By Henry Odu-
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, (pictured)has been asked to provide the certified true copies of the financial accounts of the Supreme Court from January 1, 2019 to date or be prepared to be sued.
The radical demand was made by a human rights lawyer, Malcolm Omirhobo & Co, in a letter stamped with the seal of the CJN’s office.
The ultimatum was in response to the recent lamenting by the Justices Of The Supreme Court of Nigeria’s in relation to the abject state of deprivation it has been subjected to, highlighting poor infrastructure including accommodation and no access to internet.
The country’s apex court this week expressed its distress about awful conditions that has prevented it from delivering its functions effectively, as over dozen of its top judicial officials complained bitterly about its state.
The latest request from the Human Rights lawyer r for the documents was pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 with a view to determining good governance and proper administration under his leadership of the judiciary.
Extracts of the letter reads:
“On the strength of the relevant sections of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, we humbly request for the certified true copies of the following information as they relate to public documents within your custody;
“Proof of receipt of the total funds disbursed to your lordship from the National Judicial Council as the head of the Supreme Court of Nigeria from your assuming office in 2019 to date.
“Proof of the total expenditure of the Supreme Court for the period of 1st January 2019 to date including list of capital projects of the Supreme Court of Nigeria within this period,
“The total amount realized from internally Generated revenue within the period under request and proof of expenditure; salary payment voucher of justices of the Supreme Court and non-judicial staff; and salary payment voucher and other emoluments of the justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and non-judicial staff.
“Take notice that in the event of any delay or refusal to disclose the information within 7-days from the day of receipt of this request, we shall be compelled to take lawful and necessary steps to compel you to disclose the information in accordance with Section 20 and other provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.”
In the meantime, the Body of Benchers, which is the legal body of practitioners responsible for the formal call to the Bar of prospective legal practitioners as well as disciplining of erring lawyers, has moved to intervene in the crisis between the apex court justices.
The benchers chairman, Wole Olanipekun SAN further announced that a committee has been set up “to resolve” the issue.
The drama in the Supreme Court was leaked after 14 of the apex court’s 16 judges sent a complaint to the nation’s top judge. In the leaked memo, they complained about a number of welfare and logistical issues, including a lack of research assistants and inadequate accommodation.
The revelation was a shock to Africa’s most populous country, who were learning that the efficiency of their top judge’s operations was being compromised due to lack of basic resources.
Judges were also complaining of insufficient electric power, given the frequent interruption to power in Nigeria.In a statement issued on Monday in response to the letter, Chief Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad said the Supreme Court had provided its members with adequate provisions, including vehicles for the entirety and accommodation for all but a “few”.
“The Apex Court has … been living [up] to its constitutional responsibility,” the chief justice said.
He added that the general public should be “rest assured” that there was “no hostility or adverse feelings” among the 16-member court and said all justices were going about their normal duties.
The chief justice also admitted that the institution “does not exist outside [of] its environment” and had also been affected by the harsh economic realities facing the country, which currently spends nearly 90 percent of all its revenues on servicing debt, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In the judges’ letter of complaint – reportedly the first of its kind to be submitted in the court’s nearly 60-year history – they said several of them sworn into their posts in late 2020 had “yet to be accommodated”.
The letter also raised concerns over the lack of legal research assistants provided to justices, erratic electricity supply to the court, allegedly decrepit work vehicles given to justices, several of which were claimed to be “substandard”, and a lack of internet provision in their residences and chambers.
The complainants said they had addressed the issues during a meeting in March with the chief justice, who they accused of having “received and ignored” their demands for improvements.
In his response, Muhammad noted that there had been a lack of available budget to provide some recently-installed justices with residential accommodation and equipped libraries.
He also said the court had been forced to pay for refurbishment work this year and that funds had been ringfenced during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent redundancies.
“The Apex Court has to make do with the resources at its disposal to meet their needs over time,” Muhammad said, arguing it would have “amounted to an act of irresponsibility to divert money” set aside for the remedial works and during the pandemic elsewhere.
The news which shocked Nigeria, has also left open the interpretation that the judges in Nigeria’s supreme court are susceptible to corruption. The deduction is not only logical, but also consistent with common knowledge for those living in the corrupt infested country, where greed and money overrides principles and justice at the higher level of society. All at the expense of the everyday man.
How it is that judges , who are meant to uphold the law, can be lacking in basic necessities required to do their job properly is a mystery to most perplexed observers of this state of affairs.
They are required to be independent, utterly without bias and guided strictly by the law, and their oath of office to interpret the law and deliver justice without fear or favour.
14 Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, wrote a letter now in circulation, and addressed to their boss, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Abdullahi (CJN), titled: “The State of Affairs in the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Demand by Justices of the Court.” It is a blistering, sucker-punch, indictment of the sitting CJN. It is important to reproduce some of the stated concerns. Their Lordships, 14 of them, wrote as follows:
“My Lord The Honourable Justice of Nigeria, we, the Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, carefully reviewed the state of affairs in this Court, and unanimously resolved to write formally and draw the attention of Your Lordship to our demands. As a Preamble, let it be clearly understood that the resolution to write Your Lordship was reached with sense of responsibility.
We are serving this country diligently and to the best of our ability. We resolve disputes between the Executive and the Legislature including all manner of disagreements, between governments and individuals. We are responsible citizens of this country. It would be a tragedy if the Nigerian public were to know that we are unable to resolve our problems internally without going public. The decision to write you formally must be seen by Your Lordship as an effort on our part to preserve the dignity of the Judiciary and the respect accorded to us by Governments and the people of Nigeria. God forbid the day that our internal issues become a matter of National discourse.”
Justices of the Supreme Court claim further, that they have no access to the internet. They also do not have enough complement of vehicles, and even the ones that they have are “either refurbished or substandard”. Justices cannot go for trainings either but the CJN travels with his own “spouse, children and personal staff.”
“We demand to know what has become of our training funds, have they been diverted, or is it a plain denial? Your Lordship may also remember that the National Assembly has increased the budgetary allocation of the Judiciary. We find it strange that in spite of the upward review of our budgetary allocation, the Court cannot cater for our legitimate entitlements. This is unacceptable”