‘Proper funding’ ll free Judiciary from grip of Executive’
Lawyers have thrown their weights behind National Assembly’s call for special funding for judiciary. To the men of the wig and gown, the call is not only a step in the right direction but also capable of relieving the third arm of government of concerns over inadequate funding which has continually hampered its independence. AKEEM NAFIU reports
Some senior lawyers have spoken with one voice in commending the call by the National Assembly for a special intervention fund to rescue the judiciary from the abyss of paucity of fund.
The lawyers while noting that underfunding has remained a clog in the wheel of judiciary’s independence, also called for a legislation by the lawmakers to back up the demand for special funding.
The latest of the requests for special funding for judiciary was from the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary, Hon. Onofiok Luke. The lawmaker while on an oversight assignment to Federal judicial establishments in Lagos alongside some members of the Committee lamented the poor funding of the judiciary, saying it is taking a negative toll on its activities.
As a way out of the problem, Luke declared that judiciary need about N200 billion special intervention fund to meet its competing demands and challenges. Addressing journalists on the issue, Luke maintained that the judiciary needed an intervention fund if the country wanted to properly fund the third arm of government.
He said: “If we can have an intervention fund for the entertainment industry or if the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) can have an intervention fund for the Agric sector, there is need for a special intervention fund for the judiciary in the sum of N100 billion or N200 billion.
This would take care of infrastructure, welfare, emoluments and salaries of judicial workers. “The last time there was a review of salaries of judicial workers in Nigeria was about 13 years ago.
If we are asking them not to be corrupt, though I am not saying poverty is an excuse to be corrupt, they must be well taken care of because we are all buying from the same market.
“With what we have seen on ground in Lagos, we are committed to improving the administration of justice in Nigeria, the House under the Honourable Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, is also committed to judicial reforms.
“So, it is our goal to create an enabling environment for the judiciary to operate. At the Court of Appeal, we saw what was done there. The new retrofitted courtroom did by the NJC and we are going to recommend that this should be done across the country.
We are going to look at the budget and recommended that more retrofitted courtrooms should be done”.
There have been similar request for special funding of the judiciary from the Red Chambers. Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Michael Bamidele, made the call during the screening of two Heads of Court.
Senator Bamidele disclosed that the request was hinged on the Committee’s belief that underfunding had negatively affected judiciary’s operations while also fuelling corruption in the third arm of government.
While noting that underfunding had made judiciary vulnerable to compromise, the Senator emphasized that democracy could not grow or survive in any country with a compromised judiciary.
The problem at hand is that the judiciary is corrupt and it is time for Nigeria and Nigerians to rise and rescue the judiciary with adequate funding. “As it is with the nation’s judiciary today, even if saints are appointed from heaven to serve as justices and judges in our courts, it is only strength of character that can prevent them from being corrupt and dispense justice as required. Extra-budgetary provisions will help the judiciary to function properly. “I believe this will be an issue for both the legislative and executive arms of government to address most speedily, beyond the current budgetary provision, a special intervention fund.
“As elected representatives of the people, it is not yet uhuru. A lot still needs to be done. And for us to be able to catch up, there is need for special intervention fund, details of which we believe the leadership of the legislature will have to work out with the executive arm of government.
“After the special intervention fund, we can then agree on how there can be consistent increase on an annual basis in the annual budget of the nation as far as the judiciary is concerned. Something urgently needs to be done about the plight of the Nigerian Judiciary.
“For so long, has the story dominated our political space that our judiciary is corrupt? As far as we are concerned, it is time for Nigeria to change the narrative, it is time for Nigeria to show that we are serious and we understand the full and true meaning of the independence of the judiciary, a cardinal aspect of it is financial independence,’’ Bamidele said.
Prior to the Senators’ call for a special intervention fund for the judiciary, the Executive has equally demonstrated its resolve to ensure that the third arm of government gets what rightly belong to it in terms of fund. A Bill granting financial autonomy to States Judiciary and Legislature was on 8th June, 2018, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The move was seen by many as a way of halting the activities of state governors who have been observing Section 121(3) of the Constitution which clearly spelt out how funds due to the third arm of government should be disbursed in breach.
Section 121(3) of the Constitution states: “Any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the heads of the court concerned”.
About 9 months after signing the Bill granting financial autonomy to States Judiciary into law, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a Committee to fashion out strategies and modalities for implementing the law in line with the dictates of Section 121 (3) of the Constitution.
After about 3 months of carrying out its assignment, the Committee which was chaired by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), submitted its report to the president.
Highlight of their recommendations was the need for President Buhari to sign an Executive Order for the immediate take-off of the implementation of the autonomy for states judiciary. The president subsequently signed the Executive Order into law in May 22, 2020.
The Order, termed, ‘Executive Order 10’, grants financial autonomy to the legislature and the judiciary in the 36 states of the country.
It also mandates the Accountant- General of the Federation to deduct from source amount due to state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state for states that refuse to grant such autonomy.
However, after a prolonged legal battle between state governors and the Federal Government over the legality of Buhari’s action, the Supreme Court voided the Executive Order 10 on February 11, 2022. In its ruling, the seven-member panel of Supreme Court judges, in a split-decision of six justices to one, held that the president has overstepped the limits of his constitutional powers.
The apex court declared that the Constitution provides a “clear delineation between the State and Federal Government”.
In the lead majority judgement delivered by Mohammed Musa Dattijo, the apex court held: “This country is still a federation and the 1999 Constitution it operates is a federal one. The Constitution provides a clear delineation of powers between the state and the Federal Government.
“The President has overstepped the limit of his constitutional powers by issuing the Executive Order 10. The country is run on the basis of the rule of law”.
Some senior lawyers have in the meantime thumbed-up the National Assembly over its pursuit of special intervention fund for the judiciary. The lawyers while speaking on the issue with New Telegraph Law at the weekend, however opined that more funding for the judiciary does not guarantee an end to corruption in the third arm of government.
In his submissions, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, said the judiciary is in desperate need of special intervention fund to cater for many things that were left undone.
Ahamba said: “I think the need to fund the judiciary for efficiency should not be mixed with corruption in the third arm of government. However, I agreed with the National Assembly that judiciary is underfunded. I am in total support of the idea of special funding for the judiciary.
It is unfortunate that in this times and age, our judges are still writing court proceedings in long hands. Recording of proceedings at the various courts should be done electronically. “Issue like this and several others needs to be urgently addressed and in doing so, funding is desirable.
This may not however in anyway affect corruption in the judiciary. Corruption is a matter of the mind, conscience and honour”. In his own views, Mr. Seyi Sowemimo (SAN) also threw his weight behind the call by the National Assembly for the judiciary to enjoy special funding. “It is a welcome development and will help if properly applied. l have no knowledge of what is being proposed”, Sowemimo said.
To Chief Emeka Okpoko (SAN), underfunding has remained a clog in the wheel of judiciary’s independence. He called for a legislation to back up the National Assembly for the special funding. Okpoko said: “Special funding is a welcome development. Lack of financial independence remains a major albatross to the independence of Judiciary.
“When Heads of our courts almost go cap in hands before securing funds from the executive arm, it is a clog to the independent of the judiciary. For me, much as this is a step in the right direction, one still hopes it will be codified and be made a part of our law.
Indeed, there is still a need for a constitutional amendment so as to enshrine it in our constitution”. former President of the Committee For the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, believed judiciary’s independence is a factor of how well it is funded.
“I think that the issue of underfunding is a recurrent decimal with respect to most institutions of government. This is understandable because the budgetary process in Nigeria is completely anihiliated from not just the beneficiaries but the operators of those institutions.
“But, I do think that the independence largely touted for the judiciary can only be measured or sustained by the funding of that institution. Funding is ever relevant and necessary.
“However, it will not completely erase the issue of corruption because anyone who is corrupt becomes more corrupt with more money. If there were still incidents of theft and corrupt practices when there are little fund, it will magnified when there are bigger fund.
“Therefore, I would be advocating for a stringent applications of the code of conduct for judicial officers and the strengthening of our prosecutorial institutions, including the self-regulatory body within the judiciary, which is the National Judicial Council (NJC).
This will make it possible to unravel, not just the cause but the dimension and implication of corrupt activities in the judiciary. “What I am saying in essence is that other factors aside funding must be considered in order to tackle corruption in the judi- ciary”, he said.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Destiny Takon, was of the view that proper funding of the judiciary will free the third arm of government from the grip of the executive. Takon said: “It is good that the National Assembly is moving for financial autonomy for the judiciary.
If that is done, it would be one step away from the issues that have made the judiciary an appendage of the Executive but beyond how the judiciary is funded are other disturbing issues like the mode of appointment and discipline of perceived errant judges.
“The NJC needs to be reconstituted and given immunity from arrest or prosecution/persecution by any sitting regime.
The envisaged protection should be throughout the tenure as a member and for life. This is to ensure that persons who are recommended for appointment as Judges, can be disqualified where necessary by the NJC without any fear of arrest or persecution of any sort.
“Same would apply where Judges are referred to it for discipline of any sort. A fearless and dispassionate NJC would ensure that misfits or half baked persons, do not end up on the Bench and grow up to the Appellate Courts, like we have today.
“There should also be a legal bar against the arrest or prosecution of any serving Judge except recommended by the envisaged reconstituted and legally protected NJC. This would embolden upright Judges to make declarations and orders against any serving government that acts against the letters of the Constitution, without the fear of being removed or persecuted.
“The issue on the table if dealt with alone, would be typical of seeking a cure for a leprous hand, you do not heal one finger and suppose that the whole hand would therefore become healed. Truth is that the healed finger would relapse or probably get infected by another finger’s peculiar ailment.
That is why the approach must be wholistic, as I have herein opined”.