12 December 2013

Nigeria: Need for Financial Independence for Judiciary


Legal pundits have argued that there is the need for the executive to adhere to the constitutional provision of the funding of the judiciary through the first line charge to enhance its independence.

It is for me, both a privilege and honour, to welcome Your Excellency, my lords, invited guests and distinguished delegates to the Opening Ceremony of the 2013 Biennial All Nigeria Judges' Conference. I would like to also thank His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR for being here in person at this Conference.

The holding of this conference is a fulfilment of statutory requirement that the National Judicial Institute (NJI) shall hold, once in two years, Conference of All Nigeria Judges of the Superior Court of Records.

In the years past, diverse themes have been chosen with set objectives in mind. I recall that the theme for the 2009 edition of the Conference was: Law, Justice and Good Governance in a Democracy. In 2011, the theme was: Towards the Sustenance of Judicial Ethics in Nigeria. This year, the theme for this Conference is: Towards Labour and Industrial Harmony in the Judiciary.

No doubt, the choice of this theme is apt and relevant. The centrality of labour and industrial relation to the buoyancy and sustenance of the nation's economy can hardly be overstressed. When therefore there is labour and industrial dispute, a resort is made to the Judiciary for intervention, resolution and pronouncement on the rights of parties on each side of the divide. This, the judiciary of this country has been doing faithfully, consistently and creditably.

But then, Your Excellency, my Lords, distinguished delegates, even the Judiciary is not immune from labour disputes. There have been situations in the recent past where Courts have been locked up by Union Leaders in the Judiciary. The resultant effect in such unfortunate occasions was that the court could not discharge its constitutional duties of adjudication with attendant negative consequences. A situation where courts are hindered from discharging their duties no doubt spells doom not just for the judiciary as an arm of government but the economy of the nation. A breakdown of law and order becomes imminent. Jungle justice and a reinvention of Thomas Hobbes' State of Nature may become inevitable.

It is in cognisance of this that I particularly find the theme and the sub-themes of this Conference relevant and timely.

I have perused the various topics slated for discussion and noticed that none of them can be jettisoned. Indeed, a review of labour standards in other jurisdictions will afford us in Nigeria an opportunity to examine our standard on the scale of international best practices. Again, Management of Strikes and Lockouts in the Judiciary: Pertinent Considerations will no doubt address the concerns I earlier raised regarding labour dispute in the Judiciary.

Your Excellency, let me express our concern as an arm of government regarding financial state of the Judiciary. In the time past, the leadership of the judiciary had continued to express its misgivings on lack of financial independence for the judiciary especially at the State level. A situation where the head of a state judiciary continues to go cap in hand to beg for funds to run and maintain the Courts leaves much to be desired.

I am constrained to and cannot but bring to the fore again, the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended. In this context section 121(3) of the Constitution is specific. The section states:

(3) 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 Courts concerned."

The above provision is not only clear and unambiguous. It is express, emphatic and mandatory. Without stressing this further, I believe I need not reiterate the fact that non-compliance with this provision is a negation of the Oath of Office of Governor of a State as contained in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.

Beyond this Your Excellency, let me also state sir that even the Federal Courts which hitherto enjoyed some measure of robust financial independence is groaning under the heavy budgetary cuts. There is a lot of pressure on and demand for the services of the courts. Cases filed in our courts across the country have doubled in the last two years. Establishment of democratic governance in the Country and enlightenment of the rights of individuals have resulted in a high proportion of the citizenry seeking judicial enforcement of their rights. Thus, more judicial officers need to be appointed, more support staff to be employed, courtrooms and other facilities need be provided and old ones maintained.

Yet, in the face of all these, there is a continued reduction in the budgetary allocation to the Judiciary every year. The experience of the judiciary under the 2013 Budget is perhaps the worst ever. The constitutional mandate of the Judiciary is such that there is no aspect of it that can be jettisoned. Unfortunately, while judicial officers cannot embark on industrial action to press their demands, support staff of the judiciary have never hesitated to lock up Courts to demand what they consider is their due.

On behalf of the judiciary of this country, I strongly appeal to Your Excellency and the distinguished members of the National Assembly to please come to the aid of the judiciary. A virile and independent judiciary is in the interest of the entire citizenry and all the other arms of government. Let me also add, Your Excellency, that the success of the judiciary under this administration is no doubt in the best interest and an achievement of Your Excellency as the President of this great country. I believe that we have a listening President seated in our midst and I take solace in the expectation that our plea will promptly be attended to. Your Excellency, thank you.

On our part, Mr. President, let me assure you that the judiciary will continue to live up to expectation in the discharge of its constitutionally assigned responsibilities. There is unanimity among the leadership of the judiciary both at the Federal and the States on the current initiatives to reposition and strengthen the National Judicial Council. We are, on our own, taking necessary steps to ensure that the public continues to repose its confidence in the ability of the courts to impartially, fairly and promptly adjudicate on matters brought before the courts. After all our authority as an institution rests solely on public confidence, the public perception of our integrity and absolute impartiality. The judiciary will not fail Nigerians.

Let me commend the National Judicial Institute for the successes recorded so far. This shows the level of dedication and commitment of the Administrator, the Management and Staff of the Institute. The successful organisation and hosting of this Conference is an eloquent testimony of their hard work, diligence and dedication to duty.

On behalf of all the delegates to this biennial Conference, Mr. President, please accept again our profound thanks and appreciation for your presence at this Conference. While wishing distinguished delegates fruitful and beneficial deliberations, it is now my singular honour and pleasure to invite His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to deliver his Address and to declare the Conference open. Mr. President, sir.

Justice Alooma Mukhtar, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman, Board of Governors, National Judicial Institute, Abuja delivered this piece The 2013 All Nigeria Judges' Conference at the Andrews Otutu Obaseki Auditorium of the National Judicial Institute, Mohammed Bello Centre, Abuja on December 9, 2013.

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