CJN responds to colleagues, says Supreme Court not immune to Nigeria’s economic and socio-political environment

The Acting CJN, Honorable Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed

• The body of advisers sinks into an impasse and sets up an advisory committee

Alex Enumah in Abuja and Wale Igbintade in Lagos

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad told his Supreme Court colleagues yesterday that the judiciary was not immune to the prevailing economic and socio-political conditions in the country.

Fourteen Supreme Court Justices had protested against the poor working conditions at the Supreme Court as well as their social benefits which remained the same despite the harsh economic reality of the country.

Their grievances, contained in a letter to the CJN, however, went viral, insinuating that all was not well with the third arm of government that is widely seen as the common man’s last hope.

Reacting, Justice Muhammad remarked that it was unfortunate that such matters which should be dealt with in private had become a matter of public debate.

In a statement by his media assistant, Mr. Ahuraka Isah, the CJN, however, blamed the current challenges at the Supreme Court on prevailing realities in the country.

In the statement titled “Re: Status of Supreme Court Cases and Request from Supreme Court Justices”, the CJN, while acknowledging receipt of the letter written and addressed by its fellow Supreme Court Justices, said the development was, “akin to dancing naked in the marketplace by us with the ripple effect of said letter.”

He said that “the Supreme Court certainly does not exist apart from its environment, it is also affected by the prevailing economic and socio-political climate in the country. On top of that, the Apex Court has, to a greater extent, upheld its constitutional responsibility.

CJN explained that a budget usually contains two parts – recurrent and capital – adding that both are broken down into line items.

“The federal government releases the budget based on the components of the budget. And it is an offense to spend money intended for one item on another,” he said.

He opined that the letter from the angry judges was in summary that “more or everything should have been done and not that nothing was done; which is utopian in the contemporary condition of our country.

He said that prior to the appointment of eight new judges in 2020 to the court’s supreme bench, there was no additional budget to provide the new chambers with an equipped library, paralegals, residential accommodation and logistics.

He also explained how the death of two Supreme Court Justices and the retirement of four others impacted the Supreme Court’s budget.

“Two weeks ago, eight Supreme Court justices were nominated for a workshop in London because the court cannot take them all there at the same time or the work would suffer. They would leave in batches.

“Housing is gradually being provided for the few people who have not yet obtained. There are no Apex Court judges without SUVs and backup cars. If any of them were bought but refurbished, the external and internal auditors are here in court to sue those who bought them.

“The high cost of electricity and diesel tariff is a national problem. The Chief Registrar may have budgeted N300 per liter but diesel now sells for over N700 per liter so must find a way around it without even bringing it to the attention of the CJN. But there’s no way the generator will be turned off if the court is sitting.

“Amending the court rules is ongoing, it needs to be critically considered to avoid any conflict with the constitution and other applicable laws. Not all NJCs have reviewed the rules in the past.

“In the three years mentioned by his brother the judges, the pandemic and the strike of the judicial workers have arrived,” the statement read in part.

He also revealed that the Internet services complained of by his colleagues have been restored in the residences and chambers of the judges as well as certain allowances have been paid to them.

He also claimed that a meeting with his brother judges took place last Thursday and another was due to take place this week with a view to resolving the crisis.

“The general public must be assured that there is no hostility or adverse sentiment among the Supreme Court justices as each goes about their normal duty,” he said.

Body of Benchers Wades in S’C Justices, CJN Impasse

Meanwhile, the College of Counselors, after an emergency meeting held yesterday, has set up a Judicial Advisory Committee of the College of Counselors to interface on the matter with a view to finding a solution to the problem.

The chairman of the body of advisers, Chief Wole Olanipekun, revealed to THISDAY yesterday that everything must be done to reach an amicable resolution of the case.

Olanipekun revealed that the advisory committee would be headed by a former supreme court justice and would have as members the chairman of the council of advisers, its vice chairman and other prominent members of the legal profession.

According to him, the Committee must come up with an acceptable or reasonable package for every judge of any superior court in Nigeria, from the high court to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

He said: “The committee has been tasked to find out what packages are available to their counterparts around the world, especially from Africa i.e. Ghana, Gambia, Africa from the South, Cameroon, then the United Kingdom, France, Canada, United States of America, Australia and Germany.

“We are now going to compare and confront the authority, whether at the state level or the federal level, with all these packages and place them in front of them and ask them, these and these are the packages available for their counterparts elsewhere, why theirs should be any different. There should be a conducive working environment for judges across the country.

”We will also discuss their tenure and what happens to them after retirement. A situation where judges do not choose their pensions and gratuities at maturity is not acceptable. It’s not correct.

“So all of those things, the Body of Benchers is taking care of it and the package would be brought to the attention of the federal government and the state government, as the case may be. We believe that the National Judicial Council cannot tackle this problem. This is not an issue that the NJC can tackle and that is why we have raised it.

”Pretty well, the Body of Benchers is made up of all representatives and representations of the legal profession, namely, the bench, the bar and academia.