During the week, the Chief Justice of Nigeria ordered the establishment of a special court for corruption and financial crimes so as to curb unnecessary delay associated with the prosecution of such cases. He also ordered the constitution of an “Anti-Corruption Cases Trial Monitoring Committee” to monitor and effectively enforce the policy. He further directed the heads of courts to clamp down on both prosecution and defence counsels who indulge in the unethical practice of deploying delay tactics to stall criminal trials.
The aim of these tough measures, according to the Chief Justice, apart from supporting the current anti-corruption fight of the government, is an “image building campaign” to redeem the battered image of the judiciary, whose members are being accused of soiling their hands with proceeds of corruption and therefore unable to deliver justice without fear or favour.
We commend the Chief Justice for this bold move. While it is undeniable that some members of the judiciary have joined ranks with corrupt elements in the society, it is also undeniable that the government has not done its part in the area of thorough investigation and diligent prosecution of corruption cases to secure prosecution. This is largely responsible for the near lack of conviction of high profile corruption cases since 2015.
But the government, particularly the President, has always blamed the judiciary for lack of progress in the war against corruption. In a town hall meeting with Nigerians in Addis Ababa last year, the president claimed the judiciary remained his main headache in the fight against corruption. If the president was being measured in his criticisms of the judiciary, his party members have not. At anytime the party got an unfavourable judgement from the court, its officials throw caution to the wind. For instance, the national chairman of the APC took particular aim at the judiciary for losing the electoral appeal case in Rivers state. “There is something fundamentally wrong n the judiciary,” Oyegun was quoted as saying. However, Oyegun later revealed his real intentions and desire further when he openly confessed that: “We have lost very important resource-rich states to the PDP. No matter how crude oil prices have fallen, it is still the most important revenue earner for the country.” Similarly, many of his party members – prominent among which is the Lagos publicity secretary, Joe Igbokwe, have been openly abusing the Supreme Court and labelling its justices as ‘corrupt’ and ‘fraudulent’ with some calling on the President to probe the Supreme Court for daring to deliver judgements against the party’s candidates.
True, the judiciary, like all institutions in Nigeria, is not immune to corruption and the erosion of values. There are proven cases of corruption in the judiciary and in most cases, the judiciary has often allowed the rich and highly connect law-breakers to easily escape justice while coming down heavily on the petty malfeasance of the poor. And that is why we commend the Chief Justice for taking this bold move to prevent the abuse of court processes in cases of corruption.
But the executive still has its part to play. It has been aware for a long time that the judiciary requires reform to position it to effectively administer justice, but nothing has been done in that regard.
Perhaps, this is the time for the executive to join hands with the Chief Justice to comprehensively reform the judiciary.
Even if that is done, the judiciary cannot just convict those accused of corruption until the government can discharge admirably its burden of proof. Clearly the government needs to increase and strengthen its capacity for investigation and prosecution of corruption cases.