SERAP writes CJN, seeks review of Justice Salami’s committee

Human rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has advised the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to review the membership of the committee he set up to monitor high-profile corruption cases in various courts across the country.

The 15-member committee, named, Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, is headed by a retired President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami.

Its members include the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN); and four of his predecessors —  Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Mr. J.B. Daudu (SAN), and Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN).

Others are the Chief Judges of Borno, Imo, Delta and Oyo states —  Justices Kashim Zannah, P.O. Nnadi, Marshal Umukoro and M. L. Abimbola, respectively.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Garba Tetengi, is also a member, while the National Judicial Council; the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria; the Ministry of Justice and Non-Governmental Organisations are also represented on the committee.

The CJN set up the committee as part of measures to address the delay in the trial of high-profile corruption cases.

But in an open letter to the CJN on Tuesday, SERAP called for an urgent review of the committee’s membership, saying there is a question mark on the independence of some of the members.

The group, in the said letter by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, noted that some of the lawyers on the committee are defence counsel in some of the high-profile cases that they have now been appointed to monitor.

It maintained that unless the committee’s membership is reviewed, the aim of setting it up might be defeated in view of “the risk of apparent and potential conflicts between the work of the committee and the private practice of some of its members who are handling high-profile cases of corruption involving politically-exposed persons.”

One of the former NBA Presidents, Daudu, represented the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who was tried for alleged false asset declaration before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

SERAP said, “For the Salami Committee to perform its tasks effectively and with propriety, it should preferably be composed entirely of members of the judiciary, particularly drawn from available pool of brilliant and incorruptible retired judges.

“While international law does not prohibit some representation of the legal profession or academics, we urge Your Lordship to select candidates from these fields to the Salami committee based on their demonstrable commitment to the fight against corruption, and after extensive consultation, and a thorough scrutiny of the candidates’ past record of legal practice, to eliminate all possibilities of bias and conflict of interest.

“Doing this would ensure accountability and keep the independence of the judiciary intact and uncompromised.

“SERAP believes that until the issues raised in this letter are satisfactorily addressed, Nigerians would have a doubt in their mind as to the ability of the Salami committee to discharge its mandates effectively and with propriety, and would have a right to have a doubt.”

The group also called on the CJN to ensure that the committee was in charge of its own budget and to make available to it adequate human and financial resources that would guarantee its independence.

It said the committee must also be made to be accountable to the people to avoid possible public perception of bias and conflict of interest.

The letter added, “SERAP welcomes the commitment by Your Lordship to promote judicial accountability and combat corruption in the judiciary. We understand that accountability mechanism would encourage justice operators to behave with integrity and in line with their code of ethics and conduct.

 “We share your Lordship’s vision of a judiciary that is corruption-free, and demonstrates the fundamental principles of independence, impartiality and integrity…

“However, SERAP is seriously concerned that rather than promoting judicial accountability, the committee, as presently constituted, could be used to interfere with the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.”

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