In the Nigerian Courts, when the issue or allegation of violation of fundamental rights either contained in the Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)-herein after referred to as the Constitution- or in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights pertains, the very important procedural law in enforcing this alleged right is the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009-herein after referred to as the FREPR. This paper aims at encouraging human rights activists whether lawyers or non-lawyers to always show concerns for the protection of the FREPR.
There is a long saying that the court is the last hope of the common man. That notwithstanding, there is only one way through which a common man benefits from the court when he complains of violation of his rights either under the Constitution or the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and that is by compliance with the FREPR. It then shows that the FREPR in my humble view cannot be disregarded by a human rights activist. The FREPR forms a very big book of life for a human rights activist. That is why I humbly submit and recommend a continuous monitoring on the implementation, interpretation and enforcement of the Rules by our Nigerian Courts. This recommendation is very important because, however our Nigerian courts have interpreted, enforced or implement the FREPR forms part of a stare decisis or as a precedent to follow or consider by a court in other instances. Also, judges’ reactions towards the FREPR should be well studied.
Importantly, I consider that assigning fundamental rights enforcement cases to judges who hear criminal cases (with no requisite human rights trainings) would fail the improvement of the fundamental rights suits, as such judges from experiences, would mainly or likely consider the Applicant as a criminal applying to enforce his fundamental rights when he has been alleged to have committed an offence in one way or the other, whereas, enforcement of fundamental rights goes beyond this thought. The position should be, let the criminal trial proceed and allow the fundamental rights enforcement suit continue on its own merit before a panel of human rights judges of the concerned High Court. More so, if courts for instance, continue to uphold government’s or its agencies’ overzealousness or excesses in breaching the rights of man, then, it will be a bad precedent that one day, man will earn no respect before fellow man and everyone is likely to engage in jungle justice. This situation is what I advise or recommend our Courts to prevent. I have at several write-ups discouraged any hindrance in enforcing decisions of courts on awards of fundamental rights enforcement cases held in favour of the Applicant. I hope that several letters and recommendations that I have written or made to the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria would not be swept under the carpet or taken with utmost disregards, much more because, up till this moment, I have not got a single acknowledgment from the Office of the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria on any of my letters, as to whether the recommendations are undergoing necessary actions or even whether they are not practicable. In my humble view, with due respect to the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, such silence is likely to discourage future contributions from members of the public who only aim at the development of the law and that of the nation generally. Personally, I am not comfortable with such silence which indicates that my suggestions or recommendations hold no water! At least, the time of research, the time of writing the letter, the cost of preparation and submission that I have invested should be considered by at least, giving hope that my recommendations shall receive or are receiving necessary attention of the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria. I further submit that positive ideas should be encouraged for development and not made to be discouraged!
Furthermore and having said the above, permit me to re-emphasise that I had written two (2) different letters to the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria both in 2018 and 2019 respectively recommending My Lord, pursuant to Section 46(3) of the Constitution, for: (1) a ‘no chargeable fees’ on enforcement of fundamental rights actions; (2) establishment of special panel courts in High Courts in Nigeria to hear fundamental rights enforcement cases; and (3) establishment of a Fundamental Rights Enforcement Monitoring Committee. And ( of recent in 2019) recommending that the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria: (i) should utilize his powers pursuant to the section 46(3) of the Constitution and other enabling sections of the Constitution and the Interpretation Act, by making and or amending the provisions of the current FREPR or by passing a Practice Direction on Rules and Procedures on the Service and execution in a State or High Court of the fundamental rights processes, judgments, decrees, orders and other decisions of any court of law outside Nigeria or any court of law in Nigeria so far it pertains to the fundamental rights enforcement suits, which will depart from the provisions of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act and its accompanying subsidiary legislations especially the careless (and militant) provisions of requirement for consent of the Attorney-General of the Federation or of the State before such moneys awarded to an Applicant under the Rules, can be garnished. (ii) set up a Committee to immediately consider means of implementation of the research work submitted to His Lordship.
It is the above recommendations that I still humbly recommend to the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria to consider at the time His Lordship is prepared to review the Rules.
Finally, I humbly suggest and recommend that:
- There should be a special panel of judges to whom fundamental rights enforcement suits are assigned;
- Those judges should be made to undergo a continuous trainings in human rights enforcement (or human rights litigation);
- The Chief Justice of Nigeria should consider those recommendations that I had submitted to His Lordship in order to correct the impression of a victim of fundamental rights that no victim would be able to secure justice in the court of law and that a judge is bad.
- Human Rights Activists and the Nigerian Bar Association should set up a Fundamental Rights Enforcement Monitoring Committee to monitor the effective implementation and enforcement of the FREPR in our Nigerian Courts in a way of synegising in the development of such laws that would aim at protecting the rights of man.