Recently, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, influenced the appointment of a 15-man committee, headed by former President, Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, through the NJC, to try looters in special anti-corruption courts. TOPE SUNDAY, in this piece examines how far the committee can go in its mandate of fighting corruption
Nigerians have commended the step taken by the judiciary to halt the endemic corruption in the country. It would be recalled that recently, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, issued a marching order that special anti-corruption courts be established across the country to try looters in the country. The order by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), was specifically directed to the heads of courts to designate at least one court in their various jurisdictions as special courts to solely hear and speedily determine corruption and financial crime cases. To that effect the National Judicial Council (NJC), appointed a 15-man committee led by the former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, to try looters in the country. This, no doubt, raises hope that the war against looters by President Muhammadu Buhari’s government will be brought to a logical end. But some Nigerians including eminent lawyers are of the view that creation of the special court is not the only solution to curbing corruption.
The CJN’s marching order
Perturbed by the rising rate of corruption in Nigeria, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, at a special session of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (SCN) to mark the commencement of the 2017/2018 Legal Year and the swearing-in of 29 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in Abuja. He told the heads of courts in the country that carrying out his directive depended on the volume of such cases in their jurisdictions.
Justice Onnoghen also ordered all heads of courts to clamp down on both prosecution and defence counsel who indulge in the unethical practice of deploying delay tactics to stall criminal trials, while the heads of courts will henceforth report cases of unnecessary delays to the NJC, which in turn, would transmit them to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), in the case of SANs, and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), in the case of other legal practitioners.
To properly monitor and effectively enforce the new policy, Onnoghen later constituted the Financial Cases Trial Monitoring Committee to be chaired by Justice Salami with the mandate to ensure that both trial and appellate courts handling corruption and financial crime cases key into and abide by the renewed efforts at ridding the country of the cankerworm of corruption.
The CJN said with pre-election appeal cases now out of the way, the Supreme Court would henceforth channel its energy towards clearing as many of the corruption and financial crime cases as possible.
“We in the Supreme Court, having reduced the pre-election appeals in the course of the third term of the last legal year, will devote much of this first term in dealing, by way of task work, with the identified 18 EFCC, ICPC and economic crime cases alongside the normal civil, criminal and political cases,” he had explained.
Justice Salami and other 14 ‘wise men’
Barely six years into a forceful retirement, former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, was appointed by the NJC alongside 14 others to head the Financial Cases Trial Monitoring Committee to monitor cases across Nigeria.
Other members of the committee are; Kashim Zannah, Chief Judge of Borno State; P. O Nnadi, Chief Judge of Imo State; and his counterpart from Delta State, Marshal Umukoro. Others are M. L. Abimbola, Chief Judge of Oyo State; Abubakar Mahmood, President of the Nigeria Bar Association; Wole Olanikpekun, former president of the NBA; Olisa Agbakoba, Joseph Daudu, and Augustine Alegeh, all former NBA presidents. Others are Garba Tetengi, and R.I Inga, members of NJC.
Also in the committee are the NJC’s Secretary, Gambo Saleh and representatives of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Ministry of Justice and non-governmental organisations respectively.
Is creation of special courts the way out?
As the debate rages whether the special courts created for looters is an end to looting or not, Human Rights Lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, applauded the CJN for his efforts at ensuring quick trial of looters in the country and advised that the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Chief Judges of the States, and the Federal Capital Territory should be directed by the CJN to issue Practice Directions to accelerate the determination of corruption cases.
He said: “As part of an anti-corruption policy of the Mohammadu Buhari administration, an executive bill for the establishment of a special court with exclusive jurisdiction to try corruption cases was submitted to the National Assembly. Although it was submitted over a year ago, the federal legislators have not deemed it fit to pass the crucial bill into law for reasons best known to them. Hence, corruption cases have been subjected to inordinate delays in our courts which are congested with many other cases.
“However, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen, has intervened in a decisive manner by issuing a directive to all heads of courts in Nigeria to create special courts for the exclusive trial of corruption cases. The Chief Justice deserves commendation for the radical initiative. No doubt, the timely intervention of the Chief Justice will go a long way to speed up the trial of corruption cases in all our courts.
“To make a success of the directive, the Chairman