The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has decried what he termed “lack of political will to prosecute high-profile corruption cases,” thus re-igniting the usual blame game between the judiciary and the executives over who was responsible for crippling the fight against corruption in the country.
The CJN, who spoke during a meeting with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, in his conference room, said the lacklustre 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 trial of so many corruption cases.
President Muhammadu Buhari had while flagging-off the 2015 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference, slammed the judiciary, accusing it of sabotaging his effort to prosecute 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.”
However, in what appears like a direct response to the attack on the Judiciary, the CJN said the Federal Government should be blamed for the delays, noting that in some cases, it recruits unseasoned lawyers to prosecute cases.
“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.
“I would likewise wish to encourage you (AGF) 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.”
Besides, the CJN, advised the AGF to recruit more lawyers who should be adequately trained to handle more cases on behalf of the State, saying it would create a reservoir of highly trained, public spirited lawyers to feed the Bench and the Bar.
The CJN equally tasked the Executive to actively reform and revamp the justice sector, which he said would include strengthening the capacity of investigation units by providing facilities like a well equipped forensic and ballistics laboratories throughout Nigeria, saying it would not only help in evidence gathering, but also reduce delays in trial of cases.
The CJN further enjoined the AGF to always attend meetings of judicial bodies such as the Body of Benchers, Legal Practitioners Privileges’ Committee (LPPC), Board of Governors of the National Judicial Institute and others of which he is a member by statutory provisions.
He stressed that attending such meeting would help the AGF to keep abreast of developments within the Judiciary and the legal profession in general.
With 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,” the CJN stated.
On the issue of funding for the judiciary, the CJN said the Judiciary welcomed the idea of zero budgeting as against the incremental style budgeting that often resulted in insufficient resources for the Judiciary to operate.
“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,” he said.
In his response, the AGF said the administration of President Buhari is focused on its agenda to curb corruption in Nigeria, stressing that the government was concerned about the working condition of judicial officers whose services are required to achieve the goal.
The AGF assured the CJN that emoluments of Judicial officers and court staff will be enhanced, even as he proposed the setting up of an “Interface Committee” comprising members of the Executive and the Judiciary for the purpose of preparing Executive Bills for constitution amendment, drawing up workable policies and proposing reforms that will be jointly pursued by the executive and judiciary arms of government.
More so, the AGF, said he would publicly support the Judiciary and ensure that legislation against false accusation of judicial officers is put in place.