TRUE to its promise, the National Judicial Council, NJC, has constituted the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, COTRINMCO, for the special courts designated to handle corruption cases as earlier announced by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, last month.
The 15-man Committee is headed by a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami. It is to monitor judges and courts handling corruption and financial crimes cases across the country. The Committee is expected to front the NJC’s new anti-corruption policy which the CJN is driving.
Its primary functions include regular monitoring and evaluation of proceedings at designated courts for financial and economic crimes nationwide and advising the CJN on how to eliminate delays in the trial of corruption cases. It is also to give feedback to the NJC on the progress of the cases in the designated courts. The Committee is expected to conduct background checks on the judges selected to preside over the designated courts and evaluate the performances of the special courts.
Watchers of the justice sector had complained over the slow pace at which graft cases were being determined by the regular courts.
The CJN’s initiative to fast-track the process of justice administration in corruption cases is lofty. It is an indication that the Judiciary has keyed into the anti-corruption war without waiting for the Executive to push it around or see it as an impediment in this direction. We welcome it wholeheartedly.
There is, however, a question-mark over the inclusion of lawyers in the Committee. Stakeholders have expressed concern that the lawyers’ membership may adversely impact on the body because of vested interests. Virtually all the Senior Advocates on the panel are counsel to some prominent defendants in pending corruption and financial crimes cases in courts.
Their appointment to monitor proceedings in cases in which they render professional services is bound to breed conflict of interest in the system. The former Presidents of the Nigerian Bar Association on board are handling some high profile graft cases in various courts. Their inclusion raises credibility questions that may erode public confidence in whatever good it is out to achieve. The independence of the judges they monitor may be compromised, especially when the lawyers appear for clients in their courts. It is doubtful if anything positive can come out of the Committee with its current composition.
We believe that it will be better to replace the lawyers in the Committee with retired judges and senior social rights advocates with impeccable characters and track records.
The CJN should revisit the composition of this Committee and do the needful. While that is being considered, we call on all lawyers in the Committee to voluntarily withdraw their membership.