SPECIAL COURTS FOR CORRUPTION CASES
To quicken and give a sharper bite to prosecution of corruption cases in the country, President Goodluck Jonathan and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Dahiru Musdapher, recently approved the establishment of special courts for prosecution of such cases by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The courts, which are to be established in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country, are expected to quicken the work of the anti-corruption agency. The EFCC currently has 1,500 cases pending in various courts across the country. About 75 of these involve high-profile persons, whose cases have been on in the regular courts for about five years.
We support the move to expedite prosecution of corruption cases in the country with special courts. There is no doubt that the nation's judicial system, as operated today, cannot bring speedy justice to corruption offenders.
Corruption cases, as other cases in our courts, linger for such a long time that there is little hope of timely justice both for plaintiffs and defendants. The deterrence value of timely adjudication of corruption cases is lost, as persons facing very serious corruption charges are left to strut about and use proceeds of such crimes to thwart the judicial process.
Apart from the continuing frustration of corruption cases by high profile suspects via frivolous applications, and questionable injunctions and long adjournments granted by the courts, it is glaring that the court system in Nigeria is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases before it. The result is an interminably slow adjudication process that is brazenly exploited by corruption offenders.
It is, however, not enough just having special courts for corruption. Judges of proven integrity must be appointed to man the institutions. Otherwise, the objective for their establishment, which is to quicken administration of justice, will be defeated.
Great care must, therefore, be taken in the selection of judges to man the special courts. Their selection, if possible, should not be left to the CJN alone. Bodies such as the National Judicial Council (NJC) should be involved in the process.
It is also necessary for the government to note that no court system can work beyond the body signals from the presidency on the problem of corruption. In this wise, President Jonathan needs to demonstrate seriousness and commitment to the battle against corruption to get the best from the special courts. Both the EFCC and the courts will be bolder in handling corruption cases if the government is perceived to be serious about bringing corrupt persons to justice. The special courts can help to avoid encumbrances from undue legal inanities and technicalities that allow corrupt persons to get away with their crime in regular courts. But, the government must give unequivocal support to the institutions and the EFCC.
In addition, Nigeria needs to be able to guarantee the incorruptibility of EFCC agents. Let the agency reform itself. Let its authorities bring in courageous and dynamic persons who are committed to the fight against corruption to achieve the desired objective.
But even then, the nation's legal system needs to be overhauled. The reason special courts are being proposed is the failure of the court system to provide essential justice. Judges in the regular courts, therefore, need to avoid questionably long adjournments, frivolous injunctions and undue emphasis on technicalities that detract from the essence of corruption trials. There is the need for courageous, brilliant and dynamic judges who are committed to the fight against corruption. It may also be necessary to review some of our laws that make it easy for corruption offenders to walk away with the proceeds of their crimes.
Above all, it is imperative that we strengthen our legal and judicial system because we cannot have special courts for all crimes. Serious criminal cases such as those involving murder, kidnapping and armed robbery still need to be adjudicated in the regular courts, so the institutions need to be made to work to give timely justice to all parties in legal disputes.
Let the special courts be established speedily to clear the backlog of corruption cases in the regular courts.