Nigerian laws are moribund and contradictory – Justice Okoro

Hon. Justice John Iyang Okoro is a Justice of the Supreme Court. He was a guest lecturer at the 1st Public Lecturer of the Advocates for societal and Intellectual Development held at the Nigerian Law School in Abuja; where he spoke on the moribund and contradictory nature of the Nigerian Laws and the need to expunge them from the statute books. AMEH EJEKWONYILO reports

A critique of moribund statues
The history of the geographical entity now known as Nigeria commenced in 1862 with the annexation of Lagos as a colony by the British government. The subsequent incursions made by the Royal Niger Company made a lee way to the hinterland. The British trade interest extended to Benin, Bonny, Brass, New Calabar (now Degema) and Old Calabar (now Calabar).

These indigenous communities had their traditional legal system and method of resolution of dispute. However with the appointment of a British Consul to oversee the administration of territories, there was the need to introduce the British oriented legal system for resolution of disputes.

The trade expedition carried out by the British merchants with the native traders extended to Idah in present day Kogi state. By 1st January, 1900, the territories under the Royal Niger Company were amalgamated with Idah to form the protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

The High Commissioner then proceeded to establish a Supreme Court by the Supreme Court Ordinance of January 1, 1900. The establishment of the British style of judicial administration in Nigeria led to the wholesale importation and application of British statutes in Nigeria.
The received English laws did not take into cognizance the context, culture and social fabric of the indigenous people which the laws were administered.

Sequel to the suppression of the authority of the locals to resolve their disputes in a traditional manner in line with their customs and values, the British colonial administrators introduced the repugnancy doctrine test. Customs and traditional values that were repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience were declared void and illegal. Some of the British laws imported were designed for the subjugation of the indigenous people. One of such laws was the Public Order Ordinance, it was passed to forestall any manner of protest rebellion by the oppressed against the oppressor.

It is pertinent to state that with the advent of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1999 which introduced and guaranteed fundamental rights principles in Chapter 4 thereof; including the rights of freedom of association, movement, dignity of person and personal liberty, the Public Order Ordinance contraption became obsolete law. It is therefore a grave contradiction that the Public Order Act, promulgated by a military regime in 1979 is still left in the statute books. A review of our statute books would reveal a litany of such laws which are no longer effective and seem to have been forgotten. They are categorized as dying or dead species of laws. Other example of such laws include: Official Secret Act, CAP 03; Public Order Act, CAP P02; Indian Hemp Act, CAP 16 among others.

One is left to ponder the need for the Official Secret Act in the face of Freedom of Information Act, a more recent statute designed to expose corruption in the public service of the federation. What is the importance of Public Order Act whereas the ground-norm, that is, the constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) guarantees freedom of movement and association?

Revitalizing our laws
It is a cardinal principle that the laws of the land must reflect the culture and diversity of the people and same must be brought into realities with the exigencies of today. The law is therefore not a static body of rules, after all what is avante garde to one race could be a taboo to another. This is the age of technology; therefore, the provisions of the English Evidence Act adopted by Nigeria in 1945 can no longer stand the test of time such as the admissibility of electronic evidence.

The federal government of Nigeria in recognition of the all-important role of law as a vehicle for socio-economic and political development has established the Nigerian Law Reform Commission. The better way to revitalize our laws is to develop and support the Nigerian Law Reform Commission with the financial and manpower resources for the fulfillment of her mandate to the citizenry. This is the removal of extinct and moribund laws from statute books.

One of such ways is to forward written representation to the Nigerian Law Reform Commission and to the National Assembly during public hearings before the passing of bills into laws.

The various Bar Associations spread across the length and breadth of the country must rise up as true ministers in the temple of justice by seeking to challenge obsolete and dead laws. Every legal practitioner has sworn to uphold the sanctity of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Therefore any law that is moribund ought to be challenge by practitioners. A rapprochement between the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, the

Attorney General of the Federation, Attorneys General of the States of the Federation, the leaders of the Bar at various levels and the legal practitioners must work together to achieve the desired pursuit of bringing our laws in line with the realities of our time. It is not the sole responsibility of any spectrum of the legal profession whether the Bar or the Bench.
A healthy body of laws in the body polity will produce a healthy judicial administration and make for certainty in resolution of dispute.

Building a formidable legal system
The Nigerian legal system is one with a uterine bond with the English legal system. The influence of the English legal system is so great that English laws were domesticated in Nigeria. In prescribing a recipe for a formidable legal sociological system, it is important to adopt and rely on the model of jurisprudence prescribed by Roscoe Pound. According to Pound, sociological jurisprudence should ensure that the making, interpretation and application of laws take account of social facts.

Towards achieving this end, there should be a factual study of legal administration, social investigations as preliminaries to legislation, constant study of the means of making laws more effective.

The interplay of the above factors effectively managed by professionals in the legal profession whether at the Bar or Bench and the effective discharge of the role of the legislature will help in enhancing a formidable legal system.

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