He suggested that instead of establishing an entirely new court structure, the Federal High Court, the FCT High Court and the various state high courts should create a division for handling criminal matters.
He said, “A specialised court may be created within the Federal High Court. If you look at the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court under section 251 of the Constitution, it has both civil and criminal jurisdictions.
“Take away and separate the criminal jurisdiction of the Federal High Court and create a special division to handle these criminal matters.
“If we create a criminal division of the Federal High Court, all criminal cases will go to that court and they will have enough cases to do.
“Separate criminal jurisdiction and increase the number of judges to be able to cope with the number of cases that will go there. We must also make available the facilities and conducive environment for them to be able to perform optimally. They should be provided with technology-assisted courtrooms.”
He likened the proposed special court to “special tribunal of the military where people were taken to and within 24 hours or one week and they are already in jail.”
He also said the Constitution must be amended for the proposed court to be regarded as a superior court of records.
He said, “If they want to create a new structure of criminal court, the Constitution must be amended. This is because, for such a court to be a superior court, it must be entrenched in the Constitution. That was the experience of the National Industrial Court; until the Constitution was amended it was an inferior court. So, whatever the National Assembly creates, they cannot be equivalent to or be on the same level with a superior court like the high court. It cannot, because the Constitution specifies the superior courts of record.”
He also feared that the “monopoly” to handle such cases relating to the “scheduled offences” to be conferred on the proposed court, would encourage corruption.
He said, “Any institution or any avenue of human endeavour that has the charactieristics of monopoly is sure to promote corruption, abuse of office and all sorts of vices. So, it will bring it down to failure.
“Look at the Nigeria Police, corruption is there because they have monopoly and they are the only one allowed to do the job they do. Look at any government institution that has monopoly associated with their operation, the institutions tend to be corrupt.
“We should strengthen our existing institutions and make them function well.”
Special court is welcome
But another SAN, Mr. Femi Falana, who had advocated the establishment of a special court to handle some serious criminal cases, said the Constitution needed not to be amended for the special court to effectively function.
“Ask yourself, what is a superior court of record? It’s just the name. The magistrate’s courts that jail people around the country daily are not in the Constitution.
“You don’t have to put it in the Constitution for the special court to function effectively. After all, the Constitution says the National Assembly can create a court and confers it with powers.”
Earlier in January this year, Falana had, in his lecture at an occasion organised by the Faculty of Law, Osun State University, Ifetedo, called for the establishment of a special crimes court.
In his lecture, titled, “The justifiability of socio-economic rights in Nigeria,” he said the regular court would not be able to cope with the number of cases that would likely be filed following the indictment of high-profile persons and subsequent recommendation of a lot of suspects for prosecution.
He said, “With the ongoing investigations into serious allegations of massive corruption in the office of the National Security Adviser, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, the Nigerian Ports Authority etc, it is clear that the regular courts cannot cope with the trial of the many suspects that are likely to be indicted and recommended for prosecution.
“It is high time the Executive sponsored a bill for the establishment of an anti-corruption court. Otherwise, a decade from now the corruption cases which were commenced 17 years ago will remain in the docket! The proposed court will specifically handle cases of corruption, terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, advance fee fraud and other economic crimes. The proposed courts should be manned by judges of proven integrity.”
Also, in an e-mail response to our correspondent’s request for his views, a former Chairman of the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, said he initially opposed the call for the establishment of the special court, but that he changed his position on the issue after realising the gains that the nation had recorded through the establishment of the election petitions tribunal.
He said, “My argument was that the judges that will handle the cases are Nigerians and not angels imported from Mass or Jupiter.
“However, my views have changed and changed for the better. I am an ardent supporter of any move to legislate into existence special courts to handle these specialised crimes.
“We have made some progress with electoral cases being handled by election tribunals within a specified timeline and why can’t we try it with corruption cases since we know that corruption has ruined Nigeria.
“Therefore the present move to introduce the bill before the National Assembly to legislate on the special court is a welcome development and must be supported by patriotic and well-meaning Nigerians to ensure that the bill does not suffer defeat or reversal in the National Assembly knowing the stand of some of them on the issue of corruption.
“I have the belief that the hydra-headed monster called corruption must be handled with hydra-headed measures to nip it off or to stamp it out completely from our system.”
The spokesperson to the AGF, Mr. Salisu Isah, could not be reached on Wednesday, to find out how much longer the minister would take to review the proposed bill.
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