Deji Elumoye and Adedayo Akinwale ín Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko, has lamented that the country was plagued with plethora of problems, saying that while the general climate was unsuitable, the country’s economic weather was equally unfriendly.
In a different forum, he canvassed for the amendment of the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) so that not all cases would terminate in the apex court
Tanko, who was represented by Justice John Tsoho, disclosed this yesterday in Abuja at the unveiling of the 9th House of Representatives Legislative Agenda.
He said that the importance of the legislative arm of government in the effective and efficient administration of a country could not be overemphasised.
According to him, the legislature plays the pivotal role of stabilising governance by making laws that would ensure societal order, peaceful coexistence of the citizens, and good governance of the federation.
Tanko noted that the legislature was no doubt, the bedrock of every democracy, added that no democratic government thrived without solid and well-articulated parliament.
The CJN stressed that the progress and well-being of a nation rested on the shoulders of its National Assembly, while also pleading with lawmakers not to handle the enormous powers conferred on them by the Constitution with levity.
The apex Court justice stressed that the onus lies on the lawmakers to meticulously steer the ship of governance through the right waters to avoid any storm or turbulence, noting that the destiny of the Nigerian State lies in their hands.
The CJN explained that the parliament had a broad oversight functions and was equally empowered by the constitution to form committees of its members to scrutinise bills brought before them and also critically examine the conduct and activities of government institutions and officials, which invariably cuts across the other two arms of government, the executive and judiciary.
Tanko explained that this sweeping power was not bestowed on the legislature for fun, adding that it was absolutely with the intent to strike a balance between the three arms of government and also ensure compliance with the doctrine of separation of powers, which is anchored on checks and balances and enthronement of a regime of mutual relationship and interdependence.
He noted that this was a constitutional provision that the lawmakers must cherish and apply to the letter, with a view to evolving the rule of law and egalitarian society.
Tanko stated: “In your Ninth House Legislative Agenda, you should endeavour to carry on board the general welfare and wellbeing of all Nigerians. The times are quite unfavourable, to say the least. The general climate in the country is literally inclement. The security challenges across the country are gaining momentum by the day; and the right legislation should be put in place to arrest the tide. The economic weather too is quite unfriendly. The purchasing power of an average Nigerian is waning.
“It is no more news that unemployment now governs the labour market. As you settle down to roll out your agenda for the ninth Assembly, I crave your indulgence to fashion out new laws that will address the plethora of problems plaguing our nation.
“I will like to assure you that as you embark on this important voyage of national rebirth and reinvigoration through effective, people-oriented legislation, the judiciary is solidly behind you. Since our role is strictly limited to the interpretation of the laws of the land, we will not leave any stone unturned in that respect. You can be rest assured that you already have a good and dependable ally in the Nigerian Judiciary.
“We will on our part, as usual, vigorously pursue the observance of the rule of law by all citizens. There is no sacred cow anywhere, as no one is above the law, no matter his or her position in the society.
Justice must be served without fear or favour. Every law of the land must be obeyed. Let me assure everyone present here that the consequences of disobeying lawful court orders will be too grave to bear. We all should gird our loins to do our Constitutionally assigned duties with due diligence so that Nigeria can be the pride of everyone,” he added.
Also, President Muhammadu Buhari, has assured that the executive will not undermine the existing harmonious relationship with the legislature.
Buhari who was represented by Minister of Environment, Dr. Muhammed Abubakar, said he was willing and ready to go to extra mile to continue in line with the initial cooperation between the legislature and the executive.
The president noted that the legislative agenda was carefully thought out, crafted, coordinated and put together for the benefit of everybody.
He stressed that It is through this agenda that the legislature in cooperation with the executive would be able to provide the needed goods and services to the people and to protect the people.
According to the president, during budget defence, I assured you that all the ministers and MDAs will appear before the National Assembly to defend their budget. If we do anything short of that, that means we are undermining the cooperation between the executive and the legislature and maybe undermining the progress of the country. And so I assure you you will not have that problem if not showing up.
On his part, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, the two chambers had the same mission, which was to take Nigeria to greater heights in the next four years.
He added that the leadership of the two chambers emerged from a transparent process and as such the chambers are experiencing stability, which he would translate to sustainable development trajectory for Nigeria.
Lawan said that both Chambers had decided to pass the 2020 Budget before the end of the year by the grace of God.
He stated: “Already the House has suspended plenary, the Senate would do the same on Tuesday for the consideration of budget defence by MDAs.
“I will like to take this opportunity here today to say that only the window of October is available for budget defence. Any minister or any head of agency who decides to travel out of Nigeria without defending his or her budget will have know opportunity again to defend that budget.
“The National Assembly will do the right thing, will do the appropriate thing, we will work on the budget and pass it. We will not allow anyone to frustrate our desire to pass 2020 budget by the end of this year. It is an opportunity for everyone who is supposed to defend her budget or his budget to take the opportunity available.”
Earlier, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said that poverty and inequality, insecurity and strife are the product of policy choices, and are not the result of some inherent flaws in human nature, or a consequence of an absence of God’s favour on our endeavours.
He said that the document that was presented publicly yesterday was the product of extensive deliberations and contributions from within and outside the House.
Making the call in Abuja for relieving the apex court of some of the work through legislation when the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters led by Senator Opeyemi paid him a courtesy visit, the Chief Justice expressed concern over the number of appeals pending before the apex court.
He therefore called on the National Assembly to as a matter of urgency amend the constitution for timely dispensation of justice and to reduce the stress the heavy burden of appeals are weighing on the Justices of the Supreme Court.
Justice Tanko stressed for effect that ‘’many of us don’t sleep for 12 hours as recommended by stress managers. We don’t write judgement merely by stating that so, so so and so cases were filed by this and that, and end it up by saying appeal is hereby dismissed or upheld. We have to give reasons which is the bedrock of judgement writing”.
According to him, the nation’s Supreme Court is not only the busiest apex court in the world but the entire judiciary of the country also remains the best across the globe.
Said he: ‘’Nigerian Judiciary is one of the best in the world; and if nobody tells you, I am telling you today.
‘’The constitution enjoins the Supreme Court to have 21 justices, yet we are having less than that number. We will have to appoint more justices to fill the gap soon”.
The CJN also complained of the insufficient fund allocated annually to the judiciary insisting that the judiciary is highly underfunded.
His words: ‘’If you see amount allocated to the judiciary, it is far less than what is given to some ministries. Salaries of the judicial officers are also stale for over 12 years running, and I hope you would also look at that’’.
Speaking earlier, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters Chairman, Senator Bamidele said both the Senate Standing Orders 2015 and the amended 1999 Constitution empower his committee to oversight the Federal Judiciary.
He said as a matter of tradition, committee usually pays courtesy to the Chief Justice as the head of the judicial arm of government.
‘’We are here today to keep faith with the time honoured tradition of the Committee’’.
He described the visit as home coming to all the 14 member-committee who are lawyers and indeed forum to interact and familiarise themselves with the CJN in order to find out the progress made by the judiciary so far as well as the challenges facing the judiciary.”
“This, no doubt, would enable us to make appropriate legislative interventions in times ahead, for the betterment of the Judiciary”.
According to him, the Judiciary plays a very crucial role in the sustenance and deepening of democratic core values which informs why the committee would therefore make necessary interventions to strengthen and guarantee the independence of the judicial arm.
He said the Committee would make appropriate legislative interventions to ensure proper funding for the Judiciary.
‘’The Committee would work in collaboration with the Judiciary to review laws and embark on reforms – including amendment to the Constitution – to ensure effective and efficient administration of justice’’, he further said.