By Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, Esq.
The issue of delay tactics undertaken by the government, the government’s agencies and the Central Bank of Nigeria to deny a judgment creditor the fruits of his judgment is well known in garnishee proceedings (even in a fundamental rights cases) to such an extent that a number of judgements have remained unenforced by the judgment creditors entitled to the enforcement of such judgment. The tool used for such delay is the provisions of section 84 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act, 2004, which requires ‘consent’ of the Attorney-General of the Federation before the money in custody of a public officer can be garnisheed. These provisions have been unjustly, inequitably and unfairly abused by the government and its agencies as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay judgment sum/judgment debt and rather engage the Judgment Creditor in another battle in litigation even up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria for years if not even over ten (10) years!
Hence, fortunately, the House of Representatives has waded into removing the said section 84 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act by a Bill seeking deletion of the said section from the Act. Hence, this article appreciates the good efforts of the House of Representative member who has moved the motion for the passage of this Bill (i.e. Sponsored by the Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Mr Onofiok Luke) and this paper therefore calls for the need for a quick passage of the Bill into law by both Houses according to law, the act which is in the public interest.
On the 27th August, 2020, the PUNCH Online News Paper reported as follows ‘The House of Representatives has proposed the removal of the Attorney General of Federation’s consent as precondition for the payment of judgment debts to those who win court cases against the Federal Government.
The proposal is contained in a bill which passed second reading at the House on July 7, 2020.
Sponsored by the Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Mr Onofiok Luke, the legislation is titled, “Sheriffs and Civil Process (Amendment) Bill, 2020.”
According to Luke, the bill seeks to amend the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act, Cap. S6, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, by deleting Section 84 of the Act.
Section 84 of the Act to be deleted reads, “Consent of appropriate officer or court necessary if money is held by public officer or the court:
“(3) In this section, ‘appropriate officer’ means (a) in relation to money which is in the custody of a public officer who holds a public office in the public service of the Federation, the Attorney General of the Federation; (b) in relation to money which is in the custody of a public officer who holds a public office in the public service of the state, the Attorney General of the state.”
As a result of this section of the law, many litigants have found it difficult to obtain the AGF’s consent to execute court judgments involving the award of money against the Federal Government or its agencies.
Luke said the deletion of Section 84 of the law is “in order to expedite enforcement of judgment in garnishee proceedings and allow litigants get the benefits of their judgment without delay.”’
The word ‘delete’ has been carefully used which according to the online Merriam Webster Dictionary, means among other meanings as: to eliminate especially by blotting out, cutting out, or erasing:. It also has the synonyms of the following words ‘blue-pencil, cancel, cross (out), dele, edit (out), elide, kill, scratch (out), strike (out), stroke (out), x (out). Which in this present case of the Section 84 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act, would mean that upon the passage of the Bill into law, the said section 84 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act stands eliminated, especially by blotting out, cutting out, or erasing, from the provisions of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act.
Furthermore, in my humble submission, I humbly submit that pending the passage of the Bill into law, the intention of the legislature regarding section 84(1) of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act (supra) as regard the requirement for ‘consent’ of the Attorney-General does not enable and or empower the government, its agencies and the Central Bank of Nigeria to misuse, abuse and or defeat the cause of justice unfairly, unjustly inequitably, etc. and or use such power to shamelessly create a clog in the enforcement and or enjoyment of the fruits of judgment held in favour of the Judgment Creditor by the Court of Law.
Furthermore, I also humbly submit that pending the passage of the Bill into law, the requirements of ‘consent’ in section 84(1) of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act is not superior to the inherent and or constitutional powers of the Court of law conferred on the established Court by section 6(6)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to restrain the Courts of law from wading in or intervening where necessary where the Judgment Creditor has approached the Court of law to grant an Order Absolute to the Judgment Creditor against the Garnishee for the Judgment Creditor to enjoy the fruits of the Judgment held in his favour against the Judgment debtor by the Court of Law, whenever the Judgment Creditor has called upon the Court of law to utilize its inherent and or constitutional powers in his favour. I do hope that our Courts of law would always hold as I have submitted in this paper, pending the passage of the sponsored Bill into law.
Finally, therefore, till the Bill would be passed into law by the National Assembly, I wish the process would be quickened as soon as possible and I am very hopeful that the process would not be suspended and or ended unsuccessfully in a way that would disappoint and unhopefully! Furthermore, I do hope that our Courts of law would always hold as I have submitted in this paper, pending the passage of the sponsored bill into law.