The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen has joined the fight against the pervasive corruption in the country by ordering the setting up of special courts to fight the cankerworm.
Justice Onnoghen at a special session of the Supreme Court where he administered oath on 29 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) on Monday, ordered heads of the divisions of courts to create special courts for corruption and financial crimes cases.
The ceremony was witnessed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Onnoghen said the directive is necessary to end the unnecessary delay associated with the prosecution of corruption cases.
The Chief Justice also ordered that all lists of pending corruption cases in the various courts be forwarded to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The CJN disclosed that an Anti-Corruption Cases Trial Monitoring Committee will be constituted at the next council meeting to help the NJC monitor and effectively enforce the foregoing policy.
He said the committee would be saddled with, among other things, the responsibility of ensuring that both trial and appellate courts handling corruption and financial crime cases key into and abide by our renewed efforts at ridding our country of the cankerworm.
He directed heads of courts to go against prosecution and defence counsel who indulge in the unethical practices of delaying and stalling criminal trials.
“Heads of Courts are now to report such cases to the NJC which in turn, would transmit them to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, in the case of Senior Advocates, and Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee in the case of other Legal Practitioners.
“Heads of Courts have been directed to designate in their various jurisdictions, one or more Courts, depending on the volume of such cases, as special courts solely for the purpose of hearing and speedily determining corruption and financial crime cases.
“Where such cases come on appeal, to either the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, Special Dates on each week, shall be fixed solely for hearing and determining such appeals,” he said.
“We are under no illusion that the fight against corruption would be an easy one, as we are already aware that when you fight corruption, corruption fights back; but we are determined to win it. We require all hands to be on deck to fight this monster.
“We in the Supreme Court, having reduced the pre-election appeals in the course of the Third Term of the last Legal year, will devote much of this First Term in dealing, by way of task work, with the identified eighteen (18) EFCC, ICPC, and Economic Crime cases alongside the normal Civil, Criminal, and Political cases.
“We must not lose sight of the indispensable role of the judiciary in the fight against corruption.
“Corruption continues to place the judiciary in the eye of the storm, but, we cannot allow that to deter us or weaken our resolve.
“It is regrettable that the image of the judiciary has been tarnished by the notion that the Nigerian judiciary is bedeviled by corrupt elements, hence the need for an image building parade.
“We must accept that acts of misconduct of a few rub off on the rest of the judiciary and create the impression that all judicial officers have their hands soiled with the proceeds of corruption.
“Let me be clear here; it is not going to be business as usual for the few unscrupulous elements in our midst.
“Any judicial officer found wanting would be dealt with decisively, and shown the way out swiftly. It is therefore for this reason that the independence of the judiciary must be entrenched if we are to hold the trust and confidence of the citizens of Nigeria.
“We, in the judiciary are fully aware and in fact worried by concerns expressed by members of the public on the very slow speed with which corruption cases in particular are being heard or determined by our courts.”
“The rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is the pinnacle of legal practice and the highest honour conferred by this noble profession.
“It is a rare privilege bestowed on eminently deserving members of the Bar who have distinguished themselves in the knowledge, practice of and contribution to the law, having passed through rigorous processes.
“I am aware of the meticulous screening and scrutiny which lawyers are subjected to in line with the minimum standards of competence provided by the guidelines.
“It is therefore a commendable feat achieved by the newly appointed Senior Advocates. This privilege must therefore be guarded jealously,’’ he said.
The Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) commended the CJN for setting plans in motion to commence a vigorous process of reforms aimed at re-positioning the Judiciary.
“I must also commend Your Lordship’s Circular on Practice Direction of May 28, 2017 on the compulsory enforcement of Arbitration provisions in contracts by our courts.
“This would promote faster commercial dispute resolutions and foster greater confidence in our judicial system by domestic and foreign investors.
“This directive will no doubt help to stimulate commercial transaction in Nigeria and thereby support the vision of the present administration to promote economic development and growth.
“Directives on designation of special courts solely for the purpose of hearing and speedy determining of corruption cases is highly commendable,’’ the minister said.
Malami, who is also the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) said the commencement of a new legal year, offered an opportunity to reflect on the challenges of the past year.
“It also helps us to review the strategies we employed to confront them, celebrate our successes, appreciate our limitations and then project into the future with a view to improving on the present indicators,’’ he said.