From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

A retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Ejembi Eko, has called for the removal of provisions in the Sheriff and Civil Procedure Act that grants the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) the power to override or frustrate court decisions.

Justice Eko’s position aligns with that of Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who proposed modifying the requirement for the AGF’s consent before executing judgments.

Speaking at the 2024 National Summit on Judiciary in Abuja, Senator Akpabio stated, “Another area requiring urgent reform is the process of obtaining the Attorney General’s consent before executing judgments. This requirement often acts as a bottleneck, delaying justice and undermining the autonomy of our judicial system.”

He added, “We propose modifying this requirement to facilitate a swifter execution of judgments, thereby enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of our justice system.”

Justice Eko echoed these sentiments, stating, “I agree with the Senate President’s suggested notification of judgment to the office of the Attorney General for compliance and enforcement.”

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He further argued that the existing provisions of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act, requiring the AGF’s consent as a precondition for enforcing court orders/judgments against the government, offend and conflict with several provisions of the Constitution. These include:

Equality of litigants before the law: The AGF should not be granted special powers that place them above other litigants.; Fair hearing provisions: The AGF, as a party to litigation against the government, should not be able to influence the enforcement of judgments;  Separation of powers: The AGF’s office should not be granted judicial powers to override or frustrate court decisions.

Justice Eko emphasised that the Constitution vests the power to enforce judgments in the courts, not the AGF. He called on the National Assembly to delete the relevant provisions of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act and adopt the Senate President’s proposed modification.

Supporting these views, National Programme Manager of RoLAC II, International IDEA, Danladi Plang, highlighted the importance of an efficient justice system for both commercial and criminal matters. He lamented the lengthy delays in many cases, which erode public confidence and discourage investment.

Plang also stressed the need for accountability within justice institutions, emphasising that those who hold others accountable must themselves be held accountable.