Corruption and Underdevelopment

Acting CJN to reposition Judiciary, unveil reform

By Paul Michael

Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Oluwakayode Ariwoola, is set to launch a major reform that will reposition the Judiciary.

It was gathered that the unveiling of the sweeping reform is reportedly billed for the resumption of the new legal year in September.

It is, however, not clear if the CJN would be announcing the reform package during the traditional ceremony that heralds every new legal year.

A source who spoke to journalists said Justice Ariwoola is currently putting the reform package together, taking into consideration, inputs from other justices, the Bar, prominent senior lawyers, top system operators and other critical stakeholders.

Justices of the Supreme Court have also been broken into committees headed by senior justices to superintend an ongoing internal reform in the apex court.

It was learned that each committee has four members, making a total of three committees for the 12 Justices of the court.

The CJN was said to have recused himself from direct participation in the internal cleansing exercise to give his colleagues unfettered access to all the activities of the court.

Senior administrative officers of the court have also been reportedly directed by the CJN to open all financial books of the court to the Justices.

This move has been applauded by insiders and major stakeholders as the right step at re-injecting accountability and probity into the system after the financial controversies that trailed the exit of his predecessor-in-office, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad.

It was also gathered that the focus of the reform package is mainly to make courts in the country more effective and functional, as a way of inspiring a revival of populace confidence in the Judiciary.

The Bench currently scores low with the citizenry, but the source assured that the coming reform would take care of most of the issues leading to the poor rating of the Judiciary.

“He is focused on strengthening the courts and he is working on the reform package, to achieve that. He knows what he wants to achieve with the position he occupies. Suggestions have been made to him and he is working on them. By the time the new legal year resumes, the reform should be out” the source said

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Meanwhile, the NJC has resumed the monitoring of judges handling alleged corruption cases around the country. The exercise is being undertaken by a special committee known as Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, (CONTRIMCO).

The committee was put in place by former Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen in November 2017 as an anticorruption weapon of the Bench against errant judges handling alleged corruption cases. The committee was christened by the media as looters’ trial panel.

The Justice Suleiman Galadima-led committee was in limbo for the three years that Justice Tanko was in office.

The new leadership has now reactivated it. On Thursday, the committee rounded off a tour of five South-West states, excluding Lagos State which it had earlier visited.

This comes as the leadership of the Court of Appeal is launching an all-out war against purveyors of what is deemed as fake news within the system.

Media materials in recent times have targeted the leadership of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem.

A senior administrative staff said the attacks have been discovered to seek a termination of her headship of the court.

She had a tough time landing the job, despite being the most senior justice of the intermediate court when the position became vacant in March 2020. Fiery social critic and former military governor of Kaduna State, Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, in a blistering open letter dated May 31, 2020 to President Buhari, noted the move to bypass Justice Dongban-Mensem for a Northern Muslim.

President Buhari eventually nominated her in substantive capacity, after widespread criticism of the delay. Mensem is a Christian from the North-Central zone and a group within the Judiciary is reportedly seeking a regime change at the court to bring a Muslim in.

She is accused of stalling overseas travel for justices of the court during the COVID pandemic. Before his resignation, Tanko as CJN faced similar accusation, among others.

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