By Ahuraka Isah, Abuja
Judges, judicial administrators and senior lawyers in the country have commended President Muhammadu Buhari for increasing the budgetary allocation of the judiciary, saying the president has indeed proved that he is truly towards ensuring the autonomy and independence of the third arm of government.
The National Assembly had on Thursday appropriated N100 billion for the National Judiciary Council (NJC) a body that takes charge of the country’s judiciary, as against the N70 billion appropriated for it in the 2016 fiscal year.
Statistics have shown that funds made available to the judiciary by the federal government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010, from N95 billion in that year to N85 billion in 2011 and N75 billion in 2012.
It dropped again in the 2013 budget to N67billion, but in 2014 and 2015, former President Goodluck Jonathan, through his administration’s window budgeting principle, increased the budgetary allocation for the judiciary to N68 billion and N73 billion respectively.
But in 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari budgeted N70 billion, which sparked public debate as to whether that amount would be adequate for the much touted reform he promised to carry out in the judiciary during his inauguration on May 29, 2015.
But speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP Sunday at the weekend, some judges, judicial administrators and members of the inner bar said the judiciary should be able to begin to improve on justice delivery, with the significant increase in its budget this year.
They are Prof Ernest Maduabuchi Ojukwu (SAN) of the Nigerian Law School; Prof Yemi Akinseye George (SAN); president of the National Industrial Court, Justice Babatunde Adeniran Adejumo; former dean, University of Jos Faculty of Law, Prof Josiah Amupitan (SAN) and the chief registrar of the Supreme Court, Barr Ahmed Gambo Saleh.
Reacting to the increase of judiciary budget by N30 billion this year, the learned jurists and silks further urged the federal government to sustain the increase in budgeted funds for the Judiciary in the interest of constitutional development and democratic practice.
This, according to them, is necessary because only an autonomous and independent judiciary can guarantee peace, law and order as well as democracy in the country.
The averred that when the judiciary as the third arm of government begins to go cap in hand before the executive thinks of carrying out its lawful duties, it portends danger for judiciary independence even as it amounts to an invitation for anarchy.
Commending the Buhari administration for increasing the budget of the judiciary this year in quantum, they urged the federal government to go further by expeditiously carrying out the needed reform in the judiciary.
They, however, urged the judiciary leadership in the country to frugally utilise the increment to improve the welfare of the judges, introduce electronic recording of proceedings to replace the age-long short hand method in the courts and advance proportionally in its service delivery.
Besides, they called for a bold and wholesale support for the administration’s anti-graft war in the country, just as they urged judiciary to rid itself of questionable characters in their midst in order to be able to support the federal government in its anti-corruption battle.
In his own words, Prof Ojukwu (SAN), said, “The N100 billion appropriated for the judiciary this year is worth celebrating because for some time now, the yearly budgeted figure for the judiciary has been declining which equally goes to undermine judiciary independence.
“It is a good development, especially at this time of our constitutional development and democracy in the country. For the judiciary to be going all the time with cap in hand to beg for arms from the executive to carry out its lawful duties erodes the tenet of judiciary autonomy and independence”.
On his part, Justice Adejumo however said,”The increase of N30 billion above last year’s budget is a step forward. Mind you, that is for the whole judges in the country, infrastructural development, upgrading of facilities, salaries and wages of the federal courts in the country. As I have said, with this gesture, it shows we shall get there with substantial sufficient judiciary funding someday’’.
Barr Gambo Saleh simply said, “Judiciary leadership, has, more often than not, been much disciplined, frugal and planned before the application of yearly appropriated funds. It is on record that the judiciary in the past had returned more unutilised appropriated funds to the federation accounts than any one”.
Also speaking, Prof Akinseye-George (SAN) said, “With this quantum increase, judiciary needs no longer to complain of shortage of fund to carry out its needed reform and give timely service delivery. All it needs doing is to adequately plan use of the money, be very frugal, accountable and give utmost priority to justices’ welfare.
“The present judiciary leadership should re-submit to the federal government that it is unheard of in any country that justices of the Supreme Court retire without suitable houses to live in except in a squalor. This must stop. Nigeria earnestly wants improved service delivery, introduction of electronic recording to replace archaic shorthand methods in our courts, and equally give utmost support to anti-corruption war of President Buhari’s administration’’.
On his part, Prof Amupitan (SAN) said “It is a welcome development because the courts have almost not been able to function the way they ought to, due to paucity of funds arising from the declining budgets to the Judiciary for some years in the past.
“It is not in the spirit of democracy for
the judiciary to be starved of funds and still expect the same country to witness accelerated growth and development, minimal or corruption-free society, where peace, law and order thrives’’.
Again, a cursory glance showed that while the country’s budget had witnessed a geometric incremental pattern annually, the third arm of government had been slowly but steadily crippled by a downward trend in its yearly capital allocations.
For instance, while the 2011 allocation represented 2.2 per cent of that year’s budget, in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the nation’s budgetary allocations shared for the Judiciary were 1.7 per cent, 1.3 per cent, 1.3 per cent and 1.6 per cent, respectively.
The proposed N70 billion for the judiciary in 2016 (out of the N6.08 trillion total proposals) was 1.1 per cent. By the time the yearly supplementary appropriations are added, the percentage figures of the nation’s budgeted share to the judiciary would be less than one.
While reacting to the N70 billion appropriated for the judiciary in 2016, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed had during the 2015 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference, raised the alarm that the waning budgetary allocation for the judiciary was impoverishing the third arm of government and making it less independent, contrary to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“It is a source of great concern that in a country where an arm of government is appropriated with less than one per cent of the national budget, it is difficult to refer to our judiciary as being truly independent”, Mohammed said