NJC And The Burden Of Trust

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A crisis of confidence may have come upon the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (CFCCTMC) of the National Judicial Council following the resignation of its would have been chairman, Justice Ayo Salami (rtd) before its inauguration. The problem is not just that he turned down the appointment but the fact that he made it clear that some members of the committee have no business being part of it. If this is true, the committee can be presumed dead on arrival.

The committee, considering the mood of the nation on this issue of anti-corruption and the place of the courts in it, ought to be made up of men and women with proven integrity. It is too early for an infighting, which is what Justice Salami’s resignation connotes, to be associated with it. We are assuming that the committee is not out to serve a predetermined purpose in which case some members are there to do the bidding of the powers that be.

In his letter rejecting the offer, the controversial justice who, as the President of the Court of Appeal, had a running battle with the Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN) on the basis of election cases pending before his court, raised issues that place a burden of trust on the committee based on its membership and by extension the NJC itself.

In that letter, he was reported to have claimed to have told the Chief Justice of the impropriety of letting some members of the committee function in that capacity. He insisted that inclusion of certain legal practitioners was unhealthy and out of sync with the purpose of the committee. He actually questioned the moral integrity of those persons based on their antecedents, divided interest and personal relationship. He also made it clear that their inclusion was inauspicious based on petitions or protests against their membership of the committee.

As a serving President of the Court of Appeal, he challenged the decision of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in a manner that was described as insubordinate by those who should know. For political considerations, it was turned into a media affair and he got away with that infraction until he retired months later. And now, in his letter of resignation as a member of that committee, he obviously challenged the Chief Justice’s approach to what he perceived as a problem and sounded as if he was dictating to the CJN.

However, it is without doubt that the inclusion in the committee of serving chief judges of some states is capable of posing a problem that may conflict with their primary assignments in their various states. It also would have been more appropriate, in our view, to appoint retired judges and other judicial officers as members of the committee to avoid conflict of interests as Salami pointed out.

Now that the first chairman of the committee has resigned on supposed grounds of principle, the CJN may be persuaded to take another look on the composition of the committee set up as part of the machinery to monitor and check the handling of corruption cases by the courts. The argument has always been that the courts are instrumental to the delay in aggressively fighting the anti-corruption war. At the peak of the distrust, some judges and justices were arrested and arraigned. This committee is seen to be part of an effort on the part of the CJN to attempt to prove that, indeed, the courts are not to blame. If that is the case, then, the issues raised by Justice Salami must be addressed if the committee is not to be dismissed as self-serving.

The National Judicial Council (NJC) headed by the CJN himself owes itself a duty to get it right this time. One of the ways of going about it is to purge itself of any accusation, bias or half-heartedness in trying to clean up the supposed temple of justice.

It will be unfortunate if the person of the retired justice of the Court of Appeal comes between the NJC and the desirability of getting the assignment right. He may be out-spoken and controversial but his antecedents must not be allowed to take anything away from him as he alerts the nation that the composition of the committee can only create even more headaches for everyone concerned.

On the part of those he was pointing accusing figures at, it would have been nobler still if in their own best interest they disengaged from the committee as soon as possible so that the judicial system will be spared further embarrassing comments as to its willingness or even readiness to be part of the move to sanitise the system of delivering justice.