Very recently, the Comptroller-General of the Correctional Centres gave an order to his officers not to admit new defendants into correctional centres, presumably as part of COVID-19 precautions. This executive order is now being complied with, and it has very grave implications for the rule of law and the administration of justice in Nigeria.
The reports across the country is that defendants, who are arraigned in court for very serious capital offences are being denied admission into custody at the correctional centres, in compliance with the executive order of the CGCC, in violation of the order of various courts for their remand, pending trial.
The order of court for the remand of a defendant awaiting trial is made in the exercise of the judicial powers conferred upon the court by the constitution, especially section 6 (6)(b) thereof. It therefore amounts to contempt of court for any person, however highly placed, to refuse to obey the order of a court of law.
Under and by virtue of section 287 of the constitution, all persons in Nigeria, exercising legislative, judicial and executive powers, are obliged to ensure compliance with the order of all courts. To that extent, it is illegal and unconstitutional for the CGCC to direct officers under him to wilfully disobey lawful orders made by any court.
The danger that this illegal order of the CGCC poses to the due administration of justice are many; likelihood of escape by defendants, who have capital offences to deal with, tampering with witnesses and also compromising evidence. Where does the CCGC expect the courts to keep persons who are newly sentenced and convicted, for instance?
The CGCC cannot rely on the Correctional Services Act to exercise powers in conflict with the authority of a court of law duly established under the constitution. It is an aberration that should not be allowed to fester.
I therefore call upon the Honourable Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, to direct the CGCC to ensure compliance with all orders of court in respect of defendants awaiting trial and those already convicted by the court. COVID-19 should not be an excuse to disobey court orders.