Kano emirate crisis, contempt of court, and Attorney General’s futile defence, By Adam Bashir

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It may be recalled that on the 10th day of May, 2019, a High court in Kano state issued a restraining order against Kano state House of Assembly, the Clerk and Speaker of the State House of Assembly and the Kano state Governor from giving effect to the Kano State Emirs (Appointment and Deposition) Amended Law 2019 (1440 AH). The order restrained the Governor from issuing letters of appointment and staffs of office to the intended new Emirs.

Despite this order however, the Governor went ahead on the 11th May, 2019 to turbaned and gave staffs of office to the intended additional new Emirs, an action which attracts wide condemnation and criticism.

While reacting to such criticism, the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ibrahim Mukhtar, in a reports contained in several national dailies reportedly said; “We told the court that all that they are claiming to stop has been completed. That is the passage of the law, the law has been passed, Emirs were appointed and staff of office was given to respective Emirs and they have assumed their respective offices in their various Emirates. So that is what we told the court. These claims, the prayers of the plaintiffs, Kano state government has completed everything before service of the court order. We cannot rely on social media for such information. You have to be served as a party and we have not been served. The office of the governor of Kano state was served yesterday (Tuesday), my own office as, Attorney General, was served on Monday and we told the court that we need time to prepare our response to their applications…”

To begin with, it is not in contention whether the law was passed or not, so there is no order restraining the passage of the law, what the Order restrained was the issuance of the Letters of appointments and staffs of office. It is equally not in doubt that the parties restrained by this order were aware of the said order a day before the government carried out the prohibited act. Thus, having knowledge of such order through social media shouldered both legal and moral responsibility on the person of the Attorney General to ensure obedience.

The law remain that, notice of an order of court is sufficient notwithstanding lack of personal service. In OYINLOLA v. DAYO & ORS (2013) LPELR-21565(CA), while citing several authorities, it was held that a distinction is to be drawn between mandatory and prohibitory injunctions. An order requiring a person to do an act must be served on him. If it is not served, committal proceedings for breach of the order do not lie. If, however, the order is to restrain the doing of an act, the person restrained may be committed for breach of it if he in fact has notice of it, either by his presence in Court when it is made, or by being served with it, or notified of it by telegram or in any other way.

Equally, worthy of note is that, Nigerian Law and courts evolve with the evolution and development of Information and Communication Technology, wherein, Superior Courts of record permit services of court processes via social media, and this has become an acceptable means of service of processes of court including originating process.

As it remain the established law, once a Court of competent jurisdiction gave an order, it must be obeyed to the latter unless and until set aside by the said court or a superior court.

Despite these well-known principles of law, it will be disservice and dishonorable for not only the person occupying the exalted office of the Attorney General, but every legal practitioner to directly or indirectly aid, abet or procured the disobedience to court order no matter whose ox is gored, or interest threaten.

Thus, the duty of every legal practitioner is to exhibit a high level of decorum, candor and fairness to the Court and all its Orders. See CHUKWU & ANOR v. INEC & ORS. [2014] LPELR-22221 (SC). A legal practitioner owes the sacred duty to be diligent, treat the Court and its orders with respect, honesty and mutual courtesy. Above all, to assist the Court in its avowed bid to dispense justice to all manner of people without fear or favour, ill-will or affection. This much and more should be the focused and targeted goals of Legal practitioners.

Therefore, the action of Honorable Attorney General of not only blowing muted trumpet on the issue and legal consequence of the disobedience to the restraining order, which his benefactor is in, but his futile attempt to defend such illegality, amount to derogation of the pre-eminent and incontestable position of the Attorney-General, under both common and Nigerian law, as the chief law officer of the State whose powers is only subject to the ultimate control by public opinion and that of the Legislature.

The Attorney-General as chief law officer of the state is said to be a master unto himself, law unto himself and under no control whatsoever, judicial or otherwise. It is, no doubt, a great ministerial prerogative coupled with grave responsibilities.

Professional calling equally place a greater responsibility on the Honorable Attorney General as an officer of the Court to protect its sanctity and to avoid any act that will bring it to disrepute. See Rules 30 & 31 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioner.

The implication of the action of the Honorable Attorney General who ought to be the most subservient to order of court as state chief law officer, is that the court is not treated with respect, honesty and mutual courtesy.

It is therefore imperative at this juncture to holds the Honorable Attorney General’s defense of the disobedience to the order of court as condemnable, unprofessional, disrespectful, dishonest, discourteous, without having regards to the sacred position he holds as far as public interests is concern.

Thus, we are now faced with the vexed question of whether the Honorable Attorney General protect the rule of Law or his chair? Since the Attorney General’s power should ordinarily not be question or inquire into by the court of law, the resultant effect is that the aggrieved party can only have recourse to court of public opinion while the aggrieved chief executive can only see him out of the office.

On the arguments so far proffered, the Honorable Attorney General’s position is a misconception since the notice of a restraining order of court is sufficient to warrant him advice his appointer against disobeying court order.

Setting this precedent therefore, in my view, would lead to adverse consequences where any Tom, Dick and Harry, would disobey order of court with leverage, which all stake holders in administration of justice should not open up that floodgate to litigants organization benefactors. Consequently, the said action if not checked, stands a chance of turning the last hope of a common man into a caricature.

Bashir, A legal Practitioner based in Kano

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily

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