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‘Segun Awosanya: A setback in ending Police brutality & rights abuses

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On the 1st of February, 2021, the Federal High Court sitting in Oshogbo, Osun State awarded the sum of N5,000,000.00 (Five Million Naira Only) as aggravated and general damages against the Nigeria Police Force and the Inspector General of Police for the flagrant abuse of the rights of one Mrs Adetola Halima Abdulazeez in a fundamental rights enforcement suit instituted by the Abuja based legal practitioner, Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq. The pronouncement of the Court in the judgment came at a time the nation has just been confronted with protest across the country wherein Nigerian youth trooped out en masse to protest against police brutality and other human rights abuses.

The Judgment is therefore a victory to the nation in the fight against police brutality and abuse of powers as resonated in the words of the court. However, what should be. a thing of joy for the victim whose case appears to be a beacon of hope to many Nigerians has been targeted for frustration by the moribund process of enforcing this judgement as encapsulated in the extant laws on enforcement of monetary judgement against government agencies.

Notwithstanding the fact that pronouncements of this nature seek to compensate victims of human rights violations, the sad and avoidable reality is that successful litigants are overburdened with the onerous task of enforcing these pronouncements. One would have thought that a system that provides the legal framework for enforcement of fundamental rights would guarantee that fundamental rights are not only protected and compensation awarded; but also ensure that the payment of the compensation so awarded without the need of imposing additional burden of seeking the consent of any administrative body. It is against this background that the provisions of section 84 of the Sheriff and Civil Processes Act 1955, which made the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation or State as the case maybe a condition precedent condemnable to say the least.

The implication of this provision is that no monetary judgement can be enforced against any public institution without the consent of the Federal or State Attorney General. Given the fact that the larger percentage of victims of human right violations and abuse are poor, it is almost impossible for this class of people to obtain the requisite consent. This thus defeats the purpose for which courts award damages against erring parties, especially in relation to its punitive nature which serves as a deterrent to government agencies. Furthermore, it violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which under Article 2(3) calls on member states to ensure that victims of human rights abuse have an enforceable and effective remedy determined by a competent court.

In fact, article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power imposed a duty on states to incorporate into the national law norms proscribing abuses of power and providing remedies to victims of such abuses. In particular, such remedies include restitution and/or compensation, and necessary material, medical, psychological and social assistance and support. Rather abiding by these basic principles of justice, the Nigerian government is busy creating impediments for victims who are merely trying to reap the fruit of their labour.

The growing number of recorded of cases of police brutality, human rights violations and abuse of power in astronomical terms has contributed largely to the growing incidence of citizens’ resort to self-help and other informal methods of airing grievances as displayed during the recent #ENDSARS protest. The inauguration of Panels of Inquiry across the country as an off shoot of the #ENDSARS protest have availed victims of police brutality an avenue to seek relief from their ordeals. While this is laudable, the possibility of enforcing judgement obtained in court or any recommendation made in related cases seeking enforcement by the panel of inquiry, has been reduced to nought by the daunting realities facing the Nigerian Legal System, hence the need for sound engagement and conversation about the enforcement of judgement in Nigeria against government agencies.

Contrary to the layman’s notion, ‘winning a case’ extends beyond obtaining positive judgement in court. It includes the enforcement of such judgements, which is the last stage of every judicial process. Thus, every judgement creditor, that is a party in whose favour judgement was entered, is entitled to the accruing benefits of the judgement obtained and same must be enforced in compliance with the provisions of the law. This is a corollary to the duty of the court, as expressed in a plethora of authorities, to enforce its orders, decisions and judgements as well as ensuring the speedy resolution of disputes. In effect, the court officials saddled with the responsibility of discharging this obligation include Chief Registrars, who invariably are the Deputy Sheriffs, the Bailiffs and other relevant court personnel. As a matter of law, every judgement is effective from the date of delivery or from such date as the judgment itself appoints and same must be obeyed without question. A default on the part of the judgement debtor?—?the party against whom judgement was entered?—?in complying with the judgement of the court entitles the judgment creditor to commence Judgement Enforcement proceedings.

The Sheriff and Civil Processes Act and Judgement Enforcement Rules make provisions for the modes of enforcing judgement to wit: writ of fi fa, writ of sequestration, writ of possession, garnishee proceedings, etc. The Constitution also empowers the Court to enforce and ensure compliance with its order or judgement as provided in section 6(6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). While these provisions of the law give the impression that the Court are ready to enforce its judgment with despatch, the reverse is the case in reality as section 84 of the Sheriff and Civil Processes has wrestled from the weak arm of the victims of fundamental right abuses and a host of other person who has obtained monetary judgment against the government or any of its agencies the right to enforce the said judgment through the callous introduction of the requirement of the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation or State as the case may be.

Nevertheless, as pleasant as the above provisions may appear, the process of enforcement of judgment in Nigeria is bedevilled with several impediments as evidenced in the rigorous processes and procedures; the effect of which has the capacity of jeopardizing the hope of justice for many and equally occasioning the abuse of human rights across the country. There is a hurdle of administrative technicalities ranging from the mandatory need to seek the leave of court to enforce judgment against the government or any of its agencies. Thus, victims on many occasions find themselves at the mercy of the judge who is not under any legal compulsion to grant such leave. Even when the leave is granted, issues of administrative lethargy results in victims suffering more at the hands of their oppressor. For instance, in an action for fundamental right enforcement against unlawful detention, the court may grant an order releasing the victim from custody but the authorities involved may be unyielding thereby prolonging the victim’s stay in custody against his fundamental right.

To add more to the victim’s herculean tasks, the additional obligation of bearing the cost of enforcement without which the process of enforcement will be abandoned. He is responsible for mobilizing the Sheriff of the court in the discharge of his official duty even though there is an allocation for same and also pays for the expense of the conveyance of the judgement debtor to prison in the case of the latter’s default in obeying the court’s order. With particular reference to judgment obtained against the government or any of its officials, the judgement creditor may need to further mobilize his lawyer to commence an action for garnishee proceeding even where there is no certainty that the Attorney General will consent to the payment of the judgement sum

The foregoing impediments to enforcement of judgments in Nigeria has led to lack of confidence in the court and the judiciary in the whole. It is alarming and the impact is felt more strongly by the poor who usually fall victim to human right violations and abuse. To further compound their misery, the race to access justice in Nigeria is more like a journey to Golgotha as many victims who have had to tread that path after enduring attendant delays often return more dejected and depressed than they were before seeking justice.

As a result, many victims of human rights violations consider the search for justice in Nigeria as an effort in futility thereby giving impetus to unscrupulous police officers to continue with the flagrant abuse of human rights. This I think is also responsible for the continued human rights violations by officers of the Nigerian Police Force as the agency is yet to feel the weight of the law in terms of constantly paying court ordered damages.

It is therefore pertinent that to address the issue of human rights abuses by security agencies and police brutality in particular, there is an urgent need to review some of our laws to ensure seamless judgement enforcement processes for litigants even against government agencies.

A total review of the judicial system particularly the aspect of judgement enforcement against government agencies will help to hold government and its agencies accountable for their actions and omissions and bring the occurrences of human rights abuses to the barest minimum. It is inconceivable that there exists a justice system where after successfully prosecuting a matter before a court of law, litigants find that enforcing such judgment is a near impossible and this is sadly the case in Nigeria.

This, therefore, underscores the need for collective and concerted action towards rejigging our laws to allow for ease in Judgement enforcement against Law enforcement agencies and institutions of government.

In saner climes, a Special Fund is normally created for the compensation of the victims of human right violations and abuses from which victims are entitled to be paid immediately the court makes a finding that their fundamental rights have been violated.

Segun Awosanya (@segalink)

President/Founder SIAF (Social Intervention Advocacy Foundation)

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