The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, has disclosed that the Nigerian Judiciary is “yet to be free or truly independent” as the third arm of government.
According to the CJN, while the Judiciary “to a very large extent, is independent in conducting its affairs and taking decisions on matters before it without any extraneous influence”, the same cannot be said in the area of its finance.
“Nevertheless, I will make it clear to whoever that cares to listen that when the Nigerian Judiciary is assessed from the financial aspect, we are yet to be free or truly independent. The annual budget of the Judiciary is still a far cry from what it ought to be. The figure is either stagnated for a long period of time or it goes on a progressive decline when placed side by side with the current realities in the market.
“The only thing I can do at this juncture, is to plead with the other arms of government and allied agencies to clear all the impediments so we can enjoy our independence holistically. This is a clarion call to the other two arms of government to make the funding of the Judiciary a major priority.”
The President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government had recently approved an immediate improvement in the welfare of judicial officers.
The approval, when effected, would be the first in nearly 14 years in the salaries of judges and would be coming about four months after the National Industrial Court (NIC) in Abuja made an order to that effect.
However, the CJN has identified “our extremely poor and pitiable salary package” as a “major issue of concern that equally has to be attended to with the urgency it requires”.
Ariwoola clearly stated that the Judiciary will never go cap-in-hand to any arm or agency of government to get what is rightly due to them.
While stating that his focus since assumption to the office of CJN is to re-invent the court processes, provide speedy, quality administration of justice, he advocated a speedy amendment of the 1999 Constitution regarding appeals to the apex court.
“We have said it repeatedly that ordinarily, most appeals should be allowed to end at the Court of Appeal. But such constitutional provision is yet to be enacted. So we have no blame in it, rather, we are daily overburdened by that long awaited constitutional amendment as we work round the clock to attend to the plethora of appeals,” he said.
Besides, the CJN called for law stopping interlocutory injunction from reaching the apex court, just as he seek an overhaul of the criminal justice law as relating to police and other security agencies’ operations in the justice sector.
In his remarks, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), expressed high optimism that the recent approval for the increase in the salaries and allowances of judges, as well as improvement in their health conditions, well-being and professional development will usher in a new lease of life and impetus for the judges to operate maximally in a more beneficial and rewarding environment.
“I like to place on record that since inception, this administration, in line with its commitment to promoting the rule of law, has accorded top priority to the funding of the judiciary. Hence, we have ensured a progressive budgetary allocation to the judiciary which has seen an increase from N73 billion in 2015 to over N130 billion in 2022. A further increased sum of N150 billion has been proposed for 2023.
“In addition to the foregoing, we have provided special intervention when the need arises particularly, in meeting the huge cost of running election tribunals,” the AGF said.
He therefore enjoined stakeholders to note that their collective efforts are indeed needed to attain the desired levels of good governance and development.
“Since law and development are interwoven, then positive changes in the judiciary will, by necessary implication, serve as precipitating factors for the much-needed developments in our national polity. Therefore, we continue to solicit the support and cooperation of the judiciary in this regard,” he added.
Meanwhile, 62 lawyers from both advocacy and academia took oath of office as Senior Advocates of Nigeria.