Permit I would like to begin this discussion with a message of congratulations to the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honorable Justice Olukayode Ariwooola. My Lord, I must wish Your Lordship good luck as this heavy burden of leadership falls upon Your Lordship. Please excuse me, rather than setting an agenda for Your Lordship, by engaging in an autopsy or autopsy of the events that led to Your Lordship’s emergence as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. A few days ago precisely on Monday, June 27, 2022, Nigerians woke up to the resignation of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Honorable Chief Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad.
Prior to this sudden development, there had been devastating news about the state of affairs within the Supreme Court, allegedly triggered by the internal memorandum drafted by the court’s other 14 justices and personally delivered to the then CJN, complaining about some irregularities and irregularities. in court cases. The said internal memorandum, as it implied, was not meant to be in the public domain as it was meant to be a confidential document between the then head of the supreme court and the other justices of the court. Maliciously, however, the internal memorandum was leaked to the public, allegedly by CJN managers at the time. The essence of the leak would seem to me, as could be inferred from the contents of the press release of the NCJ spokesperson at the time, to be essentially aimed at castigating and chastising the other judges for expressing concerns about the deplorable situation in the Supreme Court. Certainly, the content of the internal memorandum went beyond matters of welfare, which is not a crime, to the root of the administration of justice in the court. For example, part of the allegations or complaints, so to speak, was that the revised rules of procedure intended to improve the administration and delivery of justice were not signed by the former CJN.
As for me, the judges took too long to speak, because the structure almost collapsed. Thank God for eventual wisdom. My summary of the leaked memorandum was in no way a chastisement of the then Chief Justice per se, except for a few snippets of indiscretion allegedly misrepresented by His Lordship, but essentially on the degeneracy of affairs at the within the Supreme Court. So, let the internal memorandum not be construed as a petition, so to speak, against the then CJN. Either way, you can’t ask the respondent to respond to your request and expect them to be the arbitrator as well. It implies, therefore, that what the internal memorandum was intended and sought to do was to seek to remedy the shortcomings of the system, administrative and financial. At best, the memorandum should be viewed as complaints of dereliction of duty by the then Supreme Court chief.
This clarification is necessary in the context of several misleading articles I’ve read on the subject uncritically suggesting that the internal memorandum was acrimonious and purely aggressive against CJN’s immediate past. Far from there. The importance of this clarification lies in the various statements I have read from various quarters indicating the need for and the start of an investigation into the allegations of the other judges against the immediate former CJN. For those calling for such an investigation, if I may say so, where were these entities and individuals before? Do they pretend not to know or to be aware of most of the issues raised in the internal memorandum before the publication of the internal memorandum, in particular the National Assembly? Where was the National Assembly for 14 years that the judicial officers suffered, in particular on the level of their remuneration? What positive steps has the National Assembly taken?
Is it not even as legal action is now being taken to remedy the situation that the National Assembly is once again thwarting the improvement in the welfare of judges? What sort of oversight function do members of the National Assembly want to exercise through the inquiry other than to further exploit the system? I know, in fact, that the most that the National Assembly can claim to be interested in is the inquiry into the expenses of the Supreme Court. Where was the National Assembly before now in the annual assignment to the judiciary? Didn’t lawmakers check the books? Have not legislators exercised routine control over this institution? Has the National Assembly just become aware of the aberrations? Please leave it and engage in other productive pursuits. There are a myriad of challenges facing the justice system.
How many of them has the National Assembly successfully resolved? Virtually none. The infrastructures of all the jurisdictions are broken down, the salaries of judges and judicial staff are not up to date. The last review of judges’ salaries was conducted 14 years ago. But for the various capacity building trainings sponsored by other agencies, what intervention have legislators made in this regard? How many unfinished works have they ensured completion? The Federal High Court in Lagos is a good example of a structure that has been under construction for over a decade and still counts. I am aware that calls have been made for the control of judicial system expenditures from several quarters, including but not limited to the Attorney General of the Federation and certain judicial officers, the most recent being that of the Honorable Justice Ejembi Eko (rtd.) during His Lordship’s Farewell Address. The National Assembly has been blind to all these calls for reasons best known to lawmakers, but certainly not to protect the public interest.
Having served on the National Judicial Council (CNJ) for four years, I can attest to the fact that the judicial grant is still far from ideal. This does not mean that there is no waste or leakage in the system. Even with an eventual blockage of these leaks, the allocation will still fall short of what is needed to give us a dignified and efficient justice system. The judiciary continues to be treated as an agency of the executive, not so different from an agency or parastatal, while the Constitution recognizes it as an arm of government. I think it is crucial, in the future, that the three branches of government always meet before and during the preparation of the budget in accordance with the principles of separation of powers and allocation of resources. A situation where the executive dictates resources to the judiciary only subordinates the institution to the whims and whims of the executive.
The National Assembly, being the ultimate appropriation body, knows how to handle itself best. “Ti won ba fun were loko, a ro’ko si odo ara re”, is the Yoruba saying. Surely even a madman, once given the chance, would do his own thing first. “Tani o m’ogbon ki a fi eran s’enu, k’a wa ti? Who is stupid enough not to know the malice of a glutton? Only God will judge the National Assembly and the executive in this regard. Beyond dangling this power of attribution to torture and pressure on the judiciary, the authoritarian character of the legislature and the executive is now felt in all the operations of the judiciary, whether in judgments, appointments and elevations. Unless we want to pretend now, the appointment and elevation of judges are largely becoming political processes in the hands of the executive and the legislature. So let us not complain about the lame state of justice, which is one of the country’s institutions on the verge of being destroyed by politicians.
There is almost nothing left. As Fela said, E does not end. All institutions have collapsed. This explains the incessant unrest in all sectors. This is a validation of the Yoruba saying, “Egbinrin ote, bi ase n pa’kan, ni ikan n ru.” It is a hydra-headed monster that rejuvenates with each decapitation.
Let us now return to the question of the resignation of the former CJN. Stemming from the internal memo is Judge Tanko Muhammad‘s allegation of nonchalant attitude towards the needs of other judges. Let me clarify that this negligence is not unique to the Supreme Court. It is a disease that widely affects most courts at all levels. It seems to me that the heads of courts, probably because of a certain ease which they enjoy when they reach these posts, often forget their root of ordinary judicial officer.
To be continued next week