Former Attorney General advocates financial autonomy to curb corruption

Chukwumerije Aja, Nnenna Okoronkwo,Ugo Okoro

A former Attorney General of Ondo State, Mr Olawale Fapohunda, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari, to as a matter of urgency, convene a special meeting with governors, on how financial autonomy could be granted to the judiciary, if the battle against corruption is to be meaningful.

Fapohunda, who is also a frontline human rights activist, said that an independent judicial benefits and compensation commission should be established.

Delivering a lecture in Abuja, at the instance of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents, the former Commissioner for Justice said that the dialogue between President Buhari and the governors should undertake a comprehensive review of salaries and benefits of all judicial officers in the country, including the lower court judges.

He said the arrest and prosecution of some judges for alleged corruption was not enough.

“ The issue of poor infrastructure affecting all courts, defective judicial appointments and the tragic inability of most of the state governments to support judicial financial autonomy are known obstacles.

Fighting judicial corruption is a good idea but a Judiciary that frequently goes cap in hand to the Executive for funding even for the most basic of its needs cannot by any stretch of imagination inspire citizens’ confidence.”

He explained that corruption was not only about judges taking bribes but it included all forms of inappropriate influence that may damage the impartiality of justice.

“A judgment or court order that does not follow judicial precedent or is inherently defective can be prima facie evidence of corruption. Others challenges include the backlog of pending cases in all our courts, the use archaic systems, poor infrastructure & limited recognition of lower courts.

Police reforms

Fapohunda explained  that “there have been more than 14 years of debate on policing and reform facilitated by multiple committees on police reforms.

In the past two years, Police have embarked on a wide range of reforms aimed at reversing this perception and transforming the Nigeria Police into a true public servant capable of elevating the sense of security of Nigerians.

These reform measures include facilitating the enactment of a progressive Nigeria Police Services Bill to replace the outdated Police Act 1968.  Also in response to the considerable unhappiness with the system of inquiring into Public complaints against the police, the police have reviewed its police complaints handling process. There is now in place a citizen’s complaints system, which aims to work openly, quickly, effectively, impartially.

These interventions have by no means solved all the problems with the police and policing in Nigeria; the immediate concern is that much of these initiatives were led by the sheer determination of the past inspector general of police.  ”

He also called for reforms saying that the Nigerian Prisons Service was a key institution in the country’s criminal justice framework.

“There are a number of ongoing challenges affecting the ability of the prisons service to achieve its mandate. The first is its archaic legislation. Not unlike the Nigeria Police, the Prisons Act was last reviewed in 1972.  A Bill to amend the Prisons Act 1972 was first laid before the House of Representatives in 2001. In 2016 the process of enactment is still on going,” he said.

The theme of the annual lecture series was: The role of the media in enhancing the campaign for human rights protection in Nigeria