Dangerous Attacks On Judiciary

Federal High Court, Nigeria

Nigeria, May 21, 2018//-The recent invasion of the High Court premises in Port Harcourt by political thugs portrays a worrisome trend that must be nipped in the bud to forestall a possible truncation of democracy in the country.

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, could not have been more direct in his warning that violent attacks on the judiciary is a disaster that could terminate civil rule.

All efforts should therefore be made to identify all those involved in the attack and bring them to book.

Hoodlums who carried out the attack on the Port Harcourt High Court complex did it to allegedly prevent a possible court injunction that might stop the All Progressives Congress (APC) local government congress scheduled for Saturday, May 12.

The hoodlums were said to have shut down the complex and prevented the courts from functioning. In the ensuing violence, several courtrooms were damaged, the court library ransacked, vehicles destroyed and shops looted.

The incident is highly condemnable for its dangerous dimension to politics, more like an extension of the do-or-die attitude of politicians in recent years. Incidentally, it was not the first time that politicians would attempt to intimidate the judiciary. A similar invasion of the court by thugs occurred in Ekiti State just before the inauguration of government back in 2014.

Regrettably, nobody was apparently sanctioned for the acts, to deter others, a development that could have given fillip to the Port Harcourt attack.

Beyond these attacks, politicians had on several occasions in the past mobilised hundreds of supporters to court at the hearing of notable political matters, supposedly to show solidarity to a litigant, but in real terms to intimidate the court into toeing the line of the supporters.

On such occasions, the supporters disrupt court activities with their noise, and often inflict injuries on innocent people and court personnel.

This is the scenario re-enacted in Port Harcourt. The CJN while condemning the incident which he described as “a great threat to Nigeria’s democracy”, said reports reaching him showed that judicial and non-judicial staff were denied access to the complex as all the gates were padlocked and the buildings surrounded by hoodlums.

He added: “These hoodlums, who were said to be heavily armed, reportedly inflicted bodily harm to judicial officers and other staff of the judiciary going about their lawful duties and destroyed some properties belonging to the judiciary.”

What makes the occurrence precarious again is its attempt to undermine the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution and upon which the country’s democracy thrives.

Under that system, the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary maintain independence as a measure of balancing democratic practice. A situation where the political class, or a section of it embarks on acts capable of intimidating an organ of government, and tilting that balance, is unacceptable as it can render such organ unable to discharge its duty diligently.

In the episode under focus, the hoodlums clearly are seeking to undermine the judiciary as the last hope of the common man, and to make it lose the confidence held by the public on the institution. This should be resisted at all cost, and, as Chief Justice Onnoghen said: “Any person with a legitimate complaint against another person, organisation or institution is advised to employ the civilised and legal mode of redress as contained in our constitution. Whoever is dissatisfied with the outcome of decisions of our courts of law has the right of appeal as constitutionally guaranteed.”

One way to avoid escalating political tension in the country is to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book. Although the CJN commended security agencies for bringing the chaos under control thereby allowing the judge to deliver his ruling on the matter, the incident could have been prevented had security intelligence been more vibrant. Evidently, the invasion was planned and carefully executed.

It is important, at times like this, for judges and judicial officers to heed the call of the Chief Justice to remain true to their oath of office; and in particular to “remain focused, resolute and courageous” regardless of the attempts to intimidate them.

The public should also not allow the incident to reduce their confidence in the court as an independent institution that can administer justice. There should be concerted efforts to prevent anarchy in the judiciary and to dissuade people from helping themselves instead of going through the due process.

As the countdown to the general elections draws near, President Muhammadu Buhari should pay greater attention to securing the courts to prevent incidents of this nature.

Disruption of court proceedings and activities in court premises constitute attacks on the judiciary, which result in a travesty of justice not just to parties in the case concerned but to all litigants in other cases in the courts.

Finally, politicians should beware that their mean reputation, and inclination to take politics as a matter of life and death are a big drawback to the progress of this country, which is yet to recover from the atrocities and mindless killings with political undertones in the recent past. Politicians should be ready to account fully for their misdeeds should the political terrain worsens.

This the front page comment of the Independent newspaper of Nigeria.


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