Security chiefs and contempt of court

IT is gladdening to observe that some courageous judges in the country are beginning to take exception to the burgeoning official penchant for ignoring validly rendered court judgments and orders, especially by the leadership of the law enforcement agencies. Any decisions of the court they consider unfavourable are hardly implemented until they are prompted or otherwise coerced by the force of law. And the usual platitude is to claim ignorance of the proceedings leading to such judgments as if ignorance of the law is an excuse for its disobedience. This inclination is bad for the country as it portrays a situation of lawlessness by the privileged class and of double standards, since court decisions affecting ordinary citizens are promptly carried out while  vacillation and reticence  come into play regarding those affecting the chief law enforcers who often feign ignorance of such decisions.

It  should be noted that the claim by these officials that they are oblivious of the matters that formed the bases of the judgments they often ignore is dishonest.  All these agencies have legal departments manned by trained lawyers who represent their principals in courts, and are procedurally required to brief them about the court proceedings, but it would appear that the principals just couldn’t be bothered. That is why it is comforting that some judicial officers are viewing this dangerous  tendency very seriously and are taking  appropriate steps under the ambit of the law to rein in this ominous sign of lawlessness. In the past few weeks, security chiefs such as the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) chairman, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the Chief of Army Staff have been ordered to be remanded in prison for contempt of court. They were sentenced to jail for disobedience of court judgments and orders for which they claimed ignorance.

The country has laws that must be obeyed by everyone, without exception. To be sure,  litigation and court proceedings have a  process: the court does not just give judgment overnight. You cannot pretend that you are not aware of the process. And in any case, it is not the responsibility of the courts to get the officials and their organisations informed about orders affecting them as ignorance of the law and its effect cannot excuse disobedience. How can people who occupy office by law treat courts with contempt?  It is time the security chiefs realised that the country runs a democracy where deference to the rule of law is non-negotiable. These officials manifest flagrant lawlessness in diverse ways such as refusing to obey court judgments ordering the reinstatement of wrongly dismissed officers, restoration/return of assets wrongly seized from innocent citizens, and so on. The IGP was ordered to proceed to prison recently and he began promising to investigate the matter in question when he has no right to reject court order and ought to have been taken to prison immediately.

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It is bad optics for the masses to see this kind of situation because if they were the ones involved, they would be taken to prison straightaway. This is the kind of situation that prompts citizens to want to make a recourse to self-help. Anarchy tends to prevail when citizens start to observe that laws are meant for just the ordinary citizens to obey.  A situation whereby  security chiefs are reluctant to obey validly rendered court judgments and orders and are still not taking steps to vacate such judgments and orders or to appeal them if they disagree with them is unwholesome and inimical to the sustenance of  law and order. It gives the erroneous impression that  they  are above the laws of the land and are not subject to the courts. That is the only way to construe their objectionable attitude as they pointedly ignore court orders. This, sadly,  has become a pattern. It bears stressing that the repeated disobedience of court orders by these security chiefs has the tendency to imprint a sense of lawlessness and impunity in the country which could only be a harbinger of anarchy. We do not want to believe that the security chiefs want anarchy to reign in the country. As such, it would be important to take seriously all court orders and not pretend that they do not matter.


We also urge those who have oversight over the security chiefs to wake up to their responsibility and ensure that they are made to see disobedience of valid court orders as a negative development that attracts censure. Though the sentenced security chiefs may not be incarcerated owing to the litany of shortcomings in the system, the courts have clearly made the point that they will no longer condone the subversion of their authority by anyone, no matter how highly placed. The country has elected to be run on the basis of law and everyone, including the security chiefs, is expected to submit to it. Not doing that and pretending that some people are above the law or not bound by it can only breed anarchy, which must be prevented at all costs.



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