It’s a cause for concern that justices of the country’s Supreme Court are complaining about their working conditions. Their work-related complaints reflect just how bad things are in the country generally.
The report of a welfare committee set up by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice lbrahim Tanko Muhammad, following a letter of protest by the justices, listed their grievances, including non-replacement of poor vehicles, accommodation problem, lack of drugs at the Supreme Court clinic, unreliable electricity supply to the Supreme Court, increase in electricity tariff, no increase in the allowances for diesel, lack of internet services to residences and chambers.
Others are non-signing of amended Rules of Court for almost three years, stoppage of two to three foreign workshops and training per annum for justices, no provision of qualified legal assistants.
The effect not only on the justices but also the justice system can be imagined. Sources in the apex court provided concrete information that showed just how deplorable their working conditions are.
“Recently, the Chief Registrar served justices with an internal memo, that electricity would be supplied to the court between the hours of 8am and 4pm daily, for lack of diesel,” a source was reported saying. But justices require electricity to work at home after closing at 4pm because of the policy, and they need improved diesel allowance in the face of huge diesel price hike.
The justices also need restoration of their monthly internet allowance as they require uninterrupted internet service for access to online material to write judgments.
Quite a lot of their vehicles are due for replacement. Some of the vehicles supplied are either refurbished or substandard.
“The state of health care in the court has deteriorated,” another source was reported saying. “The Supreme Court clinic has become a mere consulting clinic. Drugs are not available to treat minor ailments.”
Also, the amended Rules of Court, which are expected to aid speedy delivery of justice, have been unsigned for almost three years.
Another issue is the non- provision of qualified legal assistants for the justices. According to the source, the justices are “confronted with various complex legal issues of national significance with the addition of time-bound matters coming in between our regular court sittings,” and the provision of assistants would enhance their performance.
The problems have been attributed to poor funding. Delay in releasing funds to back the Supreme Court budget, which has frozen at N110bn since 2018, is said to be a major issue. Also, the salaries and allowances of the justices were said to have been last reviewed in 2017.
The point is: This situation amounts to killing the Supreme Court slowly.