Lately, there has been outcry from the public over delays in prosecution of corruption cases in Nigeria.
KEHINDE OSASONA looks at the scenario from the point of view of recent feats.
Overview Recently, as keynote speaker at an event with the theme “Corruption and Development: What the Courts Can Do and Have Done,” Justice John Vertes, the President of the Commonwealth Judges and Magistrates Association, held that corruption attacks the foundation of most democratic institutions and it often assumes many forms.
He said, “Cancer of corruption has made economic development in Nigeria to be static.
Therefore, funding of the courts should be independent of the executive arm in order to avoid manipulation of judges,” Roles of the judiciary President Muhammadu Buhari was once quoted as having said, “in the face of dwindling revenues and in a bid to reposition Nigeria’s economy, it became obligatory to swiftly tackle two ills namely; waste and corruption.” Consequently, at an open workshop for Nigerian judges organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption in conjunction with the National Judicial Institute, Abuja, President Buhari observed that the judiciary arm of government was yet to perform its functions to the satisfaction of Nigerians given the reforms brought about by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
According to Buhari, the judiciary must be in the forefront of efforts to develop rights-based jurisprudence as an element in the multidisciplinary approach advocated in the fight against corruption.
He advised that the judges must also be aware of the sensitivities of the public and take steps towards avoiding even a shred of doubt regarding their independence.
He said: “In justice, integrity is a necessity.
Hence, judicial officers and all other members of this sector must always demonstrate manifest integrity.
The judiciary has a role to play in the fight against corruption by enforcing the applicable laws.
“I am worried that the expectation of the public is yet to be met by the judiciary with regard to the removal of delay and the toleration of delay tactics by lawyers.
When cases are not concluded, the negative impression is given that crime pays”.
“So far, the corruption cases filed by government are not progressing as speedily as they should in spite of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015, essentially because the courts allow some lawyers to frustrate the reforms introduced by law,” he further explained.
Buhari said the scenario such as the one he painted must change for his administration to succeed in its fight against corruption.
The president said he has made the fight against corruption one of the top priorities of his administration in the hope of restoring the economy and build a new Nigeria.
He said the eradication of corruption is a joint task involving not only judges and members of the legal profession, but all Nigerians.
“The challenge is to come up with an integrated approach that balances process and substance, promote clarity to ensure a coherent and realistic formulation of objectives.
“To this end, the judiciary is under a duty to keep its house in order and to ensure that the public, which it serves, sees this.
“Thus, we cannot expect to make any gains in the war against corruption in our society when the judiciary is seen as being distant from the crusade.
“This will not augur well and its negative effect will impact all sectors of society,” he said.
He advised the judiciary to always fight delay of cases in court and to also fight corruption ‘in its own ranks, perceived or otherwise.’ “We expect to see less tolerance to delay tactics used by defence lawyers or even the prosecution in taking cases to conclusion,” he said.
Living up to billings Blueprint recalls that a High Court of Federal Capital Territory sitting at Gudu, presided over by Justice Adebukola Banjoko recently convicted and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment a former Governor of Plateau state, Joshua Dariye, for diverting public funds to the tune of N1.126billion.
Dariye, who was governor from 1999 to 2007, and current Senator representing Plateau Central, was found guilty on 15 out of the 23-count criminal charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him.
The court said it was satisfied that the defendant, being a public officer that had full dominion and control of ecological funds the Federal Government released to Plateau State in 2001, converted and diverted same for his personal use.
It held that the ex-governor criminally misappropriated funds and acted in violent breach of public trust and his oath of office.
In a related development, former Taraba State Governor, Rev.
Jolly Nyame was convicted by the same trial judge that convicted Dariye.
A situation described by public commentators as not only distinguished the judiciary, but have also re-position the third arm of government as the true bastion of democracy.
Nyame was convicted of criminal breach of trust, bordering on criminal breach of trust, criminal misappropriation, and taking valuable thing without consideration and receiving gratification as a public officer and misappropriation of the sum of N1.64billion belonging to the state.
The trial which lasted for 11 years, was the first full-blown criminal proceedings to be conducted in a Nigerian court and ended in a guilty verdict sending a former governor to jail for a period as long as 14 years for corruption.
The court also ordered that all the funds previously recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from aides to the exgovernor and other government officials involved in the scam be forfeited to the Taraba State Government.
She noted in her judgment that the procedure preceding the release of the alleged funds to the company was fraught with sidelining key officials that should be involved as well as breaches of the state’s financial regulations and the mode of award of the contracts stipulated in the memo which the ex-governor signed for their approval.
She held, “There was no way the defendant having a sense of responsibility would have granted another approval after the N250m was approved and the stationery and office equipment it was meant for were not delivered.” Sagay, AGF and Ex-CJ’s angle Also speaking recently, a Professor of Law and the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Itse Sagay, once lamented the incessant delays in the prosecution of corruption cases.
The delays, in his words, allow people with corruption allegations to seek new offices such as the Senate or even governorship which then allowed them immunity from prosecution.
PACAC, according to him, had so far trained over 160 prosecutors, and also produced a manual for organised prosecution of corruption cases.
Concurring too, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN declared at a recent forum that his office had so far received over 8000 case files from the Nigerian Police for prosecution.
Malami said the ACJA 2015 has been acknowledged as a revolutionary legislation, adding that what’s remaining is effective implementation.
According to him, the act had created value chain across all levels, and therefore and that there was need to make it a “truly national law”.
Way out Proffering the way out, legal stakeholders are of the views that in tackling corruption and deepening the anti-graft war in the country, lawyers, public prosecutors, judicial officers and judges must play key roles.