Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen’s issued an order to heads of the judiciary throughout the states to create special courts for corruption cases. Some have argued that his order may cause some controversy considering the fact that it appears to have infringed on the rights of the National Assembly to make such a law to designate courts in the land. This order made during the occasion of the swearing-in of the 23 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs has become a new chapter in the fight against corruption. Whether the country needs special courts to try corruption cases will be seen in due course.
Legally, section 6(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) makes list of the courts in the land and how they may be created. In that list, special courts for corruption cases are not among those contained therein. The question remains therefore if the CJN acting on his own can create or designate any court for whatever purpose without the backing of the National Assembly? In fact, does the CJN’s order amount to a creation per se or a mere designation of special courts only?
It is our considered opinion that what the CJN has done is mere designation and not creation. After all, it is only the National Assembly that can create anything (by law) in Nigeria. Having said that, by designation, Mr.Onnoghen and the Supreme court have not erred in law. As interpreters of the law, we should give the Supreme Court and its head the benefit of doubt. With the designation, it simply means that some judges will be relived of all other assignments or cases only to concentrate on corruption matters, nothing more, nothing less.
What this will do is that if properly guided, it will increase the tempo of litigation/adjudication. It will fast track cases in courts and make judges become used to corruption trends which will aide their lordships in quickly dispensing justice. So instead of judges joggling different matters, they will now concentrate on a single subject matter, which is corruption. It makes the work tidier, helps lawyers maintain focus and develop a new set of prosecutors who are versed in corruption investigation and litigation. .
While the designation by itself is not enough to solve all problems associated with slowness in anti-corruption litigation, it will go a long way to help. But the government must equally ensure that matters are properly investigated by all the agencies charged with that responsibility. The EFCC is trying, it could do a lot better. The ICPC is comatose. This agency is just a drain pipe, thus must be saved from itself. Then the Nigerian Police appears to have given up in surrender. The Special Fraud Unit, SFU is in limbo. It is pathetic. But just as government has gotten the judiciary to make adjustments, it should get the police, ICPC and Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal to make their own adjustments.
Even so, we expect the National and State Assemblies to buck up. In a democracy, the legislature is actually the first line of defence against corruption. Because they don’t just make the laws and pass the money bills they indeed play the role of oversight. Oversighting is a powerful tool with which the legislature prevents corruption. We call on the legislature, both at national and state levels to take that role seriously. Right now, it appears that it is only the executive that is pushing for anti corruption. In fact, it should be the other way round. The legislature is actually the major bulwark against corruption in a democracy through good and practicable laws and oversight.
However, we are equally concerned about the sustainability of the initiative. Some dissenting voices are already accusing the CJN of playing to the gallery. This is not completely unexpected as the forces against the corruption fight are formidable and unrelenting. So, it becomes a struggle to separate genuine concerns for due process and the rule of law from mischief and self-interest. There is also the concern about whether a change in nomenclature alone automatically translates to a change of the mindset of the persons concerned or not.
We are also one with critics who argue that it may be more useful and practical if the justice delivery system can be made to be more efficient and effective. This would require speedy dispensation of justice with clear timelines, which are within the powers of the CJN under the regulation of practice and procedure methods. A lot has been said about the need to computerise the court processes. This may be the time to push that through.