CJN is right in calling for the arrest of hoodlums who invaded Port Harcourt court
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen’s call for punishment for the thugs who on May 14 invaded the Port Harcourt Division of the Rivers State High Court is right and timely. A rival faction of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had filed an application in the court, seeking an injunction to restrain the party from holding the local government congress in the state fixed for penultimate Saturday. Not only did the hoodlums attack court officials, they inflicted injuries on some persons on the premises and disrupted the court’s sitting.
The temple of justice is supposed to be sacred in the interest of the society and democracy. When hoodlums are allowed to seize control and dictate when the court could sit and hear cases, or disperse, just to ensure that parties to a dispute are denied access to justice, the society is in trouble.
The constitution made no mistake by declaring the judiciary as the effective third arm of government saddled with adjudication of disputes and interpretation of laws made by the legislature and executed by the executive.
Apparently at the centre of the show of shame in Port Harcourt were chieftains of the two factions of the APC in the state. Guns boomed and litigants, lawyers and judges scampered for safety.
The unruly act must be checked immediately by fishing out the hooligans and prosecuting them. As Onnoghen noted, “This latest act of intimidation of the judiciary and the unwarranted violence against a peaceful institution of an arm of government is quite disturbing. More importantly, such show of shame ought not to be encouraged by right-thinking members of the Nigerian Public.”
As the CJN observed, those involved should not go unpunished. “If the enemies of our peace and democracy succeed or get away with what occurred at the High Court in Port Harcourt, it would be a source of encouragement to them to do same to the Court of Appeal, and ultimately, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, whenever anyone of them perceives that a judgment may be delivered against any of them or the interests they represent.”
The barbaric episode has once again painted the country in bad light in the comity of nations and the situation can only be partially remedied if the law enforcement agencies swing into action immediately.
Regrettably, this would not be the first time courts would be sacked. In 2014, some thugs invaded a sitting court in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, and assaulted judges, with a view to obstructing justice. That matter was swept under the carpet.
We agree with the CJN that enough is enough. The confidence of people in the courts must be restored. This is especially so now that the institutions involved in conducting elections and resolving political disputes begin preparations for the 2019 elections. The least the government, INEC and the political parties can do is eschew resort to self-help.
Rivers State is fast becoming a metaphor for the bad and the ugly in political contests. This is not a good emblem that any state should be proud to wear.
All those who have reduced politics in the state and other states in Nigeria to a do-or-die affair must be punished no matter how highly placed. It is only when this is done that political gladiators and their thugs will begin to respect the law and make democracy meaningful.