Tuesday, 19 June, 2018
The Chief Justice of Nigeria,
Three Arms Zone
Central Business District
The above subject matter refers.
The Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, a non-governmental organization and non-partisan human rights and development league with an openness in governance agenda across Nigeria.
It has the mandate to achieve the specific objectives on democracy and good governance through participatory democratic culture in the government and the people and respect for and promotion of rule of law. These objectives are pursued through research and publications, campaigns, human right education and empowerment projects and programmes.
We wish to seize this opportunity to commend the efforts of the National Judicial Council for directing heads of courts in the country to create special judicial divisions for the speedy trial of corruption cases and for setting up the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trials Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) with a view to giving verve to the criminal justice system in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. To this end, Nigerians have invested a lot of hope in the committee with the belief that since it was set up by the NJC, it will address salient issues bedeviling the trial of corruption cases in the country.
On the whole, we commend your Lordship’s efforts in using your good office to restore the judiciary to its enviable position as the last hope of the common man and an effective tool in the fight against corruption in the country. We wish to assure your Lordship of our unflinching support in this regard.
However, we write to draw the attention of your Lordship to some salient issues arising from your latest meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. At the end of the meeting your Lordship was reported to have defended the Judiciary in the handling of corruption cases. But based on our study of the trial of corruption cases we are sad to note that not much has changed with respect to undue delay in the trial of corruption cases by Nigerian Courts. We urge your Lordship to take urgent steps to ensure the enthronement of justice and the speedy disposal of cases, especially corruption cases.
As a civil society organization we wish to bring to your attention some delays in trials of corruption cases at the instance of trial judges. We are convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the attention of your Lordship has not been drawn to these cases at the time of your reported interview with journalists after the meeting in reference. We humbly wish to submit that there is obviously a plethora of instances of delay by judges on untenable grounds. This is peculiar in some cases where stay of proceedings pending the hearing of appeals on a preliminary point is entertained and granted by the judges. This is a clear breach of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which has prohibited the granting of stay of proceedings in criminal cases by trial courts and appellate courts until judgments are delivered in such cases.
An example is the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct tribunal. The said trial offered the perfect opportunity for the judicial consideration of some of the innovative provisions of the ACJA. It is worrisome that contrary to the letter and spirit of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act the Code of Conduct Tribunal has adjourned the trial of the cases sine die to await the determination of an appeal pending at the Supreme Court. It is also worrisome to note that upon hearing the said appeal the Supreme Court fix judgment for three months! With due respect, your Lordship will agree with us that the learned justices of the Supreme Court ought to have directed the Code of Conduct Tribunal to conclude the case and proceed to determine the appeal expeditiously.
Since the Code of Conduct Tribunal was not called to order by the Supreme Court other judges have resorted to granting stay of proceedings to await the decisions of the Supreme Court and thereby make a mockery of the provision of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. For example, on January 10, 2018, the Honourable Justice Ayokunle Faji of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos stayed proceedings in Charge No FHC/l/565C/2016 pending the decision of the of the Supreme Court on some appeals arising from the case.
Similarly, the case of Ex-Governor Akala’s was adjourned on April 16, 2018 for ruling on June 4, 2018 on an application for stay of proceedings pending the determination of the appeal filed by the defendant at the Supreme Court. It may interest Your Lordship to know that trial has not commenced in the case of alleged fraud of N11.5 billion which was filed against Mr. Akala and other accused persons by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission about six years ago.
The worst case of the mockery of the criminal justice system is the one involving Peter Odili, former Governor of Rivers state. Although the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission filed an appeal 9 years ago at the Court of Appeal against the judgment of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt the appeal has not been listed for hearing by the Court of Appeal, in spite of several protests to the President of the Court of Appeal and the National Judicial Council.
In addition to the above cases, the case involving the trial of one of Governor Ayodele Fayose’s aide; Mr. Abiodun Agbele before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja which has been on since August, 2016 on charges of money laundering linked to the said Governor Fayose is an example of ongoing trials that are experiencing undue delay.
Also, the trial of former Governor of Gombe State, Senator Mohammad Danjuma Goje alongside Aliyu El-Nafaty, S.M Dokoro and Sabo Muhammad Tumu on charges of conspiracy, embezzlement of funds belonging to Gombe State government and taking of loan facilities without following due process, was on the 7th day pf February, 2018 adjourned to the 31st of May, 2018 for continuation of cross examination by the defence counsel. On the said date, the case was however adjourned to the 3rd of October, 2018 by the trial judge!
In the light of the foregoing we urge Your Lordship to use your good offices to ensure that trial courts and appellate courts comply with Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act by refusing applications for stay of proceedings in corruption cases and applications for long adjournments on frivolous grounds. In particular, we request you Sir, to direct the President of the Court of Appeal to list the appeal filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission against the judgment of the Federal High Court in favour of Ex-Governor Odili.
Kindly accept the assurance of our esteemed consideration while we look forward to your timely response and action on our observations.
Yours in, the service of humanity
Executive Chairman, CACOL