As hur­dles dot the path of Jus­tice Salami anti-graft c’ttee

Sunday Trust - - NEWS FEATURE - By John Chuks Azu

Mem­bers of the an­ti­cor­rup­tion com­mit­tee re­cently es­tab­lished by the Na­tional Ju­di­cial Coun­cil (NJC) has come un­der scru­tiny as many hur­dles await their as­sign­ment.

The NJC presided over by the Chief Jus­tice of Nige­ria (CJN), Jus­tice Wal­ter Onnoghen, on Septem­ber 27 set up a 15-mem­ber Cor­rup­tion and Fi­nan­cial Crime Cases Trial Mon­i­tor­ing Com­mit­tee (COTRIMCO).

The panel has for­mer Pres­i­dent of Court of Ap­peal (PCA), Jus­tice Ayo Salami as chair­man. Other mem­bers are Jus­tice Kashim Zan­nah (OFR), Chief Judge, Borno State; Jus­tice P.O. Nnadi, Chief Judge of Imo State; Jus­tice Mar­shal Umukoro, Chief Judge Delta State; Jus­tice Munta Abim­bola, Chief Judge, Oyo State; and A.B Mah­mud (SAN), Pres­i­dent, NBA.

Oth­ers are for­mer NBA Pres­i­dents: Wole Ola­nipekun (SAN) and Olisa Ag­bakoba (SAN), J.B. Daudu (SAN) and Austin Alegeh (SAN); and mem­bers of NJC, Dr. Garba Tetengi (SAN) and Mrs. R.I Inga. It is ex­pected that there will be rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, Min­istry of Jus­tice, the In­sti­tute of Char­tered Ac­coun­tants of Nige­ria (ICAN) and the sec­re­tary of NJC, Gambo Saleh.

The func­tions of the panel are: “the reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion of pro­ceed­ings at des­ig­nated courts for fi­nan­cial and eco­nomic crimes na­tion­wide; ad­vis­ing the Chief Jus­tice of Nige­ria on how to elim­i­nate de­lay in the trial of al­leged cor­rup­tion cases; giv­ing feed­back to the coun­cil on progress of cases in the des­ig­nated courts, con­duct back­ground checks on judges se­lected for the des­ig­nated courts; and Eval­u­at­ing the per­for­mance of the des­ig­nated courts.”

The set­ting up of the panel fol­lowed the speech by the CJN dur­ing the 2017/2018 Legal Year pro­gramme on Septem­ber 18, wherein he directed all heads of courts in the fed­er­a­tion to com­pile and for­ward the lists of all cor­rup­tion and fi­nan­cial crimes cases in their courts.

He also directed them to des­ig­nate one or two courts in their ju­ris­dic­tion as Spe­cial Courts for the hear­ing and speedy de­ter­mi­na­tion of cor­rup­tion and fi­nan­cial crimes cases. Since the NJC has no pow­ers to cre­ate new courts of record, but the Na­tional Assem­bly, cor­rup­tion and fi­nan­cial crimes cases in all the states, will be as­signed to judges with higher flair for the of­fences. Th­ese judges will be ex­cused from all other cases in courts.

The judiciary was com­pelled to act af­ter the Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion var­i­ously iden­ti­fied the slow pace of the judiciary as a ma­jor clog in the na­tion’s anti-cor­rup­tion fight. The pres­i­dent had dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion of then Act­ing Chief Jus­tice of Nige­ria (CJN), Jus­tice Wal­ter Onnoghen on Novem­ber 11, 2016 charged him on the need for the judiciary to sup­port the fight against cor­rup­tion. Also, in Fe­bru­ary 2016 in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia while in­ter­act­ing with Nige­ri­ans at a town hall meet­ing, the pres­i­dent fur­ther stressed that the na­tion’s judiciary re­mained his ma­jor headache in the fight against cor­rup­tion.

The panel be­ing made up of em­i­nent ju­rists and legal prac­ti­tion­ers is draw­ing high ex­pec­ta­tions from the pub­lic even as se­ri­ous chal­lenges stare it in the face. The chair­man, Jus­tice Salami left his of­fice as PCA in 2013 af­ter he was con­tro­ver­sially sus­pended by then CJN, Jus­tice Aloy­sius Katsina-Alu for re­fus­ing his el­e­va­tion af­ter he ac­cused the CJN of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in an elec­tion pe­ti­tion judge­ment. Though the NJC rec­om­mended his re­call to the bench in May 2012, then pres­i­dent, Good­luck Jonathan re­fused to re­call him, forc­ing him to re­tire vol­un­tar­ily.

Jus­tice Zanna was ap­pointed Chief Judge of Borno State in 2015. He presided over the panel that nul­li­fied the elec­tion of a for­mer Adamawa gov­er­nor. He has great pas­sion for courts au­to­ma­tion and has been part of the use of ICT in the na­tion’s high­est courts.

Jus­tice Nnadi joined the Imo State Ju­di­cial Ser­vice as a se­nior Mag­is­trate in 1992. He was Chief Reg­is­trar of the High Court from 1995 to 1998 and was el­e­vated to the High Court Bench in April 1998, where he has served till date. He is a mem­ber of the NJC rep­re­sent­ing the South–East zone.

Jus­tice Umukoro be­came Chief Judge of Delta State in 2015 af­ter tak­ing over from Jus­tice Abio­dun Smith. Jus­tice Umukoro is a mem­ber of the NJC rep­re­sent­ing the South– South zone.

Jus­tice Munta Abim­bola was in Au­gust ap­pointed the Chief Judge of Oyo State. He has promised to in­tro­duce re­forms in the sec­tor. He is a mem­ber of the NJC rep­re­sent­ing South–West zone.

Abubakar Balarabe Mah­mud, the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the NBA, has made re­form­ing the Bar and Bench as ma­jor fo­cus of his ad­min­is­tra­tion. The for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral and Com­mis­sioner for Jus­tice in Kano, is a mem­ber of the NJC for the North– West zone.

Wole Ola­nipekun (SAN) was pres­i­dent of NBA from 2002 to 2004. He was con­ferred with the rank of Se­nior Ad­vo­cate of Nige­ria in 1991. He has one of the re­puted law firms in the coun­try.

Olisa Ag­bakoba (SAN) was the NBA pres­i­dent from 2006 to 2008. He was con­ferred with the rank of SAN in 1998. The La­gos-based lawyer is a fore­most pro-democ­racy and civil rights ad­vo­cate. He is the founder of Hu­man Rights Law Ser­vices (HURILAWS).

Joseph Daudu (SAN) was the NBA pres­i­dent from 2010 to 2012. He was a mem­ber of the Body of Benchers for eight years and also mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Coun­cil of Ju­rists. He is also a found­ing part­ner of the Rule of Law De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion.

Austin Alegeh (SAN) was NBA pres­i­dent from 2014 to 2016. He was con­ferred with SAN rank in 2007. Be­fore his emer­gence on the na­tional scene, he had been an ac­tive mem­ber of the Bar in the Benin branch, Edo State. He is a mem­ber of the NJC, rep­re­sent­ing the South–South zone.

Dr. Garba Tetengi (SAN) is cur­rently a mem­ber of the NJC from Niger, North–Cen­tral zone. He was con­ferred with the rank of SAN in 2012.

Mrs. R.I. Inga is a mem­ber of the NJC from Benue, and rep­re­sents the North–Cen­tral zone. She is a re­tired per­ma­nent sec­re­tary in the civil ser­vice.

Saleh is cur­rently the sec­re­tary of the NJC. He was el­e­vated to the post fol­low­ing the re­tire­ment of Dan­ladi Halilu, who re­tired on July 1, 2017. He was the Chief Reg­is­trar of the Supreme Court from 2014 to 2017.

A ma­jor chal­lenge con­fronting the Jus­tice Salami com­mit­tee is the mem­ber­ship of se­nior lawyers ac­cused of de­fend­ing fi­nan­cial crimes for which they al­legedly caused the de­lay. An­a­lysts be­lieve this could re­sult in a con­flict of in­ter­est in their work for the com­mit­tee.

For in­stance, Daudu has ap­peared both for for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser (NSA), re­tired Col. Sambo Da­suki, who is stand­ing trial be­fore an Abuja Fed­eral High Court over al­leged di­ver­sion of arms funds. He also rep­re­sented the Se­nate Pres­i­dent, Bukola Saraki dur­ing his trial over al­leged false as­set dec­la­ra­tion at the Code of Con­duct Tri­bunal (CCT). While the case against Da­suki has not com­menced fully since 2015, Saraki has been ac­quit­ted.

Ola­nipekun was coun­sel to for­mer gov­er­nor of Oyo State, Rasheed Ladoja, who is fac­ing trial over al­leged mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of N4.7bn state funds since 2010. The case has dragged on for eight years.

In his sub­mis­sion, the Spe­cial As­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent on Pros­e­cu­tion, and the chair­man of Spe­cial Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory In­ves­ti­ga­tion Panel for the Re­cov­ery of Pub­lic Prop­erty, Okoi Obono-Obla ex­pressed lack of con­fi­dence in the com­mit­tee be­cause of Daudu’s role in the Da­suki trial.

“If he has in­tegrity, he should step aside. As lawyers, we have ethics, and that is if you know that your client has done some­thing wrong, and if a point of law is raised against your client, you can con­cede in the in­ter­est of jus­tice be­cause you are a min­is­ter in the tem­ple of jus­tice,” he said.

“This is a clear case of con­flict of in­ter­est. You are de­fend­ing a po­lit­i­cally ex­posed per­son and now you are a mem­ber of a com­mit­tee to mon­i­tor judges hear­ing po­lit­i­cally ex­posed mat­ters, you should step aside,” he added.

Also, the Hu­man rights ad­vo­cacy group, So­cio-Eco­nomic Rights and Ac­count­abil­ity Project (SERAP) has asked the CJN to re­view the mem­ber­ship of the com­mit­tee. In a let­ter to the CJN, SERAP’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Adetokunbo Mu­muni stated that some lawyers on the com­mit­tee are de­fence coun­sel in some of the high-pro­file cases that they have now been ap­pointed to mon­i­tor.

Re­act­ing on the com­po­si­tion of the panel, a mem­ber of the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee Against Cor­rup­tion (PACAC), Dr Sadiq Radda said though Jus­tice Salami has cred­i­bil­ity to de­liver on the as­sign­ment, “there is grave reser­va­tion as some of them (panel mem­bers) are in­ter­ested par­ties.”

An­other mem­ber of PACAC, Prof Femi Odekunle, said the ra­tio­nale be­hind the set­ting up of the com­mit­tee is good but have reser­va­tions about mem­ber­ship. He said he would have pre­ferred that the com­mit­tee is pre­dom­i­nated by re­tired ju­rists and lawyers as­so­ci­ated with in­tegrity.

“Why don’t you call peo­ple listed Jus­tice Shuabu, Jus­tice Oye­wole, and Femi Falana? Th­ese are peo­ple that are known to be against cor­rup­tion. But the kind of peo­ple there, I am not against them per­son­ally, but it is like ask­ing a re­tired In­spec­tor Gen­eral of Po­lice to be the one to re­form the po­lice. At the end of the day, it will be the same old story,” he said.

But con­sti­tu­tional lawyer and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Hu­man Rights Mon­i­tor, Fes­tus Okoye said both Ola­nipekun and Daudu, be­ing SANs and past pres­i­dents of the NBA will un­der­stand the sys­tem and bring their wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence to bear on the chal­lenge.

“We should give them the sup­port and see how they per­form. Both of them can­not on their own ma­nip­u­late all the mem­bers of the com­mit­tee to de­liver pre-de­ter­mined out­come,” he said.

An­other ma­jor chal­lenge for the panel is ex­er­cise of in­de­pen­dence over fund­ing and hu­man re­sources. SERAP also in a re­cent state­ment de­manded that the com­mit­tee be given free hand to man­age its bud­get in or­der con­trol the hu­man and fi­nan­cial re­sources that would guar­an­tee its in­de­pen­dence to carry out the as­sign­ment.

A third ma­jor chal­lenge for the com­mit­tee is lack of pow­ers to im­me­di­ately deal with use of tech­ni­cal­i­ties by lawyers to de­lay cases in court. This is be­cause, the com­mit­tee’s work is mainly to ob­serve pro­ceed­ings in the des­ig­nated courts, also known as ‘Spe­cial Courts’ for cor­rup­tion and fi­nan­cial crimes cases in all ju­ris­dic­tions of the fed­er­a­tion. Though the CJN, Onnoghen, has directed Heads of Courts to clamp down on both pros­e­cu­tion and de­fence coun­sel who in­dulge in the un­eth­i­cal prac­tice of de­ploy­ing de­lay tac­tics to stall crim­i­nal tri­als, this panel will have no pow­ers to ur­gently act on the sit­u­a­tion it would meet in the court­rooms.

Sup­port­ing this po­si­tion, Okoye said the work of the panel is only to mon­i­tor and re­main out­side the ad­ju­di­ca­tory sys­tem. He added that it is also the duty of the pub­lic to mon­i­tor and “hold all the mem­bers of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, pros­e­cu­tion and ad­ju­di­ca­tion chain ac­count­able.”

“The pros­e­cu­tion of cor­rupt per­sons and the fight against cor­rup­tion is a multi-stake­holder ven­ture in­volv­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tors, the prose­cu­tors and the ad­ju­di­ca­tors. The sym­bi­otic func­tion­ing of th­ese stake­hold­ers en­sures good pros­e­cu­tion and the se­cur­ing of con­vic­tion,” he said.

Jus­tice Ayo Salami (rtd)

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