The National Conference monday recommended further measures to strengthen the crusade against corruption and electoral malpractices by unanimously approving recommendations to establish special judicial courts to dispassionately try offenders without undue hindrance.
While considering the report of the Committee on Law, Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Reforms, delegates took far-reaching decisions including jettisoning of the controversial plea bargain system, which has become an easy escape route for corrupt public officers.
There was also recommendation for the setting up of electoral offenses tribunal under the constitution to try those alleged to have committed electoral offenses.
A delegate, John Mamam moved a motion for the amendment of the constitution to provide for a special court to handle corruption cases.
Among his prayers was that the establishment of a special courts to treat corruption allegations will hasten the adjudication of cases by removing all the hindrances of injunctions and bureaucracy.
The committee chaired by Justice G. A. Oguntade had tried to resolve the issue agitating most delegates on how to secure legal endorsement for their decisions.
In order to facilitate approval and implementation of the conference recommendations, the committee proposed that the recommendations be broken into three parts, policy recommendations, issues requiring abrogation or amendment of some existing but out-dated or obnoxious laws and issues that would require outright amendment of some sections of the constitution.
For policy recommendations, the committee proposed that the president should implement it, while the implementation of recommendations relevant authorities in the ministries, departments and agencies should carry out requiring abrogation of amendment of existing laws or regulations other than the constitution.
However, it resolved that recommendations requiring amendment to certain sections of the constitution should be drafted as bill and submitted to the president to forward to the National Assembly.
The committee’s report said in a situation where there is still need to get approval from Nigerians, recommendations should be taken to the court of public opinion/referendum.
While lamenting the challenges facing the country’s legal system, the committee demanded that the entire judicial system be overhauled to make it compatible with current realities.
It said in order to ensure greater financial autonomy of the judicial organ and insulate it from manipulative tendencies of other organs all it’s funds both capital and recurrent, should be made a first line charge on the consolidated revenue fund of the federation or state.
Femi Okurounmu supported the setting up of athe nti-corruption court that will be made up of persons without blemish and who will discharge justice without any hindrance.
Another delegate from the South-west, Yinka Odumakin spoke in support of the abolition of plea bargain in the judicial system and the establishment of a special court for corruption cases, saying that the measure will check the impunity that go with the trial of corrupt officials, especially the high profile ones.
Also, another delegate, Ayo Adebanjo decried the abuse, which the plea bargain had been subjected to whereby those regarded as the big looters were allowed to go free after they had agreed to part with an insignificant part of their loot.
Elder Statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, said what he had seen in Supreme Court in recent times was giving him some worry as against what obtains in the past.
“I believe that everything going to the Supreme must be seen to be very important to Nigerians. Senior lawyers must be ready to show examples to the younger ones and not continue to allow cases to be delayed. These senior lawyers, like the SAN will sit down in their houses and will be causing cases to be adjourned in courts and thereby prolonging cases,” he said.
Responding to the allegation of delaying cases, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), said they are not to be blamed. Everybody wants expedited trial but no one will allow any of their witnesses not to be examined. “We now have a situation whereby the courts are inundated with cases from busy bodies that have no locus standi to file such cases.”
A delegate from Cross River State and veteran journalist, Ray Ekpu spoke on the issue of awaiting trial, that is people who are detained for long period without trial or acquittal, saying that as part of measures to check the trend, conference should recommend that appropriate compensation be paid for the period of detention.
Another delegate said those who kill by extra judicial means should be brought to book and should be made to face equal punishment.
Former governor of Lagos State and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, who said he is the right person to give account of the taste of prisons in the country, being one of the ‘latest graduates of the prisons’, said due to the poor state of the prisons, it is necessary to do something to decongest it.
He urged fellow delegates to vote in support of interventions to improve the condition of prisons because no one knows when it will be his or her turn to be there.
He said the prisons should remain in the Exclusive List of the constitution, adding that putting in the hands of state governor will bring about abuses.
Conflict between the NJC and the state government also attracted delegates’ attention during the debate on the report with speakers blaming it on the seeming ambiguity of the constitution, which provides that the governors shall appoint judges and at the same time saying that the NJC shall recommend judges.
According to delegates, this ambiguity has brought about disagreements and has led to conflicts that often grounded the activities of the judiciary in the affected states.