Against the backdrop of the financial autonomomy recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari for the judiciary at the state level, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, has advised judges to steer clear of awarding contracts.
According to him, the Chief Registrars of the courts, rather than judges, are empowered to award contracts.
Falana warned that a misinterpretation of the financial autonomy could result into situations where judges, like politicians, will find themselves in the dock, facing trial for misappropriation or diversion of funds.
He said this in an interview with our correspondent.
“Financial autonomy for the judiciary does not mean that judges are going to engage in the award of contracts. Judges should not behave like legislators by executing constituency projects. The powers of judges are limited to the interpretation of laws, assignment of cases and the administration of the courts.
“In other climes, it is the business of Chief Registrars, who are the accounting officers of the courts, to ensure that the needs of judges are met to enable them to discharge their duties efficiently. I hope that the heads of our courts will not be tempted to engage in the award of contracts and execution of projects.
“Right now, some judges are standing trial for alleged corrupt practices. All stakeholders should ensure that the unfortunate development does not occur again. Hence, our heads of courts should not preside over meetings where contacts are awarded. If judges are indicted for awarding contracts to themselves or their fronts, you can be assured that Nigerians would demand the abolition of financial autonomy for the judiciary so as to isolate our judges from fraud,” Falana said.
He described the recent conviction of two of the former governors who have standing trial for over a decade as a new dawn for the country’s justice administration.
He attributed the eventual conclusion of the decade-old cases to the intervention of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, which abolished stay of proceedings in criminal cases.
Falana said, “In the next few months, a number of other VIPs or politically-exposed persons are going to be convicted. No doubt about that. It is a revolution brought about by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
“Trial in the two cases that you just mentioned was suspended for eight years through the manipulation of the criminal justice system. But with the abolition of stay of proceedings and other dilatory tactics in criminal cases by the Act, indicted members of the bourgeoisie can no longer frustrate their trials with the connivance of a few senior lawyers.
“However, the society has to be vigilant as the lawyers who were profiting from stay of proceedings are fighting back rather ferociously. Can you imagine that the manipulators of the criminal justice system are saying that the abolition of stay of proceedings has violated the constitutional rights of criminal suspects? For goodness sake, has anyone stayed proceedings in the magistrate and area courts where thousands of poor people are tried, convicted and jailed on a daily basis? Why should the system allow the rich alone to suspend their trial with a view to frustrating the state from bringing them to justice?
“But since stay of proceedings has been consigned to the dustbin of history, many corruption cases are going to be concluded very soon. It is a new dawn for the administration of criminal justice in the country.”