforced by writ of execution, judgment summons or garnishee proceedings as provided by the provisions of Sections 20, 55 and 83 of the Act respectively. “However in relation to enforcement against a garnishee (which will arise after an order absolute has been made), the only available provision is Section 86 of the Act and provides thus: ‘If the garnishee does not …pay into the court the amount due from him to the judgment debtor, or an amount equal to the judgement debt together with the costs of the garnishee proceedings.’”
A former President of the Business Recovery and Insolvency Practitioners Association of Nigeria (BRIPAN), Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN) blamed timidity on the parts of courts as one of the factors responsible for difficulties in judgment enforcement in Nigeria. He said “If the courts are not timid, the procedures for enforcement of judgments are contained in the law whether against government or non-governmental agencies.”
He added that: “In the old days, you needed the Attorney General first to do so, but some authorities now say you don’t even need that. If the judgment is monetary, say against the Army or the Police or any other government agency, you can garnishee their accounts, even to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN),” he said, adding that when it comes to non-monetary judgment against government and its agencies, to enforce it is very difficult. He suggested that there is only one solution or way forward which is for “government to realise that ultimately we have the rule of law. Where a judgment is final, government should know it doesn’t take any begging. Government is not doing anyone a favour anymore; it has become a right because it is a judgment.”
Layonu said it is quite unfortunate that there are still cases where government does not respond. “What is left is to take the government to the courts of public opinions-the media. It is not as if the law is not there but is it the same person that is not obeying courts judgments that you will use to enforce courts judgment?” he added.
Also reacting, the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Chief Okoi Obono-obla, said the judiciary as a branch of government should have its own Sheriff or Marshall entrusted with the responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in the court, security of the court premises, protection of judges, and enforcement of judgments.
“Presently, enforcement of judgments is very problematic because when a judgment creditor wants to enforce his or her judgment he or she must seek the support of the Police. It is the Police that will protect and support court bailiffs and sheriffs when they go out to enforce judgments. Sometimes the Police frustrate enforcement of judgments on cases where the judgment debtor is the Police or powerful government department,” he said, adding that this should not be the case because no one is above the law. “It is almost impossible presently to enforce judgments against the Police or the army or any other powerful government agency,” he said.
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