No fewer than 35 judges have been nominated to man various courts which the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, directed the heads of various courts to designate in order to enhance speedy determination of high-profile corruption cases.
The courts are to exclusively handle corruption, money laundering, abuse of office and economic and financial crimes cases.
Our correspondent learnt on Monday that the judges, nominated by their various heads of courts, were trained at the National Judicial Institute in Abuja on November 6 and 7, 2017.
The training was said to be the first in a series that would be organised as soon as more courts are designated to try corruption cases and judges are nominated to man them.
Sources said newsmen were not invited to cover the training, which was co-organised by the Prof. Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption and the NJI in order to shield the judges from undue attention.
About 35 judges, nominated and trained so far, are from the Federal High Court, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the High Court of Lagos and Kano states and a few of unverified state high courts that had complied with the CJN’s directive.
It was learnt from competent sources that the Federal High Court sent a total of eight judges from its Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt Divisions to the training.
According to the sources, of the eight judges from the Federal High Court, two are from the Abuja Division; three from Lagos and the rest are from the Port Harcourt Division.
The PUNCH also gathered that the FCT High Court sent nine judges.
The rest of the judges were sent by the Lagos, Kano and the judiciary of a few other states.
The sources requested that the names of the judges should not be given “to shield them from pressure being mounted on judges.”
A source explained that some of the courts nominated more than the number of judges they would require.
One of the sources stated, “This is why they will still be screened so that only the most suitable judges would be picked at the end of the day.
“For instance, the FCT judiciary that sent 10 judges, may get only three or four.”
Papers shared during the two-day training and which were sighted by our correspondent on Monday showed that the event, tagged ‘Capacity building for designated judges of corruption courts’, had as its theme, ‘Efficient and effective adjudication of corruption, money laundering and economic and financial crimes cases’.
Six Justices of the various divisions of the Court of Appeal – Enugu, Sokoto, Calabar, Lagos and Kaduna – as well as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, were the facilitators.
The seven facilitators handled an area each on corruption cases.
At the opening ceremony for the training, Sagay described the designation of some courts as special corruption courts as “a leap forward in the anti-corruption war.”
He said the courts would be manned by selected judges qualified by “character and learning.”
He said, “In summary, judicial hostility will be fatal to the anti-corruption war.
“It is in this light that we all must appreciate and congratulate the Chief Justice of Nigeria for his epoch-making directive that all court systems must now create corruption cases divisions, which will handle only corruption, financial and economic crimes and money laundering cases.
“It is no exaggeration to state that this is a great leap forward in the anti-corruption war.
“These special courts will be manned by selected judges who are qualified by character and learning to handle difficult hydra-headed problem that is so resistant to positive and effective resolution.”
On the new Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, recently established by the National Judicial Council, Sagay believed the committee would “bring greater bite and effectiveness to the work of the special courts.”
He, however, faulted the composition of the committee.
“My humble suggestion, therefore, is that anyone, who is currently defending a high-profile defendant or has done so in the past, should step down from the monitoring committee honourably, in order to avoid clear case of conflict of interest,” he said.
He suggested that such lawyers should be replaced by “anonymous lawyers with less than five years post-call experience and civil society groups who will enter a court room without being identified.”
Sagay urged the NJC to look into the observations by a former Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, who rejected the chairmanship of the committee on the basis of its composition and the perceived futility of the efforts.
He added, “I therefore fervently believe that there is a need to look into the observations and criticisms by Justice Isa Salami and the civil society organisations on the implementation of the monitoring aspect of the CJN’s directives.
“Nevertheless the CJN has brought the judiciary into the forefront of the anti-corruption war.
“As of today, some of these former Presidents of NBA are handling a series of high-profile corruption cases before various trial courts.
“There are some who have made it a profession to frustrate the trial of corruption cases using all sorts of unethical and utterly disreputable tactics to prevent their looter client’s trials from coming to an end.”