Law is the unseen chord that holds human society together, ensuring sanity and orderly behavior. Without an effective and proper administration of justice in society people are constrained to resort to violent self help and anarchy is inevitable; society eventually degenerates to the Stone Age days of Thomas Hobbes where life is brutish, nasty and short.
Governmental institutions are thus put in place to ensure an orderly and peaceful society. The role of the courts in this regard is very pivotal as they remain the only forum where the citizenry can freely approach to seek redress for any wrong done them.
The courts are often pictorially depicted by the statue of the Lady of Justice. The Lady of Justice statue symbolizes an impartial and blind but sagacious woman whom fate has supposedly made blind, so that in dispensing justice, she may not judge people from their exterior but from their intrinsic worth.
In practical terms, the courts usually apply their interpretative jurisdiction and consider the merit and substance of a party’s claim brought before them, while closing their eyes to any bottleneck that would likely defeat the cause of justice. This is in line with the axiomatic legal phraseology “Ubi jus, Ibi remedium” (where there is a right, there must be a remedy).
However, over the years and of recent too, the hope of the common man to have his claims meritoriously adjudicated upon and get justice in the courts has continued to wane and be dashed, while leaving the ordinary citizen at the mercy of politicians and the government.
This is largely due to the existence of certain harsh legislative enactments that favor and sometimes shield government agencies from liability, at the expense of the interest of the citizenry and ultimately go down to defeat the course of justice.
A good example of such a legislative enactment is the Public Officers’ Protection Act Cap P41 LFN 2004 and its equivalent Public Officers’ Protection Laws of the various States in Nigeria.
Section 2 of the Public Officers’ Protection Act, for instance, provides: “Where any action, prosecution, or other proceedings is commenced against any person for any act done in pursuance or execution or intended execution of any law or of any public duty or authority or in respect of any such law, duty or authority, the following provisions shall have effect –
(a) the action, prosecution or proceedings shall not lie or be instituted unless it is commenced within three months next after the act, neglect or default complained of…”
In simple terms, the effect of the above provision is to rub the jurisdiction of the court and frustrate or render unenforceable any action commenced outside the mandatory statutory three months period.
See the case of Okon Antigha Essien vs. Cross River State Civil Service Commission & Anor (2014) LPELR-23527(CA); Mathias Oko Offoboche vs. Ogoja Local Government and Anor (2001) LPELR -2265 (SC);  16 NWLR (pt.739) 458.
The above position of the law was reinforced and echoed by the Hon. Justice Agbakoba of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria sitting in Calabar where the present writer appeared as Counsel in suit No. NICN/CA/39/2014 between Inspt. Dominic Ibor & 10 Ors. vs. The Nigerian Police Force & 3 Ors.
The claimants were variously enlisted in the Nigerian Army in 1975 and subsequently had their service transferred to the Nigerian Police Force where they served until retirement in 2005 upon attaining the mandatory retirement age.
They only approached the court sometime in June, 2014 to seek redress for their irregular and incomplete payment of pension benefits.
In its judgment delivered on 3/3/15, the court upheld the preliminary objection of the Defendants and dismissed the suit in Lemine, holding that the claimant’s suit was caught up by the three months limitation period under the Public Officers Protection Act.
All attempts by Counsel to hide under the exception that the injury/damage complained of was continuous, persisting and subsisting were unsuccessful.
It is submitted that the system of justice administration in this country as it relates to limitation period and with particular reference to the Public Officers’ Protection Laws is scandalous. It is most wicked and cruel to litigant.
This is especially against the background that many litigants usually do not notice the breach or injury done to their person until after expiration of the three months statutory period prescribed under the Act.
Also upon realizing the injury or violation of their rights, many litigants almost always initially resort to negotiation with the government agencies concerned by writing numerous appeal letters seeking administrative redress or in attempt to exhaust the internal administrative remedies.
And in the long run when they eventually approach the court, they would have been caught up by the limitation period.
Perhaps it is pertinent to point out that the Public Officers’ Protection Act Cap P41 LFN 2004 is a product of a military regime.
It was enacted by the Nigerian Military regime, the said Act is not too much a surprise; because military regimes are noted and known for enacting draconian, harsh and oppressive legislations (decrees) that favor only the interest of the ruling regime.
Unfortunately and regrettably too, the Public Officers’ Protection Act (just like many other Decrees in force at the time) survived the tsunami of military administrations and was wholesomely imported to the civilian democratic setting vide the provisions of Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
As the dust of the general elections finally settles and the inauguration of the Eight National Assembly keenly awaited, it is suggested that the Eight National Assembly must upon inauguration consider and take positive steps to effect an amendment of Section 2 of the Public Officers’ Protection Act especially by pegging the period of limitation to at least two years.
In the same vein, it is suggested that the incoming legislative Assembly in Cross River State should toe the path of reason by swiftly initiating the process for the amendment of the Public Officers’ Protection Law of Cross River State.
The present three months period of limitation provided by the Act is oppressive, wicked and ultimately clogs in the wheel of effective justice administration.
Eno Iyamba, Esquire is a practicing lawyer in Calabar at Basic Rights Counsel.
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