of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Chief Judges of the States, and the Federal Capital Territory should be directed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria to issue Practice Directions to accelerate the determination of corruption cases.
“In addition, the Supreme Court (Criminal Appeals) Practice Directions 2013, Court of Appeal (Criminal Appeals) Practice Directions 2013, and Court of Appeal (Fast Track) Practice Directions 2014, as well as the Federal High Court Practice Directions 2013 issued by the heads of the respective courts should be put to use as they are designed to give priority to the trial and appeals arising from cases of corruption, money laundering, terrorism, rape, and kidnapping and human trafficking.
‘’To obviate undue delay in the determination of corruption cases, the Practice Directions have made special provision for the service of processes on parties by electronic mail addresses, facsimile numbers, GSM telephone numbers, or any other available mode of communication.
‘’Trial courts should stop such delay tactics which are programmed to defeat the letter and spirit of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. Finally, defense counsel who conspires with their clients to frustrate the prosecution of corruption cases should be made to pay punitive costs while not more than three lawyers should appear in court for any of the parties in corruption cases”.
On his part, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Jos, Professor Nnamdi Aduba, called for the amendment of the criminal proceeding laws to turn the burden of proof to the defendant rather than the state or the prosecution, arguing that setting up special courts to handle corruption cases will not expedite corruption cases because Nigerian institutions are weak and the prosecution is not adequately equipped with skills and technology to do the work.
“Even the judges are not well paid. So, when somebody has looted so much amount of money they can even twist the case,” he said.
Arguments on creation of looters’ special courts
Before the CJN’s directive on the creation of special courts for corruption cases in Nigeria, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) headed by Professor Itse Sagay, had sent a bill for an Act to provide for the establishment of a Special Crimes Court as a superior court of record to allow for speedy trials of certain offences, including economic and financial crimes, terrorism, money laundering and corruption offences and for related matters, but the bill is yet to see the light of the day.
While the fate of this bill is hanging in the air, notable lawyer had once argument over its viability and usefulness in the fight against corruption in the country, while other said it would aid the speed trial of all the corruption cases in Nigeria.
Some senior lawyers have added their voices to the debate. Speaking on the issue, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Emeka Ngige, said the special court, when established, would help the existing courts in decongesting the never ending criminal cases pending before them. Hear him: “It is my belief that the Bill is borne of out of the frustrations being experienced by the anti-graft agencies in the prosecution of litany of criminal cases bordering on corruption and terrorism. I have not read the Bill, but I hope that the loopholes which bedeviled the previous efforts of the Federal Government in setting up Failed Banks Tribunals in the 90s should be addressed.”
Ngige urged PACAC to go a step further to initiate constitutional amendment to include the Special Crimes Court as one of the courts of superior record which neither Federal or State High Courts would exercise supervisory jurisdiction over and advocated the establishment of Criminal Divisions of the Court of Appeal to take care of appeals emanating from the special crimes court.
Special crimes court
“Even at the Supreme Court level, I suggest that more appointments on merit should be made to bring the number of Justices at the Apex Court to 21 as constitutionally provided so as to enable the court deal with appeals flowing from the Special Crimes Court within nine months of the entry of the appeal from the court below. It is my hope that members of National Assembly should give the passage of the Bill an accelerated hearing and attention,” Ngige said.
However, Ahmed Raji, SAN, posited that court congestion requires a comprehensive and holistic treatment, adding that the government should pay greater attention to the causes and prevention of crimes rather than the effects.
“It may be more effective and cost efficient if special divisions are created out of the present courts to take care of the contemporary problems to make room for adjustments as the situation may demand. The committee should engage the bench on this matter. But I commend the committee for making efforts towards achieving a better society in our country. May God bless and reward them,” Raji said.
But, Alex Muoka, former Lagos Branch Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), argued that instead of creating new courts, existing ones should be strengthened, adding, “I think we have a penchant for ad-hoc solutions to problems. We enjoy re-inventing the wheel. We approach every issue with the mindset of setting up a new body to provide a solution. In my humble opinion, it is an unnecessary duplication of efforts and resources.
“A crime is a crime. Rather than setting up special courts to deal with certain types of crimes, the focus should be on strengthening the existing courts that deal with criminal offences. I do not consider that there is any type of “economic and financial crimes, terrorism, money laundering and corruption offences and for related matters” that the existing High Courts cannot deal with expeditiously if their capacity is strengthened. The offences are not new offences. They are offences currently existing on our statute books and presently being tried in the existing courts.
“The resources that would be deployed in setting up special courts would be better utilised in improving the existing court system – instead of setting up separate (and duplicate or parallel) superior courts of record each with its own head of court and administrative machinery, structures and buildings, legislative framework etc.
“Yes it would probably create more job opportunities for judicial officers, registrars and court staff – but is that what this is about? If the concern is with genuinely addressing a problem, then we need to think beyond this ad-hoc solution,” Muoka said.
Salami’s committee main task
To discharge its duty without any iota of failure or compromise, polity observers are of the view that Justice Salami’s committee should close the lacuna that may spell doom for the prosecution of the alleged looters. One of such, according to them, is the initiation of the constitutional amendment to include the Special Crimes Court as one of the courts of superior record which neither Federal nor State High Court would exercise supervisory jurisdiction over.
Also, the National Assembly should be contacted to enact a bill that will seek to the creation of special courts for the trial of looters, while the ones directed by the CJN should be addressed as designated courts for corruption cases, explaining that counsel to the alleged looters may capitalize on this lacuna to scuttle the process.
But how far can the committee go in curbing corruption with the array of issues over setting up of the special courts?