Impunity Within The Arms And Tiers Of Government (Pt. 2) By Ebun Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
I, therefore, believe that rooting out the culture of impunity in Nigeria will require the re-enforcement of the institutions of justice to wit: the judicial arm of Government. Where the Nigerian authorities and its subjects understand that their actions and/or inactions are seriously manned by the gates of the Judiciary, all persons, knowing they will be accountable for their actions will act right.
Consequently, predictability in the administration of our Justice System is essential to the fight against impunity. Once there is a level of certainty in the Judicial System on the conduct of the government and the governed, all State actors will act in self-preservation from the corrective fangs of the Judiciary. Some of the key performance index/benchmarks in measuring the aforesaid certainty of the justice system in Nigeria are as follows:
Certainty of Judicial Independence and Impartiality
The importance of a competent, independent, and impartial judiciary in preserving and upholding the rule of law cannot be over emphasized. There is no doubt that public confidence in the independence of the Courts, in the integrity of judges that man such Courts, and the impartiality and efficiency of the administration of justice as a whole, play a great role in sustaining an efficient judicial system of a Nation. In the case of MBADIWE V. INEC (2010) ALL FWLR (pt. 547) 745 Honourable Justice Saulawa JCA, on the importance of judicial impartiality had this to say:
“I think it was Mr. Justice Frankfurter, of the US Supreme Court who once aptly stated in his notorious philosophical and erudite characteristics that – “The Court’s authority possessed of neither the purse nor the sword but ultimately rests on sustained public confidence in its moral sanction.”
Certainty of the speedy adjudication (and punishment of impunity)
While there is a high level of awareness of the deserving punishment for the commission of crimes and offences, there has to be a corresponding awareness of a predictable cycle for the speedy adjudication and dispensation of justice. Where we can put in place the day to day hearing and efficient adjudication of civil and criminal cases by which the society knows the determination of parties’ rights and liabilities of parties shall not exceed a particular time frame as found in electoral matters to which there cannot be an extension of time to delay the final determination of matters, the culture of resorting to self-help and jungle justice will be reduced to the barest minimum. Upon such a premise, there will be a higher likelihood of civility by the common man in tabling their commercial/contractual dispute before the courts of justice rather than involving the police and other security agencies in a purely contractual matter.
Certainty of the enforcement of judicial orders
It is beyond debate that the draconian practice of the Executive of picking and choosing which order or directive of the courts it would comply with has been the focal point undermining the rule of law and socio-political stability of the nation. As all governments of the day are bound by the final decision of the Supreme Court on all electoral matters, so also should every authority, entity, and government agency slavishly comply with subsisting orders and directives of any court of law. Once there is certainty as to the enforcement of judicial orders or heavy punishment for disobedience of the same, the impulsive nature to disregard orders of the court will be highly resisted by the general public and government agencies. Agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Security (DSS) will therefore not be spared by the decisive arms of justice where they are found wanting in compliance with orders of the court.
Section 287 of the Constitution makes it mandatory for all persons and authorities to obey and enforce all orders and judgments of the Courts. Indeed, one of the greatest acts of impunity is when anyone tramples upon the positive directives of the courts. Eso J.S.C. captured this more in the case of Governor of Lagos State v Ojukwu (supra) when he stated as follows:
“I think it is a very serious matter for anyone to flout a positive order of a court and proceed to taunt the Court further by seeking a remedy in a higher court while still in contempt of the lower court. It is more serious when the act of flouting the order of the court, the contempt of the court, is by the Executive. Under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979, the Executive, the Legislative (while it lasts) and the Judiciary are equal partners in the running of a successful government. The powers granted by the Constitution to these organs by s. 4 (Legislative powers), s.5 (Executive powers), and s.6 (Judicial powers) are classified under an omnibus umbrella known under Part II of the Constitution as “Powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. The organs wield those powers and one must never exist in the sabotage of the other or else there is chaos. Indeed there will be no federal government. I think, for one organ, and more especially the Executive, which holds physical powers, to put up itself in sabotage or deliberate contempt of the other is to stage an executive subversion of the Constitution it is to uphold. Executive lawlessness is tantamount to a deliberate violation of the Constitution.”
From my humble reflection on the stand against impunity in Nigeria, I strongly believe that the advancement of strong judicial institutions and mechanisms for the preservation of the rule of law will lead to a corresponding gain in the war against impunity in all facets of our polity. I end by saying:
“Whereas the hope of impunity is the greatest inducement to do wrong; the certainty of immediate sanctions is the panacea to sustainable rule of law and justice system.”
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).