IN the speech marking the second anniversary of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, announced plans by the Federal Government to designate specific courts to handle corruption cases. The court would be part of a general judicial reform to make the judiciary more efficient and to facilitate the current fight against corruption. He said the government was working to re-equip the prosecution teams with more men and resources to quicken the process of bringing accused persons to justice. He also reaffirmed the government’s determination to bring those who looted public resources to account for their nefarious actions.
Most Nigerians understand the government’s frustrations in the prosecution of corruption cases. After two years of a spirited campaign against corruption and scores of arraignments, the government is yet to register a single noteworthy conviction. Indeed, it has even lost a few of its cases, and considering the silent resistance from certain segments of the elite, the fight against corruption has lost much of its momentum.
The case against regular courts today is overwhelming. Some corruption cases have languished in these courts for up to a dozen years. Justice delayed, as it is said, is justice denied. Not only are accused persons kept in suspense with doubts hanging about them as to their guilt, the society feels the justice system is gravely flawed and susceptible to manipulation by the rich and the powerful who hire the cleverest lawyers to obfuscate issues and keep their cases perpetually in the courts without reaching a decision.
Even so, we are not entirely enthusiastic about the creation of a new set of courts because Nigeria already has many courts. Special courts are one of the institutions Nigerians have come to associate with military dictatorships. The special military tribunals (SMT) of the Muhammadu Buhari regime of 1983-85 readily come to mind. But, we are also conscious of Section 6 (5) (j) and (k) of the 1999 Constitution which empowers the government to create “such other courts as may be authorised by law to exercise jurisdiction on matters with respect to which the National Assembly may make laws.” If we must create special courts to try corruption cases, therefore, such courts must be created according to law by the National Assembly, possibly through an executive bill.
The process must not be rushed so as not to create more problems in trying to solve another. The National Assembly has not demonstrated great enthusiasm for the fight against corruption but it must not be seen to place a roadblock on this process. It is in the national interest to reduce corruption to the barest minimum, and all Nigerians must be seen to be contributing to achieve that goal.
Those who are against the special courts argue that the new law would not create new lawyers, judges and other judiciary workers. It will also not reduce the technicalities and pyrotechnics often employed by lawyers to delay the judicial process. While this is true, we envisage that the courts that would be designated to try corruption cases will expedite the process, the way election tribunals expedite election litigations. It is our expectation that an integral part of the reform must be the introduction of new technology, the computerisation of note-taking by judges, the upgrading and digitization of records and recordings, and the digital conversion of oral testimonies to text and soft copy.
The government has promised to beef up the prosecution team for greater effectiveness. We think the era in which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) depended on “only one” prosecutor of note, while high profile suspects had arrays of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) handling their defence, should end.
It is also not enough to draft legislation to set up the new courts. There should be a general psychological preparedness by the entire judicial workers, and the investigating police personnel, to speed up the process. This means the training and re-training of officials, from policemen to detectives, bailiffs, clerks, prosecutors and, eventually, the judges.