Court orders deserve absolute obedience and are meant to be followed, court orders are to be respected, dignified and not to be set aside. In facts in a country like Nigeria where democracy and rule of law are purportedly acclaimed to be in operation, court’s orders shall be dealt with highest respect and diginity as the last hope of a common man and the last resort to Justice. But to the extreme disappointment of many, our story is unique and the reverse is the case.
Law has settled luminous mechanisms for the protection of court orders from disobedience. this article is an overview with extreme thrift of ink and words on contempt of court, classification and nature, rationality of contempt proceedings, some legal and social Implication of disobedience to court order amongst other things.
The word “Contempt of Court” has no exact definition, it depends on the angle from which it is examined. But generally, contempt of Court may be described as that conduct which tends to bring into disrepute, dishonour, scorn or disrespect to the authority and administration of the law or such act which tends to interfere with and/or prejudice litigants and/or their witnesses in the course of litigation or such act to disturb the cause of Justice. See A.G EDO STATE & ANOR V. CHURCHGATE INDUSTRIES LIMITED & ANOR (2016) LPELR-41439(CA), and FRANKLIN O. ATAKE V. THE A.G FEDERATION & ANOR (1982) LPELR-SC.5/1982
The Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th Edition, also described “Contempt of Court” as a disregard of or disobedience to the rules or orders of a legislative or judicial body or an interruption of its proceedings by disorderly behaviour or insolent language in its presence or so near thereto as to disturb the proceedings or to impair the respect due to such a body. See also Per AKEJU, J.C.A in NWAESHI V. OKPALA & ORS(2013) LPELR-21222(CA)
A person who is guilty of contempt is called contemnor. See DR. ABEKE v. ODUNSI & ANOR. (2013) LPELR-20640(SC) Per ARIWOOLA, J.S.C. and Black’s Law Dictionary, Supra at page 360.
The two main classifications of contempt are Civil Contempt and Criminal Contempt.
The learned authors of Blacks Law Dictionary, Supra at page 360 define “Civil Contempt” as “The failure to obey a Court order that was issued for another party’s benefit. civil contempt basically comprises the failure to comply with an order of court. A person who has committed a civil contempt by disobeying a court order may be subject to the rule that ‘a party in contempt cannot be heard or take proceedings in the same cause until he has purged his contempt’. See C O P ANAMBRA STATE & ORS v. OMANUKWUE & ORS (1998) LPELR-5514(CA) and Military Governor of Lagos State v. Ojukwu (1986) 1 NWLR (pt.18) 621;
Criminal Contempt on the other hand is the carrying out of an act that attacks the integrity of the court. Contempt may be committed in facie curiae (in the face of the court) or ex facie curiae (outside the face of the court. Where it is committed in facie, the very court where it is committed may try such contempt summarily and taking plea is unnecessary but where it is ex facie curiae, a charge and a plea are necessary and the trial will necessarily be conducted by another Judge so as to avoid imputations of bias or unfair trial. See AWOSANYA V. BOARD OF CUSTOMS (1975) 1 ALL NLR (PT. 1) 106, GODEIN v. EWOR (2018) LPELR-44625(CA) And NWAESHI V. OKPALA & ORS Supra.
In a criminal contempt a court may on its own motion issue a bench warrant for the arrest of a contemnor but in a civil contempt such power does not exist. In a civil matter, the initiative rests with the party for whose benefit an order was made. See VICE CHANCELLOR, AHMADU BELLO UNIVERSITY & ORS. v. YAU ADO & ANOR. (1986) 3 N.W.L.R. (Part 31) 684 at page 695,
The entire rationale of contempt proceedings is to protect a Court of Law from any disdain, reprehend, dishonour and any irresponsible act as his Lordship ESO JSC lamented in FRANKLIN O. ATAKE V. THE A-G FEDERATION & ANOR. Supra thus;
“It is also worthy of note that the jurisdiction of the court in regard to contempt procedure is for the protection of the court and not the personal aggrandisement of the Judge”.
Court of law has an onerous duty to preserve and uphold the sanctity of the rule of law despite all odds. It has an onerous duty to adjudicate between all persons and authority. in the same vein, a court of law shall enjoy full autonomy and potentially so that to have a Forceful verdict over all litigants and such court’s verdict shall be obeyed by everyone one without exceptions. As aptly asserted by the Supreme Court Through ESO JSC in Governor of Lagos State v. Ojukwu Supra thus;
“Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the Court, thereby invoking the judicial powers of the state, it is the duty of the government to allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course.”
My Lords have said it so it’s needless but expedient to reiterate that all the provisions of contempt are to cover courts from the attack of rampant and indicipline conducts from anyone, at any time and in every place inside or outside of a court. It is an axiom and very intuitive that disobedience of court orders has great legal and social negative Implications against our democracy and rule of law.
The Cases of Dasuki, El-Zazzaki, Sowore and many others are very vivid examples how disobedience of court orders gives room to unnecessary foreign intervention to our judicial system hence loosing our judicial autonomy in addition to the political and economic self reliance we have lost for quite a while. One can’t sense any reasonable justfication in disregarding numerous competent Courts’ orders but honouring a letter from a foreign Congress. For this our democracy is loosing it’s shine and shin and our rule of law is at its very moribund stage unless something positive is done to put us back on the road. A nation without rule of law is nothing but an anarchical Forrest as observed by a Human Rights activist Mr Falana SAN thus “We either run this country on the platform of rule of law or we result to gangstarism”.
I hold that a court of law is not a political board and shall not be used as a political tool or marchanism to attain political ends. Permit me to adopt the forceful voice of his Lordship EJEMBI EKO JSC IN PALI V. ABDU (2019) 5 NWLR at 326 where His Lordship Said;
“… This appeal is one of the ploys politicians use, clearly an abuse of courts process, to hood wink the courts to endorse the illigalitities they perfect in the field. But it should be drummed into every ear that the court, as the last hope of a common man, should not be conversely turned to be the last hope of the corrupt and desperate politicians seeking to wield power by all means”.
The point I want to make from the words of my Lord is that for us to have a sanitised judiciary we must without any disposition, do away politics from our judicial affairs. Courts are Courts of law governed by the rule of law and not courts of politics governed by political quagmires. It is in the public domain that our judiciary is suffering from lack of funding, infrastructures and man power yet we are now facing another great challenge, the greatest danger which is losing the intergrity of the entire judicial system.
What do you think will happen when Courts as the last hope of a common man turn to the last diffidence of a common man? What do you think when a court of law has no intergrity? What do you think Nigeria would be if no Nigerian is subject to rule of law? Which kind of society do you think we will have when all court orders are invalid and of no moment? What do you think will be the fate of our judiciary when political desires dominate our rule of law? What will happen when court is no longer a place to seek redress and have Justice? When a court cannot enforce our fundamental rights, then who can?
The intergrity of our judiciary is our entire intergrity. The safety of our judiciary is a key to keep our democracy and rule of law in a safe box. The judiciary is the costodian of Justice and when dishonoured and corrupted the entire Society will not know peace. for where Justice disappears conflict will prevail and wherever law fades, anarchy arises.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALKASIM ABUBAKAR(AAMG) IS A LAW STUDENT, FACULTY OF LAW ABU ZARIA, KADUNA. HE WRITES FROM ZARIA. He can be reached via [email protected]