*Serious compromise of the principles of impartiality, independence
Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER) has protested against the picture story in page 6 of the Guardian newspaper edition of the 26th of October, 2017 which reported in the picture, “A cross section of justices and judges during capacity worship for them, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja….yesterday”.
The statement signed by Frank Tietie, Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER) Abuja said “it amounts to a serious violation of the principles of independence and impartiality of the Nigerian judiciary for the EFCC to organise a training workshop for Nigerian judges.
The immediate insinuation that has become rife in some quarters is the supposition that whereas the EFCC has in the time past failed to achieve expected massive convictions in cases against citizens who have been accused of financial crimes, it has now resorted to training judges in order for it achieve the convictions which it couldn’t get through painstaking investigation or diligent prosecution.
A cooperative relationship between the EFCC and the Nigerian Judiciary endangers the foundational democratic norm of separation of powers which is enshrined in sections 4, 5 & 6 of the amended 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Such a compromising relationship poses a serious, potential threat to the right of Nigerian citizens to fair hearing.
Section 36 subsection 1 of the Nigerian constitution provides as follows that:
In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and *impartiality* . (emphasis added).
On what possibly proper basis therefore, would the EFCC train the judges that would preside over Nigerian courts and it can still be said that those courts are impartial or independent when dealing with cases where the EFCC is a party?
Would it be proper for big multinational companies or rich individuals like Dangote or Otedola to organise free training workshops for Nigerian judges and still expect the public to retain confidence in judgments delivered by judges who have benefited and enjoyed the privileges that have been offered to them by such persons who were parties in such a suit?
Why would the Nigerian judiciary ever create an impression of doubt over its impartiality and independence in matters before it where the EFCC is a party?
The right of the Nigerian citizen who has been accused by the EFCC for financial crimes, to fair hearing in a court that is impartial and independent has been seriously affected by the recent training workshop organised by the EFCC for Nigerian judges.
There however, would be the possibility that the EFCC may have organised the workshop to teach judges on how to avoid bribes by desperate litigants but that is highly unnecessary given the existence of a judicial code of conduct which holds judges to very high standards. Besides, judges are in better position to teach themselves and the EFCC on such matters of evidence and proper conduct of public officers.
The separation of the powers of government is akin to the principles of checks and balances among the arms of government viz: The Presidency (executive), The Legislature (National Assembly) and the Judiciary (the Courts). These principles are not only meant to check the abuse of political or administrative power but they are also meant to ensure the observation of the fundamental rights of the citizens of the state.
While corruption is evil, CASER shall not accept the use of anti-corruption schemes as the basis for defeating constitutional and democratic foundations such as the citizens’ fundamental right to fair hearing.
CASER shall therefore address the Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN) in writing, with the aim of persuading him to avoid any pressure or any act that would compromise the impartiality and independence of the Nigerian Judiciary.
CASER shall also address in its writing to the CJN such issues as to why special anti-corruption courts to ensure speedy adjudication of cases of corruption amounts to a discrimination against other citizens whose regular cases are not allowed to be given such special status for speedy adjudication to enhance their social and economic engagements.
CASER has worked very hard in the past and would continue to work to ensure that the integrity of the Nigerian judiciary is preserved at all cost. Records abound on the many times that CASER has either risen in defence of the Nigerian Judiciary or moved against any person or authority that has attempted to undermine the revered place of the judiciary in our constitutional democracy.
CASER pioneered the call in 2016 to the National Judicial Council to allow the live media broadcast of proceedings of Nigerian courts to enhance greater transparency and integrity of the judicial process.
The Nigerian judiciary remains the main bastion in the observation, preservation and enforcement of the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Nigeria.