Courts throughout Nigeria are virtually empty Monday, as lawyers began a two-day boycott to protest what they consider government disregard for court decisions.
More than 40,000 lawyers, who belong to the association, stayed away from court Monday, following the boycott call from the Nigeria Bar Association.
"You can see today, all courts in the federal capital territory are not sitting," said Jude Okeke, who is the Nigeria Bar Association chairman in the capital, Abuja. "All members, all lawyers practicing within the federal capital territory have been directed not to attend court today, and, we are happy to announce that they have complied. We have moved around the courts, from the court of appeal to high courts, where we are, magistrate courts, the area courts, none of them is sitting."
Leading Nigerian lawyers, including the chief justice, have criticized the government for what they see as its selective respect for court decisions. They cite the case of two state governors, who were removed recently without regard for due process, as stated in the constitution. The lawyers have also criticized officials of the federal capital authority for what they consider blatant lack of respect for the judiciary.
The government has rejected the accusations, and says it has done everything possible to uphold the rule of law.
Lawyers have also complained about abuses they say were perpetrated by security forces and law enforcement agents.
Ikechukwu Ezeichukwu, an Abuja-based lawyer, says the government's attitude is seriously undermining democracy and the rule of law.
"By refusing to obey court orders, the courts are being intimidated. Because, if you make an order today, and it is not obeyed, you make an order tomorrow, it's not obeyed, the next day you will not make such an order, because it is only a court, not worth its salt that can make order that cannot be obeyed, make an order in vain," said Ezeichukwu. "Why should I make an order that cannot be obeyed? If you intimidate the courts and the legislature, then what do you have of democracy? You no longer have democracy."
The boycott is seen as a major embarrassment for the government, whose security forces were taken to task last weekend by the U.S. State Department for human rights abuses.
Nigeria endured routine violations of basic rights during long years of military rule before the return to civil democracy in 1999.
Most rights groups say the situation has not changed much, even with the departure of the military from power.