The Supreme Court of Nigeria (SCN), through the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, has hit back at the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, over his indictment of the country’s judiciary for alleged delay in the trial and delivery of judgments in high profile corruption cases.
The apex court faulted the AGF on the indictment and insisted that the judiciary Speaking on a public affairs program, Politics Today, monitored on Channels Television on Monday, the Attorney-General of squarely blamed the judiciary for the problem of delay in the determination of high profile corruption cases in court.
Using the case of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, whose trial at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory over alleged abuse of office, Mr Malami said, “You cannot by any stretch of imagination, place a blame associated with the conclusion and determination of the case on the doorsteps of the executive (arm of government). It is exclusively a judicial affair.”
A statement by Ahuraka Isah, Senior Special Assistant on Media to the Chief Justice of Nigeria CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, contained the reactions of the Judiciary to the AGF’s indictment.
The statement was issued and released in Abuja on Tuesday February 8.
It reads in part “The position of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) that the judiciary be held responsible for delays in the trial and delivery of judgments on corruption cases involving politically exposed individuals appears to be one-sided.
The Nigerian judiciary is not here to lay claim to be perfect but when the political and economic conditions under which it is operating is compared with its counterparts in other climes, it would be adjudged a prized model.
“The judiciary by its constitutional position does not have criminal investigation unit or ‘’Fraud Detective Squad’’ to detect and investigate criminal involvement of any person, neither does it have a garrison command to fight its cause or enforce its orders and decisions.
“More often than not, the Federal Government’s prosecution sector files more charges than it can prove or provide witnesses to prove, ostensibly at times for the prosecution to even fail.
“The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) under reference is infected with sores in some parts, making speedy adjudications improbable in some instances, in addition to high volume of cases, limited number of judges, poor infrastructure or archaic equipment.
“While giving reasons for its under-funding of the judiciary, the Federal Government said on January 26, 2022, at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Justice Sector Summit 2022 in Abuja) that judiciary has not been transparent in the spending of budgets allocated to it each fiscal year.
“Although judiciary has refrained from joining issues all this while but to state the facts, in line with the budget call circular and ceiling the Federal Government sent to the judiciary before the commencement of the fiscal year, the judiciary prepares its budget estimates for capital, overhead cost and personnel cost according to the ceiling, needs and priority.
“The judiciary defends its budget before the Senate and the House of Representatives Committees on Judiciary at the National Assembly, besides the initial vetting by the executive.
“The Judiciary has an internal mechanism for budget control and implementation. Each Court and judicial body has a budget unit, the account department, internal audit, due process unit, as well as Departmental Tenders Board.
“There is also a Due Process Committee at the National Judicial Council NJC and the Judicial Tenders Board that award contracts on expenditure above the approval limit of the accounting officers of the Courts and judicial bodies.
“These layers of control were established by the Judiciary to ensure transparency, accountability and effective budget implementation. The type of transparency that the Federal Government has stressed.
“Similarly, by virtue of Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly carries out oversight visits to the Judiciary to monitor the implementation of its budget.
“Section 88(2)(b) also mandates the National Assembly to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.
“The Executive also put in place some mechanism to monitor budget implementation and accountability in the Judiciary through its organs like the office of Accountant General of the Federation and Auditor General of the Federation and other agencies where the need arises.
“Apart from the internal audit units of the Judiciary, the Federal Audit Department maintains offices in all the courts and judicial bodies that monitor spending in the Judiciary.
“If the Federal Audit raises a query on any transaction and it is not well defended, it sends such to the Public Account Committees of the National Assembly. Officials of the Judiciary would be invited to explain themselves.
“The question to ask is who else should the Judiciary open its account books to, and who among these organs had raised exceptions which were not defended by the Third Arm? The answer is none.
“One only hopes that these allegations against the judiciary by the Federal Government is not just a way of giving a dog a bad name so as to then hang it.” the statement said.
Malami had said, in the interview, that the government was using provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015), to deal with problems of delayed criminal justice administration in Nigeria.
One of such provisions in the law is the day-to-day hearing of criminal cases.