By Taiye Agbaje, Abuja.
The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday committed the Inspector-General of Police (I-G), Mr Usman Baba, to a three-month imprisonment over alleged refusal to obey a sister court judgment reinstating a police officer, Patrick Okoli, who was compulsorily retired.
Justice Bolaji Olajuwon, in a ruling on the contempt proceedings filed by Okoli’s lawyer, Arinze Egbo, also warned Baba against non-compliance with the earlier court judgment.
Olajuwon warned that if the I-G failed to purge himself of the contempt, he shall be liable to another three months’ jail-term.
Okoli had, in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/637/2009, sued the inspector-general as a sole respondent in the matter.
The plaintiff, who prayed the court to order for his reinstatement, said that he was unlawfully retired in 1992 by the Police Council, presently known as Police Service Commission (PSC), while serving in Bauchi State Command as a chief Superintendent of Police, among others.
He argued that his compulsory retirement, under Decree 17 of 1984, was illegal.
Justice Okorowo, in a judgment delivered on Oct. 21, 2011, gave an order of mandamus, compelling the respondent (I-G) to do his duty according to law.
He directed the I-G to comply with the orders of the PSC, as contained in their letter of 5th May, 2009 (with Ref. No. PSC/CSP/01/11/295A), directing him to reinstate the Okoli into the Nigeria Police Force and to present for the recommendation of the commission, the I-G’s recommendation for the promotion of the applicant from 2013 to date, among others.
However, following non-compliance with the judgment, Okoli’s counsel, Egbo, filed Forms 48 and 49 supported by affidavit before Justice Olajuwon, praying the court to convict and sentence the I-G for failure to obey court judgment delivered by Justice Okorowo on Oct. 21, 2011.
The lawyer urged the court to grant the plaintiff’s application on the grounds that the I-G disregarded a memo of legal advice by the PSC advising the him to take cognisance and obey the court judgment.
In his ruling, Justice Olajuwon held that Baba, whose, attention had been severally and through different quarters brought to the orders of the court, mandating him to give effect to the directives of the PSC had not denied having the knowledge of the orders.
The judge said that he had blatantly refused to carry out the order of the court.
“This court has bent backwards over and over again for the respondent.
“This court even ordered that the Assistant Chief Registrar (Litigation) write to the respondent to inform him of the pendency of this matter, which he did, and the proof of receipt of same in the office of the respondent is before this court.
“It is unfortunate that the chief enforcer of the law is one who has deliberately refused to comply with the same law.
“It is important to state that obedience to orders of court is fundamental to the good order, peace and stability of a nation.
“It is a duty which every citizen, who believes in peace and stability of the Nigerian state, owes the nation, and the court has a duty to commit the individual who has failed to carry out the order of the court for contempt, so as to prevent the authority and administration of law from being brought to disrespect and to protect the dignity of the court,” she said.
According to her, court orders are not to be obeyed at the whims and caprices of the respondent, and the rule of law is only supreme when parties, no matter the status, obey the court order.
“The terms of the orders of this court are clear and unambiguous.
“This court is satisfied that the respondent (presently and those before him) has had proper knowledge of the orders of this cCourt, there is no denial of such knowledge and the receipt of Forms 48 and 49.
“The respondent filed a counter-affidavit, was duly represented in court by different counsel, who stated how they had written several legal opinions which were not attended to.
“The refusal and failure of the respondent to comply with the orders of this court has been proved in this case.
“The respondent in this case, the Inspector-General of Police, in the person of Usman Alkali Baba, is to be committed to prison and detained in custody for a period of three month or until he has obeyed the order of this court, made on the 21st October, 2011, in all things that are to be performed, whichever period is shorter.
“If at the end of the three months, the contemnor remains recalcitrant and still refuses to purge his contempt, he shall be committed for another period and until he purges his contempt,” Olajuwon ruled.