A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, has faulted President Muhammadu Buhari on his recent concern over the delay in the trial of corruption cases.
Agbaje said Buhari’s comment was a serious indictment of the judiciary system.
Agbaje told Punch that it was up to the judiciary to redeem itself and change the negative perception raised by the president.
The lawyer was reacting to the recent call by President Buhari on the judiciary to support his anti-graft war by ensuring that the criminal cases in court were not delayed but expeditiously concluded.
Buhari while speaking at the opening ceremony of an ”˜International Workshop on the Judiciary and Fight against Corruption,’ was quoted asking the judiciary to put its house in order, tackle judicial corruption, be impartial and politically neutral, remove causes of delays in adjudication of cases and stop tolerating the dilatory tactics of defence lawyers that prolonged high- profile corruption cases.
Speaking on Tuesday against the background of Buhari’s comment, Agbaje said, “It is a serious indictment to say the courts are the ones encouraging delay tactics to frustrate the hearing of corruption cases. It is a serious indictment on the judiciary. It is now for the judiciary to redeem itself.”
Agbaje, however, said the executive, through the anti-corruption agencies and the police, should also share in the blame.
However, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Godwin Obla, frowned on a situation where the President would blame the judiciary for the delay in corruption cases, saying the delays were caused by some procedural challenges in the country’s laws.
Obla said, “The President is less than two years in the saddle and I do not think that his opinion as to whether time is wasted or time is not wasted reflects the true position of the law. The truth of the matter is that there are procedural challenges in our laws and some of us have repeatedly spoken about it.
“The fact that someone is facing trial does not mean that we’d abridge their right to actually defend themselves. They have the right to defend themselves, and at times in the course of doing so they rely on unorthodox techniques of delaying trial, but it is within their right and it is within the confines of the law.
“Mr. President cannot indict the judiciary, just as he is complaining that it is actually taking long for criminal cases to be decided, Nigerians are also saying that it is taking too long for the promises that he made to be fulfilled. It is not a one-way traffic. The law does not work in the way it works in the military. This is a democracy. The courts have tried, they’ve brought out certain practice directions, they are making certain levels of progress but it is not overnight. If we want to make substantial progress we must invest in practical amendment to our procedural rule of the court.”