Judicial cleansing before combating corruption
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari in keeping faith with his promise to embark on an onslaught against corruption as key priority, named a Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption headed by Professor Itse Sagay, a prominent professor of law and civil rights activist.
The Committee’s brief is to advise the present administration on the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. The main clog in the progress of our nation, Nigeria is corruption which with sense of responsibility is surmountable provided there is strong political will to achieve this. Corruption is the abuse of bestowed power or position to acquire a personal benefit.
Corruption may include many activities including bribery and embezzlement. Government, or ‘political’, corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain. The word corrupt when used as an adjective literally means “utterly broken”. Stephen D. Morris, a professor of politics, writes that political-corruption is the illegitimate use of public power to benefit a private interest. Buhari’s quest for change in power, education, economy sectors is possible once corruption is reduced. Taming this monster may be difficult, but with Buhari’s Executive synergy with the Judiciary, the change is possible. There should be a strict deterrent mechanism in our polity.
Once this takes root, corruption will be minimised. Today cases against corruption and allied offences go on endlessly without end; most unfortunate our lawyers, particularly senior lawyers with due respect have turned to ‘charge and bail’ lawyers, specialising only in moving bail applications! They take advantage of the slow pace of dispensation of justice by ensuring that their clients, the suspects avoid subsequent trial once they secure bail or reprieve.
With no intent to subject anyone to mockery or derision, I found it strange to see Femi Fani-Kayode’s money laundering trial lingering for almost seven years. The list is endless. To conclude criminal cases on time as against the present arrangement where it takes years, the former and only female Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloma Mukhtar, GCON creditably initiated sweeping changes across the courts with the introduction of a model practice direction for all courts to fast-track trials of offences involving terrorism, rape, kidnapping, corruption, money laundering, human trafficking and related matters.
The practice direction directs that such cases must be tried on daily bases as well as disallowing interlocutory injunction during the trial. Alas, today our courts have refused to follow the provision of the practice direction. It is, therefore, imperative that to win the war against corruption, dispensation of Justice has to be fast tracked. It is unfortunate that some Judges insist that all cases must go through the pre-trial conference procedure including matters commenced by originating summons or under summary judgment procedure.
Apart from this, the other cause of delay is frivolous applications usually filed by lawyers who know that their clients are not likely to win on the merit. Once the application is refused, he proceeds to appeal and then file a Motion for stay of proceedings. There is a need for all the stakeholders that is the judges, lawyers, and litigants to recognise that justice delayed is justice denied. The government must create enabling environment for the judges to work and I think President Buhari will not treat this with kid’s gloves.
I am also particular about Section 233 of the 1999 Constitution that deals with appellate jurisdictions of cases before the courts for adjudication. There are several cases that ought not to come to the Supreme Court and should have terminated at the Court of Appeal. There is need to shift emphasis from seniority to performance.
Elevation to higher courts should be based on performance rather than seniority. Recently, the Judiciary led by Chief Justice Aloma Mukhtar sidestepped the seniority culture usually observed in the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria by appointing Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa as the first female President of the Court of Appeal. Some judges cannot deliver three to four judgements in a year; there is no use keeping such Judges on the bench other than to be shown his or her way out.
A cursory look at the reforms that are very critical to cleansing the Augean stable of the country shows that President Buhari and our Judiciary need not step outside the constitutional provisions governing the conduct of judiciary sector in administration of justice as all that is needed is introduction and amendment of existing policy guidelines being misappropriated or manipulated to perpetuate corruption. In my candid opinion, judiciary should be overhauled to ensure, among others, swift dispensation of justice, a major prerequisite for the success of the administration’s pledge to tackle corruption.
As we all know the judiciary is faced with challenges ranging from autonomy, institutional defects, a faulty appointment process to poor funding. There is also the problem of archaic laws and procedural rules, requiring prompt attention. So much for Prof Sagay’s Committee to do, if they truly want to advise the present administration on the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. • Ajulo is National Secretary, Labour Party and Founder/Chairman, Egalitarian Mission for Africa, Abuja