When President Muhammadu Buhari set up a Presidential Advisory Committee against corruption, headed by Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), many thought the body would come up with fundamental changes on how to prosecute the war against corruption and reform in justice system. Buhari won the presidential election, largely because of his perceived zero-tolerance for graft.
While there is no White Paper yet on the Sagay Panel, Buhari has alluded to the need to recover looted government funds to finance the 2016 budget. Curiously, the hitherto comatose anti-graft agencies have suddenly swung into action – frisking homes, arresting, detaining and refusing to grant bail to presumed looters of public treasury without warrant let alone securing convictions in law courts. We think things should be done correctly to avoid recourse to self-help and impunity.
These developments, no doubt, have slightly heated up the polity, leading to allegations of witch-hunt by opposition elements. We are of the opinion that proper judicial pronouncements are a sine-qua-non to bolster public confidence in the fight for the recovery of looted public funds. The strong will or determination of the executive arm of government in a democracy alone may not suffice. We believe that if special courts are emplaced in the ongoing judicial reforms, the blood stream of our democracy will be purified to act as adrenalin to the quest to rid the country of future corrupt practices.
We are not impressed by the number of those battling to clear their names with the EFCC in the mass and social media. While we support the upscale of activities, nothing will be achieved if convictions are not secured in properly constituted courts. Setting up of special courts has become inevitably expedient because the year is fast speeding up and time is of the essence if the objective to use recovered funds to finance budget would be realised. At the moment, there are currently over five million cases pending in Nigerian courts; some of these have been argued and appealed for more than 20 years!
Special courts are not a legal aberration. We are constrained by the seriousness of this matter to recommend this spatial arrangement to save cost and time.
We are not unaware of the debate arising from fear of its use for political opportunism. But, like in many countries with a unified general system, judges who have already acquired expertise in handling corruption cases should be deployed to special corruption courts. We also recommend that they be given time limit within which the cases will be heard and judgement delivered because it is an emergency situation that has to be dealt with expeditiously.
With special courts, no case will drag on with technicalities and excuses by judges that too many cases unrelated to corruption have to be attended to. The specialised courts will have all the time to look at all the statutory books that have to do with corruption. The time to embark on judicial reform, to re-work the books especially the legal criminal justice system that makes it impossible for corruption-criminals to delay the period of adjudication on their cases for as long as they wish is now. Any judge that allows frivolous application should also be sanctioned. The implication is that the National Judicial Council will have to up its game and be above board.