Tobi Soniyi in Lagos and Alex Enumah in Abuja
The National Judicial Council (NJC) under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has established a Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) to monitor judges and courts handling corruption and financial crimes cases in the country.
The council also appointed a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, as the chairman of the committee.
Justice Salami retired under controversial circumstances, following the refusal by former President Goodluck Jonathan to reinstate him after he had been cleared by the NJC over his alleged links to chieftains of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
Prior to his clearance by the NJC, the council had suspended him over allegations that he was involved in telephone conversations with chieftains of ACN during the appeal in the governorship election suit between the former governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola who at the time was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Rauf Aregbesola, the incumbent governor of the state and then ACN candidate.
When the NJC lifted his suspension, Jonathan refused to reinstate him until he attained the retirement age of 70.
The establishment of the monitoring committee also comes on the heels of the directive by Justice Onnoghen to the heads of courts to establish special courts in their jurisdictions solely for the purpose of handling corruption and financial crimes trials.
A statement issued Wednesday by the NJC Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye, said the decision to constitute the committee and appoint Justice Salami as its chairman was taken Wednesday at the 82nd meeting of the council held in Abuja.
The committee, which has 15 members, will operate from the council’s secretariat in Abuja.
Among other functions, the committee will conduct regular monitoring and evaluation of proceedings at designated courts for financial and economic crimes nationwide.
Other members of the committee are the Chief Judge of Borno State, Justice Kashim Zannah; the Chief Judge of Imo State, Justice P.O. Nnadi; the Chief Judge of Delta State, Justice Marsahal Umukoro; the Chief Judge of Oyo State, Justice M. L. Abimbola; President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN); former NBA President, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN); and another former NBA president, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).
Others are Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN) and Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN) – both former NBA presidents; a member of the NJC, Dr. Garba Tetengi (SAN); NJC Secretary, Gambo Saleh; and a representative of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Mrs. R.I Inga.
The Ministry of Justice and Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) will also have a representative each on the committee.
The committee will also advise Justice Onnoghen on how to eliminate delays in the trial of corruption cases.
In addition, it will give feedback to the NJC on the progress of cases in the designated courts, conduct background checks on judges selected for the designated courts, and evaluate the performance of the designated courts.
Oye said the committee would drive the council’s new policy on the anti-corruption war.
Justice Onnoghen, had in his speech last week at the Special Session of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to mark the commencement of the 2017/2018 Legal Year, noted the concerns expressed by members of the public on the snail-like pace in which corruption cases were being heard or determined by the courts.
Consequently, he directed all heads of courts to compile and forward to the council comprehensive lists of all corruption and financial crimes cases being handled by their various courts.
He also directed them to designate in their various jurisdictions, one or more courts as special courts solely for the purpose of hearing and speedily determining corruption and financial crimes cases.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria and the Court of Appeal were equally directed to fix special dates each week for hearing and determining appeals from such cases.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in the past accused the judiciary of not helping in the fight against corruption.