2021: The Justice Ministry In A Turbulent Year By Kunle Olasanmi
The justice sector of any country is no doubt, a critical sector, without which a country may not exist. It is essential for the functioning of a society and economy. The peace and harmony of any nation is dependent on the adherence to the rule of law.
It is always said that a good and a high performing justice sector is an asset for national wealth and it also guarantees an orderly society.
For any society to run in a good and orderly manner, a good justice system is an essential ingredient.
The search for justice may not be fruitful without proper functioning of all the compartments that make up the justice sector.
There may not be a sound justice sector for any nation until the indices of accountability, accessibility, transparency and respectability are present
For many years before the present administration, some of these indices were lacking in our justice sector.
But in the last five to six years, there has been tremendous improvement in the administration of justice in the country.
In 2021, the justice sector in the country witnessed both high and low moments. So many events happened that shaped the sector. Some very good and some others not too good or outrightly bad.
The sector, under the year in review, stood its ground on the renewed mission of self-cleansing with the view to filtering the wheat from the chaff.
The attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar, admitted that there were challenges in the justice sector when the administration of President Mohammadu Buhari came into power.
Malami said, ‘’There are challenges but the government has looked at them, confronted them and have surmounted them.’’
Some of the major and bold decisions taken by the federal government last year to secure the lives and property of 200million Nigerians was the proscription of banditry in the country.
The Office of the AGF filed an application requesting permission to declare bandits in the country as terrorists. The request was granted by the court.
The implication is that the declaration will enable security operatives to assiduously combat terrorists and all perpetrators of banditry and kidnappings in the country.
According to the AGF, security agents will engage the terrorist with the maximum force in commpliance with international best practices.
Money laundering and illicit flow of funds into the country has done more harm than good to the economy of the
In 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari, said Nigeria is struggling with illicit financial flows (IFF) as successive budgets suffer setbacks in the last 15 years.
According to the president, judging by the current exchange rate, the country’s cumulative budget, from 2004 to 2018, stood at about N60 trillion, while more than N103 trillion was stolen in illicit transfers.
President Buhari, at the 74th United Nations General Assembly told the audience that his country lost €139.67 billion to illicit financial flows between 2003 and 2012.
But in 2021, in a bid to address the challenges of money laundering and terrorism financing, the AGF said federal government indicated willingness to join membership of the global Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog.
The FATF monitors 39 member countries to ensure full and effective implementation of FATF standards, thereby holding nations that do not comply accountable.
Speaking on the executive readiness to join FATF, Malami pointed out that Nigeria’s Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) issued Executive Alert to all Ministries, Departments and Agencies` (MDA) for the implementation of the action plan on Nigeria follow up process. He assured the member states that Nigeria is willing and ready with high level commitment in addressing money laundering and terrorism financing in order to have stable and peaceful nation.
In April 2021, the federal government said it uncovered that some prominent Nigerians are terrorism financiers in the country. It threatened to name them. But while the debate whether to name them or not was going on, the FG went ahead to block and prosecute some Boko Haram financiers.
Apart from fighting corruption, crushing banditry and combating terrorism, the government said it is also determined and committed to arraign and prosecute anyone found wanting or connected to the sponsorship of Boko Haram terrorists.
The FG, through the office of the AGF said it has been assiduously working and undergoing a thorough and comprehensive investigation to prosecute all the financiers of Boko Haram.
He said, “As far as terrorism funding and financing is concerned, we have succeeded in identifying those that are allegedly responsible for funding same and we are blocking the leakages associated with funding while embarking on aggressive investigation that is indeed impacting positively in terms of the fight against terrorism”.
Also last year, the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), resumed before Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako of a Federal High Court, Abuja.
His arrest and extradition was also one of the issues that made headlines in 2021.
Kanu was release from prison on bail and shortly after that, IPOB was declared a terrorist group by the federal government after securing a court order. He later jumped bail and fled to the United Kingdom from where he was said to have been instigating the youths in the eastern part of the country against the government.
He was arrested in Kenya and was brought back to Nigeria. He is currently facing trial before Justice Binta Murtala Nyako of a Federal High Court, Abuja
Apart from the arrest of the IPOB leader, the government, through the office of the AGF exposed the sponsors of separatists movement
The Presidential Committee on Correctional Reform and Decongestion, in July visited three borstal homes in the country and a total of 122 children were released from the Borstal Training Institute.
Chairman of the Committee and former Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, facilitated the release of the children during their visit to the Borstal Institute.
The committee was on a visit to conduct on-the-spot assessment and condition of juveniles in the Institution for the Presidential Committee on Correctional Reforms and Decongestion.
In its efforts to bring lasting peace to the Lake Chad Basin, the federal government vowed to partner in the collaborative efforts to see to an end the multidimensional crises facing the Lake Chad Basin States.
According to the minister of justice, Nigeria has adopted several strategies geared towards ending the security challenges including to cushion the effects of the war on victims, such as the internally displaced persons as well as modalities to boost infrastructural and economic development of the regions.
To end the crisis, several strategies that included “the establishment of the North East Development Commission for the development of the damaged infrastructure as well as to provide the most needed infrastructure; de-radicalization strategies for upholding peace in order to win the war on Terrorism; the repatriation of Nigerian Refugees in Chad, Cameroon and Nigerp Republics; conciliation and compensation of victims, prosecution of Boko Haram cases at Kainji, New Bussa Courts were adopted,” he said.
Some achievements were also recorded in the fight against corruption in 2021. No doubt, it is expected that the gains recorded in the fight against corruption should be improved upon in 2022.
The successes recorded in the fight against corruption, especially, on the international asset recovery could be a template for other African countries in the fight against corruption.
Speaking at the annual public lecture in New York, organized by the Centre for Media and Peace Initiative, New York, United States of America. The minister said “Various steps have been taken in terms of legislatives frameworks, establishment of institutions and policy measures targeted at combating corruption, regional corporation and ensuring good governance for the benefit of citizens”
He added, “In 2017, the signing of a trilateral agreement with Switzerland and World Bank enabled the recovery of €286.00million.
“In 2020 a total sum of €276.41million was returned to Nigeria after signing another trilateral agreement with the U.S.A and Bailiwick of Jersey.
“Also, in the year 2020, 5.4million Euros was recovered in March emanating from an agreement signed with Northern Ireland. The government was able to recover from UK the sum of €4,214,017.66 connected to the family of James Ibori.’’
He further said,“Additional recoveries to the tune of €177.36million are being anticipated subject to the settlement of litigations of which the Ministry of Justice is attending to presently”
According to Malami, the present administration was able to achieve the successes due to the political will, funding, legislations, institutional support, and Executive Orders by President Muhammadu Buhari.’’
The lingered menace of corruption in Nigeria paved ways for some politicians and individuals to embezzle and amass huge sums of funds and assets and stash it abroad.
In its efforts to combat corruption, Mr Malami said the government had identified at least N1.12trn (€2.38 billion) stolen funds which the government was determined and committed to recover from different countries of the world.
Malami further stated that the amount was a fraction of the looted funds from Nigeria which the Federal Government is dedicated to recover from the United Kingdom and Ireland.
According to him, “We are looking to recover further about €2.38 billion among others, but then, that does not mean to say that no other associated assets are being pursued in other countries of the world, including Ireland and other countries”.
To ensure a better and safe Nigeria for all, the AGF pledged enormous support in providing legal backing for the immediate implementation of reforms strategy for national security architecture.
While receiving members of the Presidential Implementation Advisory Committee for the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Reform Committee on Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces of Nigeria, he said the review of the defense and security architecture is crucial and a necessity considering the heightened level of insurgency and other internal and external threats.
Some of the reforms carried out last year in the justice sector include the commissioning of Virtual Court Sitting Facilities, building Global Consensus on Assets Recovery.
An independent review placed Nigeria top in the implementation of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) globally.
Nigeria won the global award announced on Wednesday in Seoul, South Korea, at the opening ceremony of the Summit of OGP member countries. Nigeria beat other countries in Africa and the Middle East that are implementing the OGP.
One of the issues that kept recurring in the judiciary is the allegation of corruption against judicial officers. Also, the National Judicial Council, NJC, found some judges guilty of issuing conflicting court orders.
The judges were sanctioned by Tue NJC for giving conflicting court orders in a case that is completely out of their jurisdiction.
The NJC ordered that the judges should not be promoted whenever they are due for promotion. Many Nigerians and stakeholders in the judiciary welcomed the development and said that it would serve as a deterrent for other judges.
Another issue that has refused to go away until it is given the attention it deserves is the independence of the judiciary.
The issue financial autonomy of the judiciary was part of the deliberation at the the 2021 Judges conference in Abuja.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Mohammed called on the Executive, especially, at the state level to give financial autonomy to the judiciary.
At the conference, he also called on judges to shun corruption as it may ruin their careers as judges. He challenged them to do justice to all manner of men without fear or favour.
The judiciary is vulnerable where democracy is weak, where interference by the executive is commonplace and where the budgetary allocation of the judiciary is not enough.
Top on the list of the issues that shaped 2021 was the invasion of the residence of a Supreme Court Justice, Mrs Mary Ukaego Odili. Some persons have been arrested and her being prosecuted at a Federal High Court in Abuja.
Also, in the course of the year, Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court sentenced both Abdulrasheed Maina, the chairman of the defunct pension taskforce team and his son, Faisal, to prison for corruption.
New judges were appointed and were sworn-in for both the Federal High Court and the High Court of Justice of the Federal Capital Territory. In addition to that, some lawyers were elevated to the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, and were sworn-in on December 8, 2021.
Also, in the course of the year, a court in Rivers state declared as illegal the collection of Value Added Tax, VAT, by the federal government.
The Rivers state government had approached the court to declare as illegal the collection of VAT by the FG. The court granted its request and stopped FG from further collecting VAT in Rivers state.
The Appeal Court has however reversed the judgment. Presenting, an appeal has been lodged at the Supreme Court on the matter.
With this case and some others, the coming years will be interesting, as there will be legal fireworks on some of these cases which may be decided one way or the other before the end of 2022.