Chief Justice of Nigeria [CJN] Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed recently highlighted the issue of funding constraints facing the country’s judicial arm of government. He spoke at the ceremony marking the commencement of the Supreme Court’s New Legal Year and the inauguration of 38 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs).The CJN debunked the widely held notion of denial of autonomy to the country’s judiciary, and said the bench enjoys the liberty to pronounce as the law provides without let or hindrance from any quarters.
He said, “We don’t pander to anybody’s whims and caprices. If there is any deity to be feared, it is the Almighty God. We will never be subservient to anybody no matter his position in society.” The CJN however admitted that the judiciary’s autonomy notwithstanding, its funding leaves much to be desired as its operational budget is not only inadequate but diminishes progressively over time.He then pleaded for increased financial outlay for the judiciary in order to facilitate its exercise of total liberty. Mohammed put his case succinctly when he called for the judiciary across the country, to be seen in words and action as truly independent.
The CJN’s recent marks once again brought to the front burner of national discussion the financial handicap of the judiciary. Law and order are the hall mark of civil society and the position of the judiciary in maintaining the rule of law in society cannot be over emphasized. Hence the universally acclaimed sanctity of the judicial arm of government. In the context of its all important role of interpreting the law, the liberty to define the provisions of the law without favour to any party in a dispute remains its primary credit. The pronouncement by the CJN is not likely to go down well with not a few Nigerians, if recent happenings in our courts across the country are taken into consideration. Without much equivocation, many Nigerians will readily testify that several court judges have compromised the sanctity of the judiciary with their sponsored tendentious and therefore unjust pronouncements from the bench. Hence the CJN’s claim of total autonomy by the judiciary, may not be a general condition of the establishment, as many of the operators in the temples of justice, are serving the interests of their paymasters.
Meanwhile, as if to vindicate the opponents to his blanket clearance of the judiciary is the admission by the CJN, of the acute funding constraints of the establishment. By his admission that the establishment goes cap in hand to beg for funds, points to an unsettling state of financial insolvency in the system which demands urgent attention and action. According to him some state judiciaries are having issues with their state governments,with potentates in those places pressurising judges to subvert the course of justice to serve selfish ends. Without any doubt, such a situation as mentioned by the CJN can induce unscrupulous judicial officers in designated states, to seek favours from untoward sources, even at the expense of the dispensation of justice.
It is however reassuring that the CJN also cautioned that the judiciary will not negotiate its financial independence under any guise, and said the judiciary should be allowed to “take its destiny in its hands”. This position is consistent with the extant provisions of the Constitution and public expectation. A pointer in this direction is the persistent call by not a few authorities and interests for the actualization of full fiscal autonomy for the country’s judiciary.
The onus now lies on the National Assembly which enjoys the constitutional prerogative of allocation funds, to resolve this deleterious state of affairs in the country’s judiciary.