Recently Charles Oputa more commonly known as “Charley Boy” or “Area Fada” of “our Mumu Don Do” fame, was awarded N50 million damages in a judgement against the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). A Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the NPF, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the Commissioner of Police (CP) in Abuja to pay him for violating his rights. The judgement was based upon a fundamental rights enforcement case Charley Boy brought against the NPF.
The crux of the matter is that on August 8th 2017 approximately 100 policemen stormed the Unity Fountain in Abuja and allegedly “attacked” Charley Boy and his group with teargas, hot water cannons, and dogs. As a result of the attack some protesters particularly Charley Boy suffered medical ill-effects. The melodrama took place during a “Resume or Resign” protest against President Buhari’s prolonged overseas medical absence.
The media was replete with pictures of the “Area Fada” lying prostrate and gasping for breath. The NPF claimed that the peaceful protest had been infiltrated by hoodlums who they suspected were about to turn violent. Acting upon their suspicions they decided to maintain law and order by dispersing the protesters. The learned judge evidently didn’t agree with their “pre-emptive” action. The right to peaceful protest is enshrined within the Nigerian Constitution and the learned Judge upheld that right. He further held that the police reaction violated Charley Boy’s fundamental rights to dignity of the human person, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, as enshrined in Sections 34, 39, and 40 of the Constitution.
Bearing this in mind, it’s a sad state of affairs that there is very little likelihood of Charley Boy or the majority of Nigerians who are awarded damages against Government or any of its Agencies actually receiving any money. While delivering a convocation lecture at the at the University of Ilorin Kwara State, William Stuart Symington the United States Ambassador to Nigeria said that injustice and disregard for the rule of law are worse than stealing of public funds. He said that when people are deprived of justice and things are done without regard for the rule of law it’s a greater form of corruption than stealing of money. Enforcement is the last stage of the judicial process after the legal right, claim or interest has ended in a judgement or order.
It is trite that every successful litigant is entitled to the fruits of his judgement, however in Nigeria, time and again judgements given against both State and Federal Government and their agencies are ignored and damages not paid except when political considerations are involved. The problem didn’t start today. Successive Nigerian governments have failed to settle judgements debts. Year after year the budgetary provision for settling these liabilities is similar to practically all other budgetary provisions, in that it is insufficient, and unlikely to be released.
The importance of paying judgement debts cannot be overemphasised. The only way in which State and Federal Governments and their agencies and officials can be made to obey the law and be accountable to the Constitution is if it is compulsory for them to settle judgement debts promptly. When the Courts rule they must obey. There are just certain things democratic governments must do and must be seen to do. They must be seen to obey the rule of law, and respect the separation of powers. The learned Judge expressed the view that “the law is that the Court has the right to grant redress to anyone whose rights are violated”. The redress isn’t in the judgement, it’s in the damages. At all times the process of enforcing judgement is at the initiative of the successful party.
Ordinarily once a judgement is delivered, the judgement creditor should be able reap the fruits or benefits without much ado or delay, but enforcing judgements against government in Nigeria is a tedious affair. The provisions of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes law make it virtually impossible for judgement debts to be enforced. A copy of the judgement must be sent to the Attorney-General who generally either decides to appeal or claim that the payment has not been budgeted for.
While it is understandable that a government should be guided by a budget, this reasoning does not provide justice to the victim. As for the details of the case, there is a recurring theme of judgements against the NPF. It’s no longer news that every IGP has battled unsuccessfully against the serious deficiency of discipline in the force and little has actually changed. It would appear that the adverse judgements against the NPF are not about to abate especially since it’s all but impossible for a citizen to actually obtain the awarded damages. Charley boy should not hold his breath while waiting for his millions!