In what seems like a retaliatory move yesterday, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, blasted the other arms of government, especially the executive for what he described as “the lack of political will to prosecute high-profile corruption cases,” claiming that the Federal Government shoots itself in the leg by hiring “unseasoned lawyers” to prosecute their cases.
The meeting was held at the CJN’s conference room, and had in attendance the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN. There was also in attendance Justices of the Supreme court as well as heads of other federal courts. The fifteen Justices in attendance included Justices I.T. Muhammad, Chima Centus Nweze, Bode Rhodes-Vivour, John Afolabi Fabiyi (now retired), Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Amiru Sanusi, J.I. Okoro, Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs, Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, Musa Dattijo Muhammad, W.S.N. Onnoghen, M.S. Muntaka-Coomassie, Olukayode Ariwoola, Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun and Suleiman Galadima.
It should be recalled that in what appeared to be a direct attack on the Judiciary, the President had accused the judiciary of sabotage while flagging-off the 2015 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference in Abuja. There, the President stressed that they (the judiciary) have been responsible for dwindling the efforts of his government in prosecuting high-profile corruption cases.
Buhari, who was represented at the event by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, lamented that “allegations of judicial corruption have become more strident and frequent,” noting that; “There is both local and international dissatisfaction with the long delays in the trial process. In the past few years, this has become especially so for high-profile cases of corruption, especially where they involve serving or former political office holders.”
The CJN, baring his mind on a variety of issues affecting the judicial system on of the nation said that the lackadaisical attitude of government towards the prosecution of such criminal cases, “especially those involving politically exposed persons or political party family members,” was a major factor that has stalled the trial of so many corruption cases. Hear him:
“Experience within the Judiciary shows that there is abject lack of political will to prosecute some of those cases pending before our various courts, almost a decade in some instances. It is not because there are no special courts, but mostly for reasons of political expedience and other ancillary considerations.
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“I would likewise wish to encourage you (Justice Minister) to display a greater resolve than your predecessors in tackling outstanding cases before the courts. In times past, the Attorney General of the Federation would often lead teams of legal counsel in high-profile cases so as to demonstrate the resolve of the government to enshrine the rule of law. Sadly, recent Attorneys-General have become less inclined to do this. I would certainly like to see you, as the Attorney General, appear before us especially in cases of important national purport.
“There is the need for seasoned prosecutors to prepare and file charges before courts of competent jurisdiction so that criminal matters are timeously determined. The quality of prosecutions presented in courts by our prosecutorial agencies must be improved upon, as they are sometimes of a standard that will never found a conviction in any court anywhere, yet, a well prepared prosecution can see to the determination of criminal matter within a month.
“Of course, no competent prosecutor who has filed valid charges would permit an accused to mount an interlocutory appeal, to the extent of going forth and back, sometimes twice or more to the Supreme Court, since such lapses could be injurious to the dispensation of justice.”
On this front, the CJN advised the Minister of Justice to recruit more lawyers who should be adequately trained to handle more cases on behalf of the state. This, he said, would create a reservoir of highly trained, public-spirited lawyers to feed the Bench and the Bar; and also stop the practice of giving out cases to private firms, which often charge higher fees at the expense of the public purse.
He also encouraged the Minister to always attend meetings of judicial bodies such as the Legal Practitioners Privileges’ Committee (LPPC), Body of Benchers, Board of Governors of the National Judicial Institute and others of which he is a member by statutory provisions.
The reason being that, “the AGF can adequately brief the Federal Government with facts on issues in the Judiciary rather than press coverage and opinions of some lawyers often echoed at public events,” he said.
On the issue of funding for the judiciary, he said: “Indeed, the Judiciary can now properly make its demand before the National Assembly for an appropriate budgetary figure, rather than proposing N150 billion and be appropriated with less than half of it.”
In his response, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, said the present administration is focused on its anti-corruption agenda in the country while assuring the CJN that the salaries and financial entitlements of workers in the Judiciary will be considered a priority. He also proposed an “Interface Committee” – a committee that will consist of members of the Executive and the Judiciary so they can work together in preparing Executive Bills for constitution amendment, and drawing up workable policies that will be jointly carried out by the two arms of government.