*Economic situation affecting us, CJN reacts to protest letter by S’Court Justices *No Supreme Court Justice without SUV, cars, CJN denies alleged poor welfare *Says we’ll fix Justices’ complaints on work conditions
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, has said that there was no hostility or ill-feelings among the Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The CJN, while reacting to a protest letter written by his brother justices of the Supreme Court, said the issues raised were receiving the needed attention.
The justices had in a letter to the CJN lamented the state of affairs in the Supreme Court and demanded better conditions of service.
The letter was signed by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Justice Musa Dattijo Mohammed, Justice Kudirat Motonmori O. Kekere-Ekun, Justice John Inyang Okoro, Justice Chima Nweze, Justice Amina Adamu Augie and Justice Uwani Musa Abba-Aji.
Others who signed the letter include Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, Justice Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumujimi, Justice Ibrahim Mohammed Musa Saulawa, Justice Adamu Jauro, Justice Tijjani Abubakar and Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim.
However, the CJN, through his senior media aide, Mr Ahuraka Isah, said the economic situation in the country was also affecting the running of the apex court.
The justices had said in the protest letter that, ”Contrary to what used to be the norm in the past where Justices were nominated to attend two to three foreign workshops and training per annum with an accompanying person for reasons of old age but since the current CJN assumed office, only two workshops in Dubai and Zanzibar were organized and the Justices were not accorded the privilege of travelling with accompanying persons as it was the practice.
“However, the CJN continues to travel with his spouse, children and personal staff. The Justices demanded to know what has become of their training funds and whether the same has been diverted despite the fact that the National Assembly has increased the budgetary allocation of the Judiciary.
“The Justices also demanded provision of qualified legal assistants when lower Courts provide legal assistants for their Justices and Judges. They noted that the Supreme Court, apart from being the highest court in the land, is a policy court which is confronted with various complex legal issues of national significance with the addition of time-bound matters coming in between their regular court sittings and as such require the services of legal assistants.
“Of importance is the state of health care in the Supreme Court which has deteriorated; the Supreme Court clinic has become a mere consulting clinic. Drugs are not available to treat minor ailments. There is a general lack of concern for Justices who require immediate or emergency medical intervention. The justices also noted that the Rules of the Supreme Court are the immediate tools employed by Justices to dispense Justice to Court users but the CJN has kept the amended Rules of Court for almost three years now without appending his signature.”
But, the CJN in his response contained in a statement on Tuesday, said: “Judges in all climes are to be seen and not heard, and that informed why the CJN refrained from joining issues until a letter, said to be personal, is spreading across the length and breadth of the society. This was akin to dancing naked at the market square by us with the ripple effect of the said letter
“The Supreme Court definitely does not exist outside its environment, it is also affected by the economic and socio-political climate prevailing in the country. Besides that, the Apex Court has to a larger extent, been living to its constitutional responsibility.
“When a budget is made, it contains two sides, that’s the recurrent and the capital, yet all the two are broken down into items. The Federal Government releases the budget based on the budget components. And it’s an offence to spend the money meant for one item for another.
“Take for instance, the Supreme Court budgeted this year to re-roof and rehabilitate its complex built over 30 years ago and that is being done. The work on the extension of the complex is near completion, the esthetic lawns and cleanness of the perimeters are being well kept, and security and water supply are adequately provided for his brother Justices in their offices and residences. During the period of pandemic, a profound and extra-care was maintained to avoid causalities among them as well as the staff generally. It would have amounted to an act of irresponsibility to divert money meant for the above for otherwise.
“The accusation so far, in summary is that more or all ought to have been done and not that nothing has been done; which is utopian in the contemporary condition of our country.
“Before eight new Justices were appointed in 2020 onto the Apex Court bench, there was no additional budget to provide new chambers with equipped library, legal assistance, residential accommodations and logistics for them. The Apex Court has to make do with the resources at its disposal to meet their needs over time. All the Justices of this Court has at least a legal assistance, except some may opt for more. One of the CJN’s legal assistance (now Justice Aina) was appointed to Abuja FCT High Court last month, while another (Barr Ramatu) died three months back. Generally the Judiciary is looking up to recruitment of more legal assistance and other supporting staff this year.
“Besides, two Supreme Court Justices died within the period under consideration. Both the four retirees and the two departed cost the court some funds in the forms of gratuities and allowances.
“Two weeks ago, eight Supreme Court Justices were nominated for a workshop in London as the court cannot take all of them there at once otherwise the job would suffer. They would be going in batches. Accommodations are being gradually provided for the few that are yet to get. There is none of the Apex Court Justices without SUV and back up cars. If any of them were purchased but refurbished, the external and internal auditors are here in the court to take those that bought them up over it.
“The high cost of electricity tariff and diesel are national problem. The Chief Registrar might have budgeted for N300 per litre but diesel is now selling for over N700 per litre and therefore has to find a way around it without even bringing it to the attention of the CJN. But there is no way the generator would be put off if the Court is sitting.
“The amendment of court rules is on the process, it has to be critically reviewed to avoid conflict with the constitution and other extant laws. Not all the CJN has reviewed the rules in the past. Within the three years his brother Justices mentioned came the pandemic and the judiciary workers’ strike.
“The internet services have been restored to Justices’ residences and chambers, just as some allowances have been paid to them. The CJN held a meeting with his brother Justices last Thursday and another one is due to hold this week.”
ASKLEGALPALACE that the apex court has been receiving at least N110 billion budget yearly since 2018.