CJN Has Herculean Task Cleaning up the System
The CJN has jettisoned the process of plea-bargain employed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC to try corrupt government officials, what impact would this make in the reform process?You know in this country we turn things upside down. Where I know that plea bargain has been successfully carried out are in cases involving corporate organisations. If a corporate body is convicted of a crime, who will you send to jail? In situations like that, if you do plea bargaining there is nothing wrong. Not in cases of individuals who have stolen billions of naira. I think EFCC has burnt its fingers. I heard the former chairman is regretting ever doing it because they used it against her. That is what is called unfair justice.Recently, about four former governors including those of Ogun, Oyo and Nassarawa were arrested, arraigned and their plea taken. Before their bail applications were taken. the judge ordered them to be remanded in EFCC custody. I asked myself why? Why not in prison custody or are they too big to go to prison? How many poor Nigerians are arraigned before the court and before their bail application is taken are asked to be remanded in police or EFCC custody? They will simply be sent to prison custody. And these people were alleged to have stolen billions of naira. At the end of the day, some of them know their way; they will bring one frivolous application and do wuruwuru, and before you know it, they will be set free, which means, they have stolen our money and used it to fight us. Haba, even if one day, let them go to prison and see what is there. If they are made to visit these prisons, when they are in government they will are improve its condition. Is it that the judges are afraid or that the politicians are too big? Some of them are on allegation of N15 billion, N25 billion or more, but another who merely steal N5, 000 will be remained in prison custody. The CJN has said plea bargaining is not part of our judicial system, and that is true. It is illegality because the law says the asset must be forfeited and the person sent to prison if convicted. When you arrest somebody and give excuse that the case will last long and go for plea bargaining, does that mean you know the man did not steal the money or you do not have sufficient evidence to secure conviction? If you do not have evidence, you do not arrest. It is preliminary investigation before arrest.The Supreme Court has said that you must first obtain evidence before you arrest and arraign. That means, if you arrest somebody on the basis that you have investigated and arraigned him before a court, why should you be afraid that he will not be convicted? Then you will tell him to bring N10 billion; imagine such arrangement. Tomorrow another culprit will steal and drop half (of what he stole) and continue with his or her life. That is not right.The office of Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, seems to have an absolute power, and at times occupants of the office are controversial like the immediate past CJN. Is there anything that makes the office controversial?It is due to the system of government we run. Once you are at the helm of affairs, you posse all the powers almost like God. Not only in the Judiciary. It is applicable with the Inspector General of Police, the Chief of Army Staff and the President of this country. They have enormous power. If you talk of reducing the CJN’s power, what of other arms of government; the legislature and executive? It is hence general. That, though, can be the starting point. Remember, when various panels were set up they suggested that the president should not appoint the ombudsman, the INEC chairman, but they refused. The suggestion was that people should be recommended to him to choose from but that was rejected. It is like Nigerians are used to the principle of absolute powers. Even at the level of local government, the chairman would want to have the power. But we should perhaps use that as starting point to review the powers of these people.Do you think that the perceived rift between the NBA and the NJC could stall the works of the committee towards reforming the judiciary?I do not think so. First, I am not aware of any cold war between the NBA and NJC. but What I know is that the NBA is saying it is time to reform the judiciary especially the NJC as it is the body in charge of all matters relating to the judiciary; appointment and discipline of judges of High Court, Sharia Court of Appeal, Customary Court of Appeal, states high court, federal high court, Court of Appeal, even the Supreme Court. The NBA is saying that the NJC is one sided and should be democratised, and that is their contribution to the reform. In the committee, you have four past presidents of the NBA, retired Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Justices. These are stakeholders. It is not a question of CJN picking anybody he wants. The NBA will support the reform as it is for the betterment of everybody.Some of the disciplinary actions carried out by the NJC on judges are termed political; is this part of what the CJN wants to reform?Apart from that of Justice Ayo Salami, I do not think there is any other one perceived as political. People are entitled to their views. I know of recent, a judge of the High Court in Zamfara was dismissed on the allegation of receiving bribes. That was proved. He invited the litigant to his chamber and demanded for bribe. The litigant went to the SSS and was given marked money, which he collected and was caught. So there are some clear cases. Remember that justices of Court of Appeal have been dismissed in this country on allegation of bribery and corruption. There are evidences to substantiate that. They even went to challenge their dismissal at High Court and Court of Appeal but they lost. The case is in the Supreme Court now. I won’t want to mention the justices involved. We know when right things are done and also know when wrong ones are done. So I think the case of Ayo Salami should be revisited and reviewed. This is because there has never been any case of disciplinary action by NJC, which NBA disputed or the people are against. In this case, both Nigerians and the NBA are divided. That is why I say the CJN has a Herculean task to clean up the system and bring about a true reconciliation that can be done only when justice has been enforced and we believe the CJN has the capacity to do it.There are calls from some quarters that the retirement age of Supreme Court justices should be pegged at 70, like the USA. Do you support this?I do not think so because the conditions under which they work over there is different from what is obtainable here. Right from Magistrates Court here, you write in long hands. The judges in Federal High Courts and FCT Courts are enjoying. If you go to some High court rooms, you will run out. NBA had to go on strike and public protest against conditions of Court rooms. That is the condition in which judges work, unless you want them to die on the job. They should have some time to spend on their private life before answering the call of God almighty. The condition is not good at all. If the conditions are improved, we may think of reviewing it. Improving the conditions of the court should be part of the reforms. That is why cases even last long time. We should have cases lasting between seven and nine months. But now particularly with Supreme court, you may be lucky to have your case called up for hearing seven years after, while some last eight or nine years. If you add up the number of years before it reached Supreme Court, it may reach 50 or 60 years. May be the beneficiary of the case may have died. For example if somebody is dismissed from work and he is claiming damages of N500,000, by the time the case is concluded, the money would not have value again.