From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Supreme Court has arguably been thrown into its biggest crisis. Reason; fourteen Justices on the bench have revolted against the Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad and launched an unprecedented public attack against his administrative style and other financial issues bordering on their welfare.
Responding to the development, the CJN accused his brother Justices of dancing naked in a market square over issues that could have been resolved internally.
It all started with grumblings which later, metamorphosed to a letter by the 14 Justices who further accused the CJN of alleged acts of incompetence and corruption.
The aggrieved “Lordships” alleged serious infirmities and irregularities in administration and his commitment and loyalty to the nation’s judiciary.
The Justices who traditionally should be public-shy were accused of taking the issues to the market square, by leaking the internal memo to the public.
The letter titled: The State Of Affairs In The Supreme Court Of Nigeria And Demand By Justices Of The Court”, was signed by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Justice Musa Dattijo Mohammed, Justice Kudirat Motonmori O. Kekere-Ekun, Justice John Inyang Okoro, Justice Chima Nweze, Justice Amina Adamu Augie and Justice Uwani Musa Abba-Aji. Others are Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, Justice Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumujimi, Justice Ibrahim Mohammed Musa Saulawa, Justice Adamu Jauro, Justice Tijjani Abubakar and Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim.
They further expressed concerns over a number of issues ranging from budgetary allocations that have not been increased in the last four years, the failure to replace dilapidated vehicles, accommodation problems; to poor healthcare services at the Supreme Court clinic and poor electricity supply to the Supreme Court.
Other issues were the non-signing of amended Court Rules, an abrupt stoppage of foreign workshops and training per annum for justices; and no provision of qualified legal assistants.
The Judges specifically questioned Justice Tanko’s rationale for discontinuing the nomination of Justices for international seminars and training for justices on a yearly basis, accompanied by experienced legal assistants. This, they said was a long consistent practice until his Lordship assumed head of the Judiciary
Since Your Lordship’s assumption of office, Justices only attended two workshops in Dubai and Zanzibar. They were not accorded the privilege of travelling with accompanying persons, as was the practice. “Your Lordship totally ignored this demand and yet travelled with your spouse, children and personal staff. We demand to know what has become of our training funds, have they been diverted, or is it a plain denial?
“Your Lordship may also remember that the National Assembly has increased the budgetary allocation of the Judiciary. We find it strange that in spite of the upward review of our budgetary allocation, the Court cannot cater for our legitimate entitlements. This is unacceptable!
“The state of health care in the Court has deteriorated; the Supreme Court clinic has become a mere consulting clinic. Drugs are not available to treat minor ailments. There is general lack of concern for Justices who require immediate or emergency medical intervention.
“Your Lordship has not addressed the issue of our rules Court. The Rules of Court are the immediate tools employed by Justices to dispense Justice to Court users.
“Your Lordship has kept the amended Rules of Court for almost three years now, awaiting your signature. We strongly believe the new rules will aid speedy dispensation of Justice.
“At the Justices meeting, we intimated your Lordship that some Justices sworn on the 6th day of November, 2020, were yet to be accommodated by the Court. Your Lordship promised to take up the issue that day. To date Your Lordship has not taken any step in this direction.
“With regard to Justices’ vehicles, several are due for replacement, while the new Justices have not received their full complement of vehicles to date. Moreover, some of the vehicles supplied to the Justices are either refurbished or substandard. Your Lordship has not taken steps to address this problem.
“Recently, the Chief Registrar served Justices with an internal memo, that electricity would be supplied to the Court between the hours of 8am and 4pm daily, for lack of diesel. The implication of this memo is that the Justices must finish their work and close before 4pm. Your Lordship, with all due respect, this is the peak of the degeneration of the Court; it is the height of decadence, and clear evidence of the absence of probity and moral rectitude. Your Lordship, this act alone portends imminent danger to the survival of this Court and the Judiciary as an institution, which is gradually drifting to extinction.
“The Judiciary is an arm of government. The Supreme Court of Nigeria, just like the Presidential Villa and the National Assembly, is the seat of the Judiciary as an arm of government. The implication of the memo is that this arm of government is potentially shut down. May God never allow that day.
“Your Lordship, this is a wake up call. Your Lordship must take full responsibility as our leader. You must not concession your responsibility to people who have no responsibility or stake in preserving and defending the dignity of the Institution. Your Lordship occupies a position of leadership. We will not wait for the total collapse of the institution. We must not abandon our responsibility to call Your lordship to order in the face of these sad developments that threaten our survival as an institution. We have done our utmost best to send a wake up call to Your Lordship. A stich in time saves nine.
“Finally, Your Lordship the choice is now yours. It is either you quickly and swiftly take responsibility and address these burning issues or we will be compelled to further steps immediately. May this day never come.”
Responding to the letter, the CJN, Justice Ibrahim Mohammad, while cautioning his colleagues against dancing naked in the market square on internal issues attributed the financial crisis of the court to paucity of funds.
Besides, an official of the court said the problem of the judges salaries, allowances and other entitlements was instigated with the lumping of these items in the ’’Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc.) (Amendment) Act, 2008’’.
For about 15 years, the Federal Government is yet to review it prompting the judiciary or the supreme court to devise other allowances to supplement and cushion its adverse effect.
Further findings showed that for four years (2018 to 2022), the Federal Government did not increase judiciary budget.
“Only in 2022 it was increased from N110b to N120b.Yet Buhari administration appointed eight Justices for the apex court within the period without budget for it.
“Mind you, two Supreme Court Justices died within the period. Besides, about four retired and all that required attendant payment of gratuities and allowances for the departed and retirees, “ a competent source at the apex court confided in Daily Sun.
While exonerating the CJN from the issues, our source noted, “the CJN is not the causes of supreme court Justices financial woes but a collective woeful working condition. CJN does not close from work till sometimes 7 to 8pm. Meanwhile, most of the judges complaints have been attended or receiving adequate attention as they were made to know during their meeting with Justice Bage.
“There were issues between the CJN and the Supreme Court Justices but they have been resolved by a former Justice of the court, Justice Sidi Bage Muhammadu I, who is the Emir of Lafia.
“In fact, the last of such peace meeting was held last Thursday and a permanent reconciliation sealed on Friday. Bage made many shuttles until he brokered peace.
“The challenges are connected with the delay in cash backing the Supreme Court budget. It is one thing to have the budget on paper, it is another thing to release the funds to the court. The release takes some time.
“We are all aware of the economic problem facing the country. The Executive cannot dispense the cash it does not have.
“Again, the Supreme Court has been receiving N110billion since 2018 without any increase. The salaries and allowances of the Justices were last reviewed in 2017. Where is the fault of the CJN.”
But in his official response to the letter, the CJN, through his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Ahuraka Isah, lamented that the matter which could have been addressed internally was allowed to become a subject of public discourse.
According to him, “Judges in all climes are to be seen and not heard, and that informed why the CJN refrained from joining issues until a letter, said to be personal, is spreading across the length and breadth of the society. This was akin to dancing naked at the market square by us with the ripple effect of the said letter.”
The Supreme Court definitely does not exist outside its environment; it is also affected by the economic and socio-political climate prevailing in the country. Besides that, the Apex Court has to a larger extent, been living to its constitutional responsibility.
The statement further reads, “When a budget is made, it contains two sides, that’s the recurrent and the capital, yet all the two are broken down into items. The Federal Government releases the budget based on the budget components. And it’s an offence to spend the money meant for one item for another.
“Take for instance, the Supreme Court budgeted this year to re-roof and rehabilitate its complex built over 30 years ago and that is being done. The work on the extension of the complex is near completion, the aesthetic lawns and cleanness of the perimeters are being well kept, and security and water supply are adequately provided for his brother Justices in their offices and residences. During the period of pandemic, a profound and extra-care was maintained to avoid causalities among them as well as the staff generally. It would have amounted to an act of irresponsibility to divert money meant for the above for otherwise.
The accusation so far, in summary is that more or all ought to have been done and not that nothing has been done; which is utopian in the contemporary condition of our country.
Before eight new Justices were appointed in 2020 onto the Apex Court bench, there was no additional budget to provide new chambers with equipped library, legal assistance, residential accommodations and logistics for them. The Apex Court has to make do with the resources at its disposal to meet their needs over time. All the Justices of this Court have at least a legal assistance, except some may opt for more. One of the CJN’s legal assistance (now Justice Aina) was appointed to Abuja FCT High Court last month, while another (Barr Ramatu) died three months back. Generally, the Judiciary is looking up to recruitment of more legal assistance and other supporting staff this year.
Besides, two Supreme Court Justices died within the period under consideration. Both the four retirees and the two departed cost the court some funds in the forms of gratuities and allowances.
Two weeks ago, eight Supreme Court Justices were nominated for a workshop in London as the court cannot take all of them there at once otherwise the job would suffer. They would be going in batches. Accommodations are being gradually provided for the few that are yet to get. There is none of the Apex Court Justices without SUV and back up cars. If any of them were purchased but refurbished, the external and internal auditors are here in the court to take those that bought them up over it.
The high cost of electricity tariff and diesel are national problem. The Chief Registrar might have budgeted for N300 per litre but diesel is now selling for over N700 per litre and therefore has to find a way around it without even bringing it to the attention of the CJN. But there is no way the generator would be put off if the court is sitting.
The amendment of court rules is on the process, it has to be critically reviewed to avoid conflict with the constitution and other extant laws. Not all the CJN have reviewed the rules in the past. Within the three years, his brother Justices mentioned came the pandemic and the judiciary workers’ strike.
The internet services have been restored to Justices’ residences and chambers, just as some allowances have been paid to them. The CJN held a meeting with his brother Justices last Thursday and another one is due to hold this week.
The general public should be rest assured that there’s no hostility or adverse feelings amongst the Justices of the Supreme Court, as everyone of them is going about his normal duty.
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From Godwin Tsa, Abuja