Corruption trial: Is NJC anti-graft panel dead on arrival?
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—It is no longer news that the National Judicial Council, NJC, has set-up a committee to supervise proceedings in all high-profile corruption cases pending before various courts across the country. The news, however, is that a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, has dismissed the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, COTRIMCO, which was inaugurated by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, on November 1, as hogwash.
Salami who was initially picked by the NJC to head the committee, rejected the offer, maintaining that “the whole exercise would be tantamount to time wasting and a huge theatrical show.” Justice Salami said he had in a meeting with the CJN on October 12, “raised serious objections to the inclusion of certain legal practitioners in the committee based on their antecedents, divided interest and personal relationships with one of them whom I strongly believe I cannot work with.”‘
Divided interest and personal relationship
He said the CJN equally admitted that the inclusion of those persons in the panel was inauspicious based on petitions against them and promised to weed them out after the inuagration, an action the former PCA said “would amount to buying a pig in a poke”.
Even though Salami had since been replaced with a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Suleiman Galadima, however, there is need for the NJC to evaluate some salient issues he raised against some of the terms of reference that COTRIMCO is saddled with. According to the former PCA, a major mandate of the committee was to watch proceedings of courts designated by the Chief Judges across the country for trial of corruption cases.
“With the greatest respect, I do not know what we stand to gain by merely watching the proceedings of these courts. A Judge who is quiet or friendly to counsel may not necessarily be honest neither is the one who is boisterously dishonest. Even then, the most reckless among them would not be foolhardy to engage in misconduct in enouhg full glove of the committee. He would clearly conduct himself respectfully for so long as it takes. I wish to remind My Lord that the devil itself does not know the darkest part of a man’s mind. Our sitting in court watching the proceedings would not disclose the intention of the presiding judge.
“The whole exercise would be tantamount to time wasting and a huge theatrical show as we would not be there when he is writing his judgment. I, therefore, most respectfully stand to be persuaded on what the National Judicial Council stands to gain by setting up this committee, If, however, it feels very strongly about it, council could make one of its members chairman of the body”, Salami stated.
Moreso, he said another dilemma the committee might face was the inclusion of five Chief Judges of some states in it. “What happens to their primary function – the administration of their various courts? Would they abdicate their responsibility to their courts or be taking time off to see to the running in order to ensure their stability?
“What would the committee do during their absence; wait for them or proceed without them? Either view is not salutary to the function of the committee, If we wait for them, the work of the committee would be delayed and if we proceed without them, they would not be seized of all the facts to enable them participate fully in the deliberations of the committee and to defend its report in council.
Nevethless, the CJN, while regretting that Salami declined the appointment, said he was confident that functions of the committee would greatly enhance the anti-corruption effort of the President Muhammadu Buhari led government. The CJN said he had already received a compiled list of 1,124 high-profile cases that would be monitored by COTRIMCO.
He said the compendium of pending corruption cases were transmitted to his office by heads of various courts in the country. He explained that all the institutions of the Judiciary and Heads of all the Courts have been advised to provide the Committee with necessary information and support to enable it make decisions from an informed perspective.
Other terms of reference of the committee include: “To monitor and regularly evaluate the progress and activities of courts designated to try corruption and financial/economic crime cases; “Advise on Practice Directions for approval by the Chief Justice of Nigeria to be applicable in all such courts across the country with a view to eliminating procedural and administrative bottlenecks militating against speedy disposal of such cases; “Advise on the trainings, re-trainings and other refresher programmes for Judges and staff of the designated courts aimed at enhancing their capacities to function effectively; “Come up with an effective feedback mechanism from Heads of Courts to the Council on the activities and progress of cases before designated courts.” Generally advise Council on the day-to-day strategies for the monitoring and evaluation of the performance of the designated courts and on strategies for improvement in performance”.
The committee is expected to propose Practice Direction for consideration and approval of the CJN. The said Practice Direction would compliment the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) and serve as a guide in the application of Rules in all Courts designated for corruption cases.
Meantime, aside Justice Galadima, other members of the committee include Chief Judge of Borno State, Justice Kashim Zannah, Chief Judge of Imo State, Justice P.O. Nnadi, Chief Judge Delta State, Justice Marsahal Umukoro, Chief Judge of Oyo State, Justice M. L. Abimbola.
Others are the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. A.B Mahmoud, SAN, former NBA Presidents, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Mr. J.B Daudu SAN, Mr. Augustine Alegeh SAN, Dr. Garba Tetengi, SAN, Mrs. R.I Inga, Representative of Non-Governmental Organisations, Representative from the Ministry of Justice, Representative from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN, as well as Secretary of the NJC, Mr. Gambo Saleh.
It will be recalled that prominent among groups that criticised the composition of the COTRIMCO included the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, which conveyed its position to the CJN vide a letter dated October 3. In the letter signed by the Executive Director of SERAP, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, the group said the composition of the committee was not in consonance with the advisory of the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. “SERAP urges your Lordship to urgently revisit, review, and reconsider the membership of the Salami committee to ensure that members currently handling high-profile corruption cases involving PEPs are removed.”
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