The Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) has become apprised of a letter written by 14 Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (“CJN”), alleging, among others, various improprieties and administrative inefficiencies that have not only affected their judicial responsibilities, but also impacted on the justice administration process. The NBA also notes the response issued by the office of the CJN to the complaints.
At the Justice Sector Summit organised, in January 2022, by the NBA in collaboration with other key stakeholders, the related issues of funding, budgeting and administration of the Nigerian Judiciary, constituted the second of the three focus areas identified as being the greatest challenges confronting the Nigerian Judiciary. At the end of that Summit, the NBA made far reaching proposals on how to tackle these challenges especially as regards the funding, budgeting, and administration of the Nigerian Judiciary.
The current developments at the Supreme Court which culminated in the above referenced letter and the CJN’s response underscore the necessity and urgency of fundamental reform of the administration and governance of the Nigerian Judiciary.
While the NBA notes the CJN’s response and appreciates the economic challenges plaguing the country as a whole, it is nonetheless disheartening to learn that in spite of the high expectations that the society have of the Justices, some of the basic necessities which they require to function properly are currently lacking. Besides their stagnated income over the years, a situation where there is no formal scheme for the mandatory appointment of judicial assistants for the Justices, no regular training for their improvement, limited or no internet access for their operations, is, to say the least, unfortunate.
For Justices of the Supreme Court, who are generally known to be taciturn in making demands, to resort to penning down their grievances in the unprecedented manner that they have done indicates that they had obviously reached their tolerance peak. Thankfully, as the CJN advised, these issues are now being addressed in the short term.
One of the cardinal responsibilities of the NBA is to advocate for the independence and financial autonomy of the Judiciary as we have been doing over the years. However, as we continue in that advocacy, it is particularly important that the Judiciary must not only be, but should be seen as being, above board and transparent in the management and allocation of the resources currently available to it. The Judiciary must entrench the principles of accountability and probity in the manner in which it expends allocated resources. While the fight for increased budgetary allocations for the Judiciary continues, it is important that the available resources be used for the welfare and wellbeing of our Judicial Officers, as well as for the improvement of the infrastructure and facilities required by our Judges and Justices to effectively discharge their duties.
There is a clear need for mechanisms to be put in place to ensure that the Judiciary (with the Supreme Court leading the charge) is providing the necessary template to other arms of government on transparent procurement and budgeting. This will reduce the perception in some quarters that the Judiciary is not accountable to anyone and is also not self-regulating.
As I have noted elsewhere, this is election season, and we are all witnesses to the humongous war chests that the politicians and political parties are amassing. The only way to insulate and make our Judges and Justices immune to the temptations of being corrupted by these politicians is to assure them of decent working conditions and adequate compensation both in and out of service.
Our Judges and Justices, on their part, have a duty to ensure that the honour and respect that is accorded the Judiciary by the public is not lost or dwindled, and that the public continues to hold the Judiciary in the highest esteem. For us at the NBA, we will continue to do all that we can to defend and support the Judiciary towards achieving these objectives, enthroning probity, and generally living up to expectations.
21st June 2022