The Federal Government has again proposed N100 billion as statutory allocation to the Judiciary to meet recurrent and capital expenditure in 2018. The sector got the same amount this year. Lawyers have, however, identified areas deserving priority attention. ERIC IKHILAE reports.
President Muhammadu Buhari has proposed N100 billion for the Judiciary in next year’s budget proposal. He sent the 2018 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly for passage on November 7. If passed unaltered, the Judiciary would get N100 billion to run its affairs next year.
The same amount was allocated to it in the 2017 budget. The attention here, however, is not to examine the performance of the sector’s allocation in the receding year, but for stakeholders to identify key areas of need, capable of impacting most on the sector, to which funds should be directed in 2018, beyond the recurrent expenditure.
Before now, the major complaint of the leadership of the Judiciary was poor budgetary allocation. Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mariam Muktar (July 16, 2012 to November 20, 2014) noted the decline in the allocation from N75 billion in 2012 to N67 billion in 2013, and raised the alarm on what she observed was beginning to assume the pattern of a plot to incapacitate an arm of the government.
Justice Mukhtar, while addressing a special court session for the Supreme Court’s new legal year on September 23, 2013, raised the alarm that the Judiciary was under threat.
She said:”Over the years, funding of the courts has remained a challenge as evidenced in the condition of many courts in Nigeria today.
“Statistics have shown that funding from the Federal Government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010 from N95 billion in that year to N85 billion in 2011, then N75 billion in 2012 and dropped again in the 2013 budget to N67 billion.
“Indeed, with this amount, if the amount allocated to the extra-judicial organisations within the judiciary is deducted, the courts are left with a paltry sum to operate. The simple implication is that our courts are increasingly finding it difficult to effectively perform their day to day constitutional roles.
“The resultant effect of a slim budget in the Judiciary is that a number of courts in Nigeria today evince decay and neglect of infrastructural amenities, particularly at the state level.
“In some cases, the court buildings do not possess the required well-equipped library for judges to conduct their research. This may make judges rely on information supplied by lawyers, which should not be the case.”
Justice Muktar restated her concern again at the 2013 All Nigerian Judges Conference, held at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) headquarters in Abuja.
She went on: ”Let me also state that even the federal courts, which hitherto enjoyed some measure of robust financial independence, are groaning under the heavy budgetary cuts. There is a continued reduction in the budgetary allocation to the judiciary every year. The experience of the judiciary under the 2013 budget is perhaps the worst ever.”
The Judiciary appeared to have now overcome the funding challenges as such complaint has not been heard since the incumbent CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, assumed office on March 7, this year.
Way to go in 2018
Observers are of the view that the increase in the budgetary allocation to the judiciary could only impact positively on the sector if judiciously applied.
To them, judicious application of the allocation would mean applying the funds to identified areas of pressing needs, which could better impact on the justice delivery system.
Observers have listed such areas to include the provision of infrastructure, including retooling of the courts and repairing existing facilities and enhanced manpower development, to expose judges and support staff to modern ways of doing things.
There is also the need to engage more hands, improve staff welfare and enhance accountability and transparency in the application of public funds.
Infrastructure (emphasis on technology)
The Judiciary, despite some achievements, is yet to attain the required level in the provision of necessary infrastructure.
As against what obtains in other climes, the Judiciary lacks the necessary technological infrastructure to effectively meet today’s demands.
Public confidence in the ability of the courts to deliver justice on time has continued to wane. There have been delays as a result of judges still recording proceedings in long hand; processes being still served manually; and courts’ registries being operated manually, among others.
Lawyers, including Sebastine Hon (SAN), Dr. Sani Abubakar, and Babs Akinwumi want the leadership of the Judiciary to deploy this years’ budget to addressingz the challenge of infrastructure by ensuring enhanced automation of the operations of courts and provision of conducive court houses.
To Hon, the Judiciary should embark on critical capital projects because the allocation may again dwindle in future.
Abubakar noted that for the courts to function effectively, there should be emphasis on the deployment of technologies to aid their operations. He argued that the delay being experienced, which has discouraged people from going to court, will reduce drastically if judges do not consume the court’s time by recording proceedings by hand, and one is able to file processes online, thereby reducing the time spent queuing at court’s registry.
On this, Akinwumi said: “The Nigerian Judiciary needs to put in place more structures to promote a justice friendly system and embrace technological advancements.”
Staff welfare and manpower development
Another area that should attract the attention of the Judiciary, according to observers, is enhanced welfare, training and retraining of personnel to enable them appreciate the current ways of doing things.
Hon said: “I will advocate enhanced welfare for Judicial Officers as the priority. This will give reasonable comfort to them, with a likely curtailing effect on dereliction of duty and graft.
“The support or registry staff should also be exposed to international happenings in the management of the Judiciary through local and international seminars and conferences sponsored by the Judiciary. The effect of this on justice delivery cannot be over-emphasised,” Hon said.
According to Abubakar, since emphasis is on technology, judges and courts’ support staff should be exposed to modern technologies in court management, adding that it was time computer literacy became a major condition in judicial employments.
Akinwumi argued that to get the best from its employees, the Judiciary should prioritise “investments in training the staff of the Judiciary with the aim of reminding them that they are there as the servants of the people, who are expected to render effective services”.
Need for more hands
Lawyers also advocated the inclusion of more hands in the Judiciary to ensure speedy adjudication of cases.
They argued that the delay being experienced in the operations of the court were attributable to inadequate hands.
They noted that a situation where a judge was made to handle an average of 20 cases per day, was unhealthy for the system.
Abubakar called on the Judiciary to prioritise the employment of more judges and courts’ support staff to address manpower shortage in the system.
The sorry state of states’ courts
While appreciable progress has been made in the area of development as it relates to Ffederal courts, such cannot be said about states’ courts.
Akinwumi urged concerned authorities to act fast, adding that “the environments of courts in most states does not inspire confidence in the ability of the Judiciary to deliver justice, and this should also be addressed “.
Perhaps, the solution to the problem with states’ courts lies in the contention by Hon, who, in an earlier argument, said it was not within the constitutional competence of state governments to fund courts like state High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal and Customary Courts of Appeal listed in Section 6(5) of the Constitution.
Hon, who relied on some constitutional provisions, which he cited to support his position, called for the abolition of the practice and urged the National Judicial Council (NJC) to collect and collate all capital and recurrent expenditure of these courts from their various heads, make a consolidated budget and present it to the Budget Office for inclusion in the yet to be submitted 2018 Federal budget.
According to him, by Section 6(1) of the 1999 Constitution, “judicial powers of the Federation are to be exercised by the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the Federation.’
“The phrase ‘to which this section relates’ becomes consummated when we look at subsection (5) of that same section, which has listed the mentioned ‘Federal’ courts, including the State High Courts, the Sharia Courts of Appeal and the Customary Courts of Appeal of the various states.
“This then means that these courts are Federal courts, established by the Constitution to operate at the state level.
“To cement this fact, Section 84(1) and (4) of the same Constitution have placed payment of remuneration, salaries and allowances of all judicial officers manning superior courts of record in Nigeria, including the courts hereby discussed, on the doorsteps of the Federal Government.
“If these courts were mere state courts, the states would have been saddled with the responsibility of paying the salaries and emoluments of the judicial officers manning them.
“Also, Section 84(7) of the Constitution provides that: ‘The recurrent expenditure of judicial offices in the Federation (in addition to salaries and allowances of the judicial officers mentioned in subsection (4) of this section) shall be a charge upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.’
“The phrase ‘recurrent expenditure’ here carries its ordinary, grammatical meaning ‘that which happens again and again.’ This then means that all year-in, year-out expenditure of these courts are a direct responsibility of the Federal Government.
“There cannot be any other reasonable interpretation of this subsection, which has decidedly used the words ‘of judicial offices’ (not ‘officers’).
“Clearly, therefore, these Federal Courts operating as state Courts (‘judicial offices’) are to have their year-in, year-out expenditure drawn directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation,” Hon said.
Need for accountability
Although much has been said about the Judiciary and corruption, lawyers advised that a conscious effort should be made by managers of this sector to ensure transparency in the deployment of public funds.
This, they argued, will bolster public confidence in the sector and enhance patronage.
Abubakar argued that the current practice where activities of the Judiciary is kept from public scrutiny is undemocratic.
He said:“Why is it that we cannot see the breakdown of the budget of the Judiciary as it is done by other sectors? The Judiciary should learn to be more transparent. That is when the people will take it serious.
“What is wrong if the NJC publishes, on its web site, all the projects executed with last year’s budget, the firms that handled them and the costs?
“The Judiciary should know that all eyes are on it. You cannot be trying people for corruption and yet, you keep your activities away from public scrutiny. That is undemocratic,” Abubakar said.
On his part, Akinwumi said the Judiciary can ensure accountability in its management of its budgetary allocation by adopting more transparent systems of activities in the Judiciary.
He suggested that the Judiciary should shed its conservative toga and learn to be open in its dealings to guide against manipulations and ensure transparency
Akinwumi said: “There should be no confusion as to how much each service costs and who is to carry out such service. The anti-corruption war must also be fought on a more creative scale to rid the sector of the bad eggs that are corrupting it.
“The Judiciary should protect its independence by not allowing interference, in its activities, from the other arms of government. The Judiciary must also focus on capacity building for its staff to expose them to the recent trends in justice delivery and accountability.
“Heads of various departments must set targets to be met and set timelines for meeting them. Civil Society Organisations should also monitor the progress of the Judiciary with respect to effective budgetary implementation.”