By; SUNDAY ODE, Abuja
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, Tuesday met with President Muhammadu Buhari in his office at Aso Rock Presidential Villa, behind closed-doors.
Speaking with State House Correspondents after the meeting, Onnoghen put up a spirited defence of the judges and the judiciary over widespread complaints of delay in the delivery of justices.
According to the CJN, anybody pointing accusing fingers to the judges or the judiciary over the subject matter of delay in trials was not willing to tell the whole story.
Asked to respond to the allegation that the judiciary was not doing enough to ensure speedy trial of cases, he said:
“Now, l believe that you know, with your experience of many years of practice that there has never been situation in which any case was taken to court and decided upon and the Judge was not there to listen to the case. …or having finished hearing, he/she refused to deliver judgement.
“So, when cases are not tried expeditiously and the Judge is there, ready to listen to the case, you come and, for one reason or the other, you take a date to adjourn the case, and the courts grant the adjournment which is normal during proceedings, you cannot turn round and blame the Judge for that. These are the basic things that everybody must know. We must all work together, cooperate for the system to move forward.
“But if you keep thinking that the Judiciary is the culprit in this delay princess, you are not telling the whole story. It is not the judiciary that would go and arrest someone before looking for evidence, it is not the judiciary that would go into investigations. No, we do not operate the Inquisitional mode of justice as it is practiced by the French. Our own is that an independent body must investigate, prosecute while the judge decides.”
Accordingly, the CJN said he was impressed with the performance of the Judges so far, adding that it was the need to make the public know the woring of the judicial system that led him to establish on prevention of corruption.
“Yes. So far, so good! Under the circumstances, l must admit that so far , so good.
“It is in order to enable you know the workings of the system that l set up the COMPRECO ( Commission for the Prevention of Corruption) committee.
“All along, everybody is passing the buck: the prosecution will say it is not our responsibility, we are not the cause of the delay; the investigator will say l am not the cause; the Judge will say, l am not the cause. So, the people must know who is the cause of the delay, that is why l set up that committee. And it is made up of both the defense counsel, the prosecutor abd the Judiciary under the NJC.
On suggestions that the judiciary is not on the same page with the executive on the current anti corruption war, Onnoghen said:
“I have answered that before and l still say the same thing. We are on the same page with the executive. There are three arms of government and these three arms constitutes the government. The government is not only the executive.
On the establishment of special courts to speed up trial of corruption cases, the CJN laid the responsibility squarely on the doorstep of the executive arm of government, saying that the judiciary only had responsibility to provide the manpower after such Courts were established.
On the latest effort on prison decongestion, he noted: “You are seeing everything being done on the issue. Next week, we are continuing with our action. But there is one thing you need to know, there is the physical constraint about the congestion itself. How many persons were to be contained in a prison room and how many are there now?
“Secondly, you should also know that the actual prisoners are fewer compared with the total number you see there. This is where the issue of awaiting trial comes in and that is the aspect where prison decongestion is working on and l can assure you that this is being handled.”