By Lanre Adewole
A major budget spending scandal is brewing in the judiciary as four major institutions of government have delivered a damning verdict on the sector’s alleged lack of transparency and accountability in the usage of public funds.
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Budget Office and House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary have all condemned the alleged opaque nature of budgetary allocation administration in the judiciary.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) which disburses judiciary budgetary allocation has maintained a studied silence in the face of executive and legislative attacks. Nigerian Tribune has learned of the indictment of some leaders of the bench, especially at the state level.
At various times, the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation has indicted senior members of the bench and about three Chief Judges (domains withheld) were close to losing their jobs, but saved by strategic interventions.
While NJC pays salaries and allowances of judges, state governors finance capital expenditures.
Though the chief registrars are the accounting officers of courts, the chief judges, must sign in on spending.
A similar scenario exists at the federal level where the CJN superintends over accounting officers like the chief registrar of the Supreme Court, Secretary National Judicial Council (NJI), Secretary, Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) and administrator of the National Judicial Institute (NJI).
Though Malami was not specific in his public accusation of the judiciary being scandalous and unaccountable, NJC Secretary, Ahmed Gambo Saleh, who was present at the event where the minister made his accusation, has been at the forefront of increase in the judiciary’s budgetary allocation.
The damning verdicts were delivered on the judiciary at the Justice Sector Summit 2022, of the Nigerian Bar Association, in Abuja, last Tuesday.
A raise of N10 billion has been granted the judiciary for 2022 by the National Assembly, but the concern raised by Malami, ICPC’s chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, DG Budget Office, Ben Akabueze and a member of the House of Representatives committee on judiciary, Luke Onofiok, is likely to truncate the release of the extra fund, again.
A few years back, a similar raise of the same amount was not released by President Muhammadu Buhari to the leadership of the judiciary.
Apart from CJs, accounting officers of various courts and judicial agencies have also been severally queried by the office of the Auditor General of the Federation, with findings on alleged discrepancies, sent to the Senate and House of Representatives Public Account Committees.
The procedure is for the federal lawmakers to summon affected accounting officers for questioning, though none has been publicly held for sleaze.
A top operative of NJC, who is livid about the callout by the minister wondered if those bashing the system knew there are seconded auditors from the Auditor General’s office working daily in the council, sister agencies and all the courts.