By Musa Ilalah
There is no gainsaying the fact that the need for Nigeria to set up special courts to try hundreds of thousands of corruption cases in the country is not only long overdue but one that will speedily deal with corruption cases without fear of favour.
Already, a bill for the establishment of a special court to try corruption cases is in the national assembly awaiting their deliberations and passage.
Though there are existing legal instruments in the country like section 7 of the Economic and Financial Crimes (Establishment) Act to achieve the unexplained-wealth-forfeiture agenda of the Federal Government, the President has executive powers to put in additional measures and strategies to deal with corruption cases expeditiously. Nothing stops him from been innovative in fast-tracking his resolve to deal with corruption in all its ramifications.
A special court to try all forms of financial crimes is certainly needed to move Nigeria out of the doldrums of corruption that has become a cog in the wheel of the progress of the country. The case of a special court to expedite proceedings and attain the end of justice is indisputable.
However, the challenge at the doorstep of the proposed special court would be to define the boundaries of corruption-related offences to be brought before it. The issue can be lost to sentiment if it is not done along sentiments of jurisdiction gerrymandering.
Nevertheless, corruption is too specialised to be left in the hands of unprofessional and unspecialised court or tribunal. It must be a distinct arm of the judiciary to specifically deal with issues of anti-graft legislation.
Presently, there are so many bills pending before the National Assembly on how to fight corruption but they are sitting on those bills. According to Ibuchukwu Ezike, Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation ‘anything that could be done to eradicate corruption — not even to curb or reduce — is acceptable to CLO. It has been our desire, demand and campaign that Nigeria becomes a transparent society. But the problem is setting up institutions without conviction and action.’
Buhari administration an executive bill for the establishment of a special court clothed with exclusive jurisdiction to try corruption cases was submitted to the national assembly. Although it was submitted over a year ago the federal legislators have not deemed it fit to pass the crucial bill into law for reasons best known to them. Hence corruption cases have been subjected to inordinate delays in our courts which are congested with many other cases,” he said.
While commending the Chief Justice for his action, A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Femi Falana in his contributions described his intervention as decisive. He said the directive would go a long way towards speeding up trial of corruption cases.
“However, the immediate former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen had intervened in a decisive manner by issuing a directive to all heads of courts in Nigeria to create special courts for the exclusive trial of corruption cases. It is on record that in addition to the supreme court (criminal appeals) practice directions 2013; court of appeal (criminal appeals) practice directions 2013; court of appeal (fast track) practice directions 2014, as well as the federal high court practice directions 2013 issued by the heads of respective courts, should be put to use since they were designed to give priority to trials and appeals from cases of corruption, money laundering, terrorism, rape and kidnapping and human trafficking.
Even President Buhari had advocated the need to remove all administrative bottlenecks in judicial processes in the administration of justice in the country. The President who was speaking at the occasion of 2019 all judges conference of superior courts in Abuja, called on all judicial officers to work towards the creation of Special Crimes Courts to assist in the speedy administration and dispensation of justice in the country.
In his usual standing, President Buhari stated that his government was committed to a number of justice sector reforms such as review of extant laws and enactment of new laws that will improve the lives of Nigerians.
There is no doubt that Special Crimes Courts are needed in the country for speedy trial of all criminal and corruption cases in the country. According to the President, economic progress can only be sustained in an atmosphere of the rule of law where justice is guaranteed.
It is our fervent prayers that such courts will be set up to expeditiously deal with corruption cases with dispatch so that corrupt Nigerians will see the price of being corrupt, while the non-corrupt will do a marathon race of thousands of kilometres away from it.
To answer the question raised at the beginning of this piece my belief is that Nigeria more than ever before needs the special corruption courts as a permanent strategy to trample on the corrupt in our midst with an iron fist.
This is a step of taking the bull by the horn.
Musa Ilalah writes from Abuja and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org