By Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Sebastine Hon, has advised the federal government to push for the amendment of the Constitution to stipulate time limit for the prosecution of corruption and related cases to eliminate the current delay being experienced in the trial of corrupt public officers and treasury looters.
Hon warned that the on-going trials of some public officers, initiated by this government, might linger beyond the tenure of this administration if nothing drastic was done to ensure speedy prosecution of corruption and related cases.
He also suggested the inclusion of some major provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) in the Constitution.
He identified such ACJA provisions to include the prohibition of stay of proceedings in criminal trials.
While expressing support for the renewed effort by the National Assembly to review the constitution, he said such review must allow financial autonomy to the judiciary and the local governments.
The senior advocate spoke in Abuja at the weekend while announcing plans for the public presentation, in Abuja on July 12, of his new 1,300-page book – ‘S.T. Hon’s Constitutional and Migration Law in Nigeria’ – which discussed, among others, over 4,000 decisions of both Nigerian and foreign courts on issues covered.
He called for the withdrawal of pension provisions for political office holders at all levels on the grounds that it was immoral for people, who begged to be elected to serve to turn around to constitute liability to the state by drawing pension.
He also faulted the restriction of immunity to leaders of the executive arm of government, and argued that the nation should either abolish the concept of immunity or extend it to the other arms of government.
He called for the review of the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court (NIC), saying, “because, as it is now, it is arguable whether, apart from fundamental rights cases, there is a right of appeal against the decision of the NIC.
“It is not good to say that matters that affect the welfare of workers and their employers are going to terminate at the NIC. I will suggest we push up the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to include appeals from the NIC. My book has proactively dealt with this issue. It is very necessary that we amend the 3rd Alteration Act to expressly restore the supervisory jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal on all matters dealt with by the NIC.
“I will also suggest an amendment that will provide time limit, in the constitution, for trials of corruption and terrorism matters. Because when they first amended Section 285 and introduced sub-sections 6, 7 and 8 which provide for 100 days at the election trial and 60 days each for the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, most of us criticised it. But now everyone now agrees that there is wisdom in that amendment.
“So, nothing also stops us from abridging the time within which trials on corruption and terrorism matters should start and conclude. Nothing also stops us from elevating those provisions in the ACJA concerning the prohibition of stay of proceedings to become constitutional provisions, because we are faced with a hydra-headed monster called corruption, and except something is done and done quickly and fundamentally, we may be saying goodbye to project Nigeria.
“It is either we amend the constitution to do away with immunity completely or we extend immunity to the other arms of government. There is no way only one arm of government will be enjoying immunity and the other arms are excluded. If the reason for immunity is to prevent distractions, those in the other arms can also be protected against such distractions.
“So, it should either be abandon immunity or extend it to the leadership of the other arms. It is discriminatory and makes the executive too strong and overbearing, thereby eroding governance itself. The executive controls the money, it controls the powers and yet enjoys immunity. Other arms, who ought to be equal partners with you, are denied such constitutional privilege.
“I will support financial autonomy for the judiciary, so much so that they are allowed to originate budget proposals and only agree with the executive to submit joint proposal to the National Assembly, without the executive having the power to tinker with the budget of the judiciary.
“The current asphyxiating hold of the states on the local governments has rendered the councils comatose. They are no longer able to carry out their basic responsibilities to the people. So we need to amend the constitution to ensure that allocations are released directly to them. Since the local government is the closest level of government to the people, there will be enhanced accountability because people can closely monitor their activities,” Hon said.
Dignitaries expected at the launch of the book, which touched on the core of central theme of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy – constitutional law, include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Court of Appeal President, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami and Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom.