The chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, has held separate meetings with the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, and the President of the Court of Appeal, Monica Dongban-Mensem, in his first official interactions with the judiciary arm of government since assuming office in February.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the meetings, held at Mr Bawa’s instance on Tuesday, are part of his efforts to enlist the support of the judiciary in the fight against corruption.
Officials of the EFCC, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, who are privy to the details of the meetings, shared the major highlights of the discussions with PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday.
The officials, who spoke with our reporter on the condition that they would not be named because they were not authorised to talk to the media on the matter, said Mr Bawa tabled his concerns about Nigerian courts’ handling of corruption cases at the meetings with the jurists.
Mr Bawa reportedly made three major points at the meetings, one of them, an appeal to his hosts to impress it on judges to be strict in the application of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 to remove the delays often suffered by the criminal cases, particularly, the high-profile corruption matters.
He then appealed to them to designate courts to handle exclusively corruption and financial crimes, an arrangement he believes will boost speedy hearing and determination of such cases.
The third point reportedly made by the EFCC chairman has to do with the setback often caused by indiscriminate transfer or elevation of judges to higher courts.
A criminal case no matter how far it has gone automatically begins afresh once the judge handling it is elevated to the Court of Appeal. Sometimes, the transfer of judges from one division of a High Court to another, leads to cases starting afresh.
EFCC Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa
The ACJA, welcomed in 2015 as a revolutionary legislation that would transform the criminal justice system by removing agelong obstacles to its smooth flow, made provision empowering High Court judges that have been elevated to the Court of Appeal to return to the lower court to conclude their part-heard criminal cases.
But the Supreme Court, in a February 2020 judgment on the corruption case involving a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, nullified the said provision in section 396(7) of ACJA as being unconstitutional.
“The EFCC chairman urged the CJN, as the head of the Nigerian judiciary, to ensure that when judges are being elevated, the cases being handled by them are taken into account. He added that trial judges should also not be transferred in a way that would jeopardise their part-heard criminal cases. He also requested that the time of retirement of judges should also be taken into consideration while assigning cases to them,” a source told PREMIUM TIMES.
Our sources said both the CJN and President of the Court of Appeal, “gave positive responses”, promising to address Mr Bawa’s requests.
The request by Mr Bawa for the judiciary to designate some judges to handle solely corruption and financial crimes cases is not new.
The immediate-past CJN, Walter Onnoghen, in a major reform drive, in February 2018, directed heads of various courts to designate judges to handle, exclusively, corruption and financial crimes cases.
He also, in his capacity, as the chairperson of the National Judicial Council (NJC), set up the Corruption Financial Crimes Cases Trials Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO), to monitor the progress of cases being handled by those courts.
But the policy died with the exit of Mr Onnoghen under controversial circumstances, just about a year later.
Poor enforcement of ACJA
The Supreme Court has in a landmark judgment in a case involving a PDP official, Olisa Metuh, invalidated the provision of section 306 of ACJA prohibiting the granting of stay in criminal proceedings.
But trial courts have largely been weak in the implementation of other provisions of the law such as the ones relating to adjournments.
When contacted by PREMIUM TIMES for his comments on Thursday, EFCC’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed the meetings Mr Bawa had with the CJN and the Court of Appeal president.
He said “they are routine meetings a new chairman of the commission usually holds with critical stakeholders involved in the fight against corruption”.
“It is the usual practice for the new EFCC chairman of the commission to interface with critical stakeholders in the fight against corruption, and the judiciary is a critical stakeholders in the fight against corruption,” Mr Uwujaren said.
Our correspondent also tried to speak with the CJN’s media aide, Ahuraka Isah, but he could not be reached as his telephone line remained switched off for hours.
But the Director, Press and Information, Supreme Court, Festus Akande, told PREMIUM TIMES he could not confirm the meeting “because he had been out of the office”.