Barristers & Solicitors
Contempt of Court and Conduct to Prejudice of Military Discipline

It is normal in Legal Profession for a Lawyer to be sent to jail by a Judge for contempt of court just as it is normal in military profession for a soldier to be sent to jail for conduct prejudicial to military discipline. That was probably why Inibehe Effiong Esq was jailed by Justice Ekaette .F. Obot, the Acting Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State on 27th July, 2022, for one month.

I’m however wondering why reactions to the recent case of contempt of court in Akwa Ibom state haven’t questioned the merit of the offence of contempt of court itself the same way our lawyers question the merit of conduct to prejudice of military discipline? And why have they refused to ask where the ingredients of contempt of court are criminalized in a statute the same way they demand to see where the ingredients of conduct prejudicial to military discipline are criminalized? Why does our noble profession accommodate what appears to be double standard on this issue?

Anyway, the motive behind this piece is simply to observe the relevant similarity between my two princely professions, the military profession, and the legal profession. In doing this, the similarity between contempt of court and conduct to the prejudice of military discipline may be exposed. This is without prejudice to either the merit of the offence of contempt of court itself or to the case of any of the parties involved.

The similarity between the two professions reminds me of the palpable passion our former Oga, the retired Maj. Gen David Jemibewon had for the Legal Profession even while still in service. During his retirement sendoff party at the officers’ Mess Marina Lagos after his meritorious service in the Nigerian Army, the General mouthed that the only profession he was eyeing after leaving the army was Legal Profession. Reason, the legal profession accord respect for discipline the same way the Military accord respect to discipline.

He’s right! Both professions adore core values like nobility and discipline which rate moral eminence more important than anything else. Both professionals should be motivated not by materialism but by love and service to Country and humanity. Hence a soldier can fight in the bush without food or shelter for days in defence of his people, the same way a lawyer can labour to exhaustion in doing cases pro bono just to procure justice for his poor and helpless client.

If discipline to a soldier means obeying superior orders willingly whether pleasant or unpleasant, decorum to a lawyer means to obey the court without insubordination while conducting his case.

Both offences it must be noted are basically similar in all material respects. For instance, while rationalizing the offence of contempt of court in the case of Atake vs A-G Federation of Nigeria & Anor (SC 5/1982), his lordship stated that “The power of superior courts to commit (or attach) a contemnor to prison without charge or trial is very ancient, very necessary, but … very unique. It is as old as the courts themselves and it is necessary for the performance of their functions for administering justice, whether they exercise criminal or civil jurisdiction. If they are to do justice, they need power to administer it without interference or affront as well as to enforce their own orders and to punish those who… misbehave in such a manner as to weaken or lower the dignity and authority of a court of law”.

Permit me to adopt his lordship’s rationale for contempt of court, in defence of criminalization of conduct to prejudice of service discipline in the military. Both offences exist to save the professions they regulate. And what constitute each of the offences are more subjective than objective. In the case of Parker V. Levy 417 U.S. 733,758 (1974), the American Supreme Court upheld criminalization of conduct deemed prejudicial to good order and discipline by the U.S. military, stating that it is a command responsibility to maintain good order and discipline in a formation or unit. And so removing commanders from the military justice system would result in removal of competence in the commanders.

Hence, section 36 (12) of the CFRN 1999 (as amended) which forbids any offence without written ingredients and punishments should cease to be cited to invalidate the offence of conduct to the prejudice of military discipline since it’s never cited to invalidate contempt of court.

Finally, I am drawn to both professions like the very senior officer named above due to the value they both attach to discipline or decorum. Yes I believe that he who hates discipline should stay away from both the military and legal professions.

What is your take on this?.