Enforcement of Judgements in Nigeria

Enforcement is the last stage of the judicial process after the legal right, claim or interest has ended in a judgment or order which remains to be enforced. It is the process whereby a judgment or order of court is enforced or to which it is made effective according to law. Most judgments require compliance with their terms. It is only in the case of a declaratory judgment which merely declares what the right of a party is, without imposing any sanction on a defendant or directing either of the parties to do anything that execution is not called for or levied . Also execution will be totally unnecessary where there is voluntary compliance with the judgments and orders of the courts.

It is trite that every successful litigant is entitled to the fruit of his judgment. It is also a truism that the overriding function of the judicial process of enforcement is to enable the judgment creditor reap the fruits of his judgment with a view to obtaining for him due satisfaction, compensation, restitution, performance or compliance with what the court has granted by way of remedy or relief. The process of enforcement is broadly referred to as execution

At all times however, the process of enforcement is at the initiative of the successful party. In Nigeria, the power of a court to enforce and ensure compliance with its judgment or order is derived from Section 6(6)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). This portion of our organic law directs that the judicial powers of the court “shall extend notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court of law”. Outside of our constitution, other laws that regulate enforcements of judgments in Nigeria are the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act , the Sheriffs and Civil Process Laws of the States and the Judgments (Enforcement) Rules made there under. It must be emphasized that the Judgments (Enforcement) Rules do not apply to proceedings in customary courts because the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act under which the Rules were made defines “court” as including only the High Court and Magistrates’ Court. The said Act also defines a judgment as including an order and as a consequence, references to judgments in this piece include the orders of courts. It should be observed that these laws name the Sheriff, the Deputy Sheriffs and the Bailiffs as the officers critical to the entire process of execution of the judgments of courts.

here are two parties to enforcement of a judgment. These are the judgment creditor and the judgment debtor. In almost every case of enforcement, these two are the parties to the suit. A judgment creditor means any person for the time being entitled to enforce a judgment and a judgment debtor means a person liable under a judgment. The use of the words “creditor” and “debtor” does not imply that the judgment must be for payment of money. The terms are used for every type of judgment or order. Thus, parties to an order of mandamus can be described as judgment creditor and judgment debtor, the former being the person entitled to enforce the order to carry out the contents of same . A judgment debt itself is a debt or damage or other monetary award which has been pronounced upon by a court of competent jurisdiction. It begins when the court has pronounced its judgment in favour of the plaintiff . Such a debt or damage or award does not become a judgment debt until the court or judge adjudges the defendant liable to pay it. Where the judgment creditor resorts to garnishee proceedings to enforce a judgment for instance, there are usually three parties, the judgment creditor becomes the garnishor, the judgment debtor and a third party, against whom the proceedings are taken, called the garnishee.

There are few exceptional cases in which a judgment creditor or debtor is not a party to the suit to enforce judgments. Where, for example, there is devolution of the rights and liabilities under a judgment as a result of death or otherwise, the successor in title of either of the two parties may enforce or be liable under the judgment. Thus, on the death of a judgment debtor before execution, application for execution of the judgment may be made against his legal representative or estate and if the court grants the application, the judgment may be executed accordingly. Notice of this application must be served on the personal representative. For the purpose of this sort of execution, the property of the deceased judgment debtor may be attached and sold if the judgment is for money to be paid out of the property. Where the judgment creditor has died, his legal representative may also apply to the court for leave to enforce the judgment. Such application may be made ex parte.

An assignee of a judgment can only levy execution if the whole judgment is assigned , but not where the assignment is of part only of the judgment. In representative proceedings, the representatives as well as persons represented are bound by the judgment. Where a judgment is against a firm, execution may issue against its property, any person who had admitted in the proceedings that he was a partner when the cause of action arose or who has been adjudged to be liable as a partner, and any person who was individually served with summons as a partner or a person sought to be made liable, if there was a trial and the person so served failed to appear at the trial; or if the proceeding was an action on the undefended list or default action, judgment was entered in default of defence.

If the judgment creditor claims to be entitled to issue execution against any other person as a partner, he may apply to the court by motion on notice served on the alleged partner personally and on the hearing of the application, the court may give leave to issue execution if liability is not disputed but if it is disputed, may order the issue of liability to be tried in such manner as the court thinks fit, and may give all necessary directions for that purpose.

Now, the question remains whether or not every judgement is enforceable.
Every judgment of the court must be obeyed and is effective from the date of delivery or from such date as the judgment itself appoints. The judgment is meant to be obeyed without demand and if there is default in obedience, the judgment creditor is entitled to commence enforcement proceedings.
Generally, any judgment the time for compliance with which has arrived, which has not been satisfied, which requires the payment of money or which directs its recovery, which requires the transfer, delivery or recovery of possession of property, real or personal or which requires a person to do or abstain from an act, which is not stayed or on which execution is not stayed, which has not become statute barred may be executed.

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