It is becoming a huge embarrassment to the Nigerian judiciary and also a national shame that, 10 years after, trials in all corruption cases brought against some politically exposed and high profile persons are yet to commence. Some of these cases that border on corruption and money laundering offences which were filed as far back as 2007, 2008 and 2009 have continued to linger in different high courts in the country as a result of unending appeals, other submissions by the defendants and poor prosecutorial procedures. Despite the provisions of some extant laws against such practices, some accused persons have gone on appeals up to the Supreme Court on interlocutory matters only to be referred back to the trial court for commencement of the trial proper.
In an attempt to defend the judiciary, the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, had on November 1, 2015, said that the anti-graft agencies in the country often fail to successfully prosecute high profile criminal cases.
Towing the same line of argument, the current CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, equally exonerated Judges from the delay in corruption cases pending before the court. Justice Onnoghen averred that the responsibility of investigation and prosecution rest squarely with independent bodies. He said that it was unfair to blame judges for not expeditiously trying cases when they are always seated and ready to listen to cases brought before them.
The CJN maintained that the responsibility of judges is to decide on cases brought before them and that the establishment of special courts for speedy adjudication of special cases is the prerogative of the executive in conjunction with the legislature, while the judiciary only provides the manpower to handle the special courts.
There is nothing to argue about the position of the two revered jurists. In our view, we will not hesitate to point out that certain laws, measures or rules have been laid down to remedy some of the lapses inherent in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) which was signed into law in May 2015 unmistakably has wide applicability.
Section 1 of the said Act aptly explains the purpose of establishing it thus: “The purpose of this Act is to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of the suspect, the defendant, and the victim”.
This law which is established to correct the “lacuna” in the repealed Criminal Procedure Act and Criminal Procedure Code, also bars the court from granting orders of stay of proceedings pending the outcome of an appeal on preliminary issues. The Act covers the entire criminal justice process, from arrest, investigation, trial and custodial matters to sentencing.
Most superior courts in the country, including the Supreme Court, have enacted Practice Directions on serious crimes, such as money laundering and fraud, to fast track the adjudication of cases and ensure speedy trial of accused persons.
The CJN had in September 2017 set up the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) to ensure that the judiciary dispense justice promptly on corruption cases in compliance with the letters and spirit of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. The 15-man committee is enjoined to continually monitor the progress of high-profile criminal cases, which are estimated to be well over 1500.
We are of the view that the Federal Government has displayed more rhetoric than providing the necessary financial support to prosecute the anti-corruption cases in the country. The National Judicial Council (NJC) budgeted a paltry sum of N0.5 billion as running costs and other requirements for the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee based on Federal Government’s budget envelop for judiciary in 2018.
In our opinion, except with adequate financial provision, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Service (DSS) and even the Ministry of Justice cannot recruit the skilled manpower that can investigate and prosecute anti-corruption cases. Furthermore, to the extent that the laxity on the part of those who carry out the arrest, investigation and prosecution continues, so will criminals continue to evade justice to the detriment of the nation and her people. The only way to enforce criminal justice is for parties concerned in the dispensation of justice to be more alive to their duties and responsibilities.
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