The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, has denied the twin accusations of delaying high-profile corruption cases and running an opaque budget levelled against the Nigerian judiciary by the Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami.
Mr Malami had about two weeks ago criticised the lack of transparency of the judiciary’s budget.
The AGF, who spoke at a Justice Sector Summit, organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), challenged the judiciary to make its budgetary allocations and expenditures open.
The judiciary had yet to respond to the charge when, Mr Malami, on Monday, blamed it for the protracted trial of high-profile corruption cases.
The justice minister, during an interview on Channels Television’s primetime programme, ‘Politics Today,’ on Monday, asserted that despite the legal framework put in place to speed up criminal proceedings, judges were still delaying timeous hearing and determination of such cases, particularly concerning Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs).
Reacting to the allegation in a statement by his spokesperson, on Tuesday, the CJN said Mr Malami’s criticism of the judiciary for the delays suffered in court by high-profile corruption cases, was one-sided.
“The position of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) that the judiciary be held responsible for delays in the trial and delivery of judgements on corruption cases involving politically exposed individuals appears to be one-sided,” the statement by the CJN’s spokesperson, Ahuraka Isah.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported that Mr Malami’s allegation was only partially true, with references to instances of delays caused by the federal government or its agencies.
The report added that the comment by Mr Malami ignored deeper systemic problems in the nation’s criminal justice system that are responsible for such delays.
While acknowledging that the judicial arm of government was not perfect, the CJN pointed out that when the “political and economic conditions under which it is operating is compared with its counterparts in other climes, it would be adjudged a prized model.”
‘FG files frivolous charges it can’t prove’
Beset by filing of numerous count charges, the CJN said: “The Federal Government’s prosecution sector files more charges than it can prove or provide witnesses to prove, ostensibly at times for the prosecution to even fail.”
Referring to the novel the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015), which was intended to address Nigeria’s snail-paced criminal justice system, the head of Nigeria’s judiciary said the legislation “is infected with sores in some parts, making speedy adjudications improbable.”
He added: “High volume of cases, limited number of judges, poor infrastructure or archaic equipment,” have compounded the woes of the judiciary in swiftly determining criminal cases.
Mr Malami had , in the course of his Channels Television interview, reeled out a number of legislative and executive interventions that were targeted at resolving prolonged criminal trials.
One of the innovative provisions of the ACJA is the day-to-day hearing of criminal cases, thereby addressing the delay tactics often employed by defence lawyers in suits involving PEPs.
But the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, John Tsoho, had in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES last year, said the day-to-day hearing of criminal cases was “impracticable” going by the enormous volume of cases on its dockets.
Last December, Mr Tsoho, during the court’s New Legal Year ceremony, disclosed that there are over 100,000 cases that are pending before 75 judges of the court.
‘Judiciary not fraud detective sqaud’
The CJN also pointed out the lapses on the part of the executive arm of government contributing to the delays in cases.
Mr Muhammad said the constitutional responsibility of the judiciary does not involve crime detection and investigation, while referencing the serial disregard of court orders by the executive.
The CJN noted that the judiciary does not have “a garrison command to fight its cause or enforce its orders and decisions.”
Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch, a plethora of court judgements and orders, especially bordering on human rights violations, have been flagrantly disobeyed.
Judiciary has internal mechanism of budget accountability
In addressing Mr Malami’s challenge to the judiciary to open its budget details, the CJN enumerated a number of internal audit mechanisms that geared to towards financial accountability.
“The Judiciary has an internal mechanism for budget control and implementation,” Mr Muhammad began.
“The judiciary defends its budget before the senate and the House of Representatives Committees on Judiciary at the National Assembly, besides the initial vetting by the executive.
“The judiciary has an internal mechanism for budget control and implementation. Each Court and judicial body has a budget unit, the account department, internal audit, Due Process Unit, as well as Departmental Tenders Board,” the CJN explained.
He went on to say, “There is also a Due Process Committee at the NJC (National Judicial Council) and the Judicial Tenders Board that award contracts on expenditure above the approval limit of the accounting officers of the Courts and judicial bodies.
“These layers of control were established by the Judiciary to ensure transparency, accountability and effective budget implementation. The type of transparency that the Federal Government has stressed.”
The CJN also said the National Assembly carries out oversight on the judiciary.
“One only hopes that these allegations against the judiciary by the Federal Government is not just a way of giving a dog a bad name so as to then hang it,” the statement concluded.