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All eyes on NJC’s corruption cases monitoring group

Justice Walter Onnoghen


The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman, National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Walter Onnoghen, recently constituted a 15-member committee known as the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO).

Former president of the court of appeal, Justice Ayo Salami was named as the Chairman.Their mandate is to monitor judges and courts handling corruption and financial crimes cases across the country.

This was also at the heels of directive by the CJN to the heads of courts to establish special courts in their jurisdictions solely for the purpose of handling corruption and financial crimes trials.

Some Nigerians believe that the decision was necessitated by allegations of corruption against the judiciary by mostly the federal government and recently the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which tagged the judiciary as second most corrupt institution in Nigeria.

However, opinion and questions had been raised on the sincerity of NJC in its resolve to fight corruption, the impact which COTRIMCO will make on the independence of the judiciary or courts and if the move is not aimed at appeasing the Presidency, who had hitherto complained about the non-cooperation of the judiciary in its fight against corruption among others.

But speaking on this, current Vice President, Nigeria Bar Association, Monday Ubani, said there is no doubt about NJC’s sincerity. The point is that every Nigerian must support the fight against corruption. He said it is sad to believe that, the country is at its present state as a result of corruption.

Ubani said: “The fact is that the people appointed on the board of the committee are notable lawyers and retired judges of integrity. So, the issue is not sincerity, rather, everyone must make effort in this country to support the fight against corruption, because where corruption has kept us today should not be a place any Nigerian, irrespective of position, should be happy about.

“It is not an enviable position at all. So we all should ensure the elimination of this cankerworm and at the same time speak up when we find things are not done according to the rule of law.
 
“The step the NJC has taken is very commendable and anyone that love the country must also applaud it. Firstly, it announced special court to try corruption cases, meaning those judges would not be bugged down by other cases in court rather than corruption cases. This will also hasten up conclusion of cases within a limited period of time, unlike what we use to experience where some cases lasted for years”.

Ubani also said that since the NJC has resolved to wake up, the sector will begin to witness remarkable developments in handling of cases, expressing the hope that corruption will reduce maximally in the system.

“Now that they have gone further to create a monitoring committee to look at trial of corrupt cases, it will mitigate incessant complaints of compromise and un-seriousness in the handling of corrupt cases. Now that the judiciary has begun to do the needful, I tell you, corruption will maximally reduce. Judges will be careful not to give those controversial decisions that for the ordinary mind, you will know something was fundamentally wrong, he declared.

Also senior advocate of Nigeria, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, believe there must be good reason for setting up of the committee because it is made up of credible judicial officers.

His words: “There must always be sincerity on the part of the CJN, most especially the personalities in the committee. But for now, all I can say about the committee is that it has no statutory power. It cannot discipline any judge over any misdeed, rather it is just to look around and probably report to NJC observations during trials. So far a committee with such caliber of legal luminaries will be objective and quite mature and not sentimental in its reports”.

Adedipe applauded the step taken by the CJN, saying: “It is an evidence of commitment to the fight against corruption and not to appease anybody. The idea will ensure that all judicial officers handling corruption cases discharge their duties in accordance to the Administration of Criminal Justice Acts. Also, the monitoring committee will not hamper the independence of the judiciary because it has no supervisory jurisdiction over the courts”.

According to him, the NJC cannot come up with such committee if they are not sincere. What is important, he noted, is the support of the public in their assignment.

“Anything that the government or any institution might come up with in order to facilitate the effectiveness of the administration of criminal justice, not only in the fight against corruption, but generally to ensure smooth and efficient administration of justice, should be supported.

“There may be apprehension in the beginning, but one thing is that, it is a positive development to the judiciary. It will not have any negative effect on the sector,” he assured. Another lawyer, from Jirey & Greys Attorneys, Lagos, Michael Ogunjobi, said the sincerity of purpose of NJC cannot be as a result of pressure from any quarters.

According to him, it is a continuation of what the current CJN met on ground. The former CJN, he noted had set up similar committee to checkmate the excesses of judicial officers.

His words: “So the broad composition of COTRIMCO is desirable in view of the far reaching tentacles of corruption in our polity. But then, the resolutions of COTRIMCO are subject to NJC’s final ratification.

“COTRIMCO must be appreciated as an appendage of NJC, being a Federal Executive Body created by Section 153, CFRN 1999, with broad membership both from the Bar and the Bench as set out in Paragraph 20 of Part One of the Third Schedule to CFRN 1999. Remarkably, the NJC in line with its mandate as encapsulated in Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule to CFRN 1999 introduced a National Judicial Policy in April 2016, according premium to judicial accountability, while the CJN inaugurated a Judicial Ethics Committee headed by Kutigi, which likewise had members from the Bar and the Bench”.

He explained that section 158 (1) CFRN 1999 affirmed the independence of NJC in carrying out its mandate, as affirmed in OPENE v. NJC & ORS. (2011) LPELR-4795 (CA), hence all committees of same can’t act contrary to the benchmark.

But Dr Tunji Abayomi in his reaction said NJC cannot monitor judges and suggested that an independent body should be created to even monitor the NJC.

He said: “The NJC has not taken a final position on the issue. The NJC has set up a committee to monitor corruption cases. But if you want to monitor judges, it should not be NJC. NJC itself needs to be monitored. There must be an independent institution capable of monitoring judges discreetly.

Speaking on the recent allegation of bribery against Justice Musa Anka, another senior advocate, Jimoh Lasisi, said: “If there is proof that a Judge received N200, 000 bribe NJC can justify its decision to sack him. The amount of the bribe is not a relevant fact in arriving at its decision that the judge misconducted himself.”

In the same vein, another lawyer, Evans Ufeli, said: “Corruption in Nigerian judicial system has rendered the tool of justice prostrate. Recently the NJC sacked Justice Anka for allegedly receiving a bribe of N200, 000. It was reported that the judge collected the bribe from one Zubairu Abdumalik in order to deliver judgment in his favour.

“It really doesn’t matter how much was received as gratification once proper investigation reveals that a judge collected money or any other forms of gratification to turn justice on its head. The requisite disciplinary measure must be taken to the fullest against such judge by the NJC. It is a weak argument to concoct that the sum of N200, 000 is a negligible figure and therefore the judge should be spared.

“This will amount to a travesty of justice and therefore throw away our efforts to keep the stream of justice clean at all cost. For other judges who have one or two petitions against them under the investigation, each petition should be dealt with holistically so that the right findings can be made at the end of the day”.

However, reacting to the alleged UNODC reports on the judiciary, Ikechukwu Ikeji, said the report has been mis-understood. He also applauded the efforts of the NJC to stamp out corruption in the judiciary and indeed, the society.

“There is need to correct the impression that UNODC tagged the judiciary as second most corrupt institution in Nigeria. What they said was not that judiciary was ranked second. It was ranked third. Prosecution was ranked second behind the Police.

“What NJC did is right if there was convincing evidence indicting the judge. Bribe is bribe, irrespective of how much is involved. It is also a good development to probe two Chief Judges,” he stated.

He however pointed out that there is need for the NJC to double its effort because there are more fundamental causes of corruption in the judiciary.
 
“The point has to be made that the issue is much deeper than this. There are still fundamental issues that encourage corruption in the judiciary which are yet to be touched by the NJC,” he declared.

In this article:
Walter Onnoghen


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