President Muhammadu Buhari is presently facing the difficulty of how to ensure the judiciary does not frustrate his plans to bring an end to corrupt practices in the country.
Investigations have indicated that the president is trying to figure out how the judiciary can be reformed to execute his agenda on the prosecution of corruption cases.
The fears the president is having is based on the numerous cases of corruption filed by different anti-corruption agencies that are yet to be treated after many years of been filed. Hence the need for such cases to be given immediate attention, rather than compiling them. If the Judiciary continues that way, it will be difficult to curb corruption in the nation.
The president fears that the judiciary, as presently constituted, is an impediment to the fight against corruption.
However, the president is relying on Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to come up with a solution.
In order to procure a solution, a group of selected people have been constituted by the vice-president; comprising Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Court of Appeal, the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Vice-President, Mr. Rahman Adeola Ipaye, two lawyers based in Lagos — Messrs Femi Falana (SAN) and Tunde Irukera — managing partner of Osinbajo’s law firm SimmonsCooper Partners, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, and Mrs. Maryam Uwais, to to advise the president on how to reform the criminal justice system.
The committee has no judge serving or retired as its member and being hard at work, has been making suggestions on how to handle the judiciary.
Investigations revealed that one of the group’s proposals culminated in the constitution of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption recently set up by Buhari which has Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) as its chairman.
To ensure continuity, Owasanoye was made the secretary of the committee.
It was also learnt that the committee’s mandate remains nebulous, with terms of reference but after sevral weeks after being constituted they are yet to present the terms of references.
This Day Reports: Moreover, statements by the chairman of the committee have left no one in doubt as to the fact that the committee has no clear terms of reference.
Since he assumed office, Buhari has not hidden his dissatisfaction with the judiciary. It is not surprising, said a source in the presidency, that no serving or retired judge has made it into his numerous appointments so far.
It was also learnt that the group coordinated by Osinbajo but led by Justice Oyewole came up with the suggestion that practicing lawyers should be appointed directly into the Supreme Court and consequently one of such new appointees could be appointed the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) who will in turn drive the reform envisaged by the president.
This will enable the president bypass the age long practice of elevating a justice of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court.
However, a source familiar with the issue said that some retired CJNs kicked against the move.
The former chief justices were said to have advised that experience and background in handling cases as judges must be one of the criteria for anyone to be appointed to the highest bench.
They however agreed that the president could make appointments directly into the Court of Appeal, but opposed doing the same for the Supreme Court, saying that it would set the wrong precedent at this time when there are more than enough qualified judges.
But analysts fear that the continued alienation of the judiciary will do the president no good.
“Some of the issues the president wants resolved can be handled administratively by the leadership of the judiciary, if only he will engage those at the helms of affair,” a senior lawyer who did not want to speak on the record, said.
The lawyer cited the amendments to practice direction proposed by the only female CJN, Justice Mariam Alooma Mukhtar, who retired last year.
Before her departure, Mukhtar initiated sweeping changes in practice direction across the courts that would enable courts to conclude criminal cases on time as against the present system where it takes years to conclude such cases.
She worked with chief judges of high courts, the Abuja High Court, and presiding justices of the various divisions of the Court of Appeal to put in place a system that could reduce the time it takes to conclude cases.
Under the scheme, a model practice direction was developed for all courts to fast-track trials of offences involving terrorism, rape, kidnapping, corruption, money laundering, human trafficking and related matters.
The practice directions also cover appeals to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.
The new practice direction for the Supreme Court requires lawyers to leave their phone numbers and emails so that notices of court sitting can be communicated to them quickly.
Titled: "Criminal Appeals Relating to the Offences of Terrorism, Rape, Kidnapping, Corruption, Money Laundering, Human Trafficking and Related Matters," the new practice direction seeks to establish a specialised system of case management in the Supreme Court that will provide for fair, impartial, expeditious administration of criminal appeals arising from cases listed above.