Law News
Beyond the search for upright judges

On the heels of startling revelations from the presidency on how public funds were wantonly looted by some public officers in the last administration, President Muhammadu Buhari recently set up a Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption.   Its major mandate is to identify alleged treasury looters with the aim of bringing them to justice.

Beyond this, the Committee’s Chairman, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN) revealed that selected judges handling anti-corruption cases are under surveillance. The action is aimed at monitoring them on moral, professional and ethical grounds.

It is trite law that the power to prosecute criminal cases, including looting of public funds, lies with the state. This power is however expected to be exercised within the ambit of applicable criminal law and constitutional provisions of fundamental human rights.

Our criminal justice system demands that a person is innocent before proven guilty in a court of competent jurisdiction, no matter the gravity of the offence.   This process is a circle that begins with proper and thorough investigations by relevant investigating agencies.

While we acknowledge a creeping rot in the judiciary and the need to sanitise the bench, we submit that it requires more than upright judges to convict and sentence looters of public funds in the absence of unassailable evidence. Anything short of this will amount to persecution and not prosecution.

We therefore recommend that the investigative and prosecutorial capacities of anti-corruption agencies like EFCC and ICPC should be enhanced to enable them conduct forensic and water tight investigations that will ease convictions in corruption cases.

Judges are not miracle workers. They require the support of the system to perform. Unless we provide them this support, even the “upright” judges, when selected, may find themselves in great difficulties. We, therefore, urge the Sagay panel to be painstaking with this assignment and ensure that a workable paradigm to fight corruption is established.

The Buhari administration should not play politics with the war on corruption, otherwise, the patriotic purpose of it will be lost. We believe that the Sagay panel should be allowed to do its job professionally to lay the groundwork for the campaign, while the federal government provides the required financial and logistical support for the anti-graft bodies to carry out their duties according to the law.

 

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