By Udora Orizu in Abuja
The House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary and the National Judicial Council (NJC) on Monday bemoaned the inadequate funding of the Nigeria Judiciary, saying that it is hampering efficient dispensation of justice in the country.
This coincides with the lawmakers applauding President Muhammadu Buhari for the appointment of eight Justices of the Supreme Court, thereby raising the number of justices to 20.
The lawmakers and the council expressed their dissatisfaction at the budget defence session of the NJC, chaired by Hon. Luke Onofiok.
In his remarks, Onofiok called for an upward review of the annual statutory allocation to the Judiciary fixed at N110 billion.
He noted that it is worrisome that the 2021 budget estimates for the Judiciary in the sum of N110 billion only is inadequate in view of current realities.
Onofiok stressed that there’s need for the adequate funding of the Judiciary in order for it to independently carry out its constitutional mandate of check and balances, settlement of disputes and protection of fundamental rights of citizens.
He expressed optimism that the recent appointment and confirmation of the newly appointed Justices of the Supreme Court will help in fast-tracking the administration and delivery of justice.
He said the committee will engage the leadership of the National Assembly for more funds for the Judiciary to address the observed and obvious challenges of the Judiciary for expedited and efficient dispensation of justice in the country.
He said: ”The committee is aware of the challenges of the Judiciary as exacerbated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with security challenges, occasioned by prevailing restiveness that undoubtedly slowed down development in every aspect of our national lives. The recent security threats to judges, denigration of the sanctity of courts and vandalism of court infrastructure are few examples. These destructive acts are highly condemnable and calls for concerted action.
”The destruction of court by hoodlums that hijacked the EndSARS protest has once again brought to fore the exigency of automating our court system right from the filing process to judgment delivery. The incident has led to loss of some vital court documents in some courts, which will stall several lawsuits and trials. There is urgent need to implement electronic filing of court process, electronic recording and transcription of court proceedings and electronic collection of judgment and having a central saver that backs up court processes and documents and synchronise data across all remote locations. This will expedite justice delivery and forestall loss of court documents.
”The committee under my leadership will continue to assiduously work at ensuring the independence of Judiciary, quick and efficient dispensation of justice for Nigerians, while ensuring better welfare, security and working conditions for judicial officers and staff of the Judiciary.”
Corroborating Onofiok’s statement, the Secretary, National Judicial Council (NJC), Gambo Saleh, while calling for a paradigm shift in the budgeting system to the Judiciary, revealed that the council was constrained to reduce the initial budgetary proposal of N188 billion to N110 billion envelope given by the federal government.
He said: ”At the instance of the Executive and coupled with public outcry for a fast efficient judicial system, the Supreme Court of Nigeria was made to increase the compliment of that court to twenty including the Chief Justice. We were promised a special intervention and that intervention is yet to come.
”As a response to these yearnings, Court of Appeal also had to establish four additional divisions, not only that they are also in the process of appointing additional 2 justices of the Court of Appeal. The Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court are also in the process of appointing 20 additional judges so also are the various state courts.
“Without increase in funding, Nigerian Judiciary will not be able to contain with this. Apart from this, the challenges caused by Covid-19 pandemic has also now more than before compelled Nigerian Judiciary to continue to deliberate on ICT and technology, this Mr. Chairman will definitely come with additional cost if we are to effectively function.
“The unfortunate instance occasioned by the recent EndSARS protest resulted in destruction of different court rooms across the country apart from the vandalism, looting of court facilities. So for us to be able to get the court back to work, we will require a lot of funding. Please do consider increase in funding of the Nigerian Judiciary that will be a great service to this country.”
Giving a general overview of their 2021 budget proposal, he said: “For federal courts, we are proposing N3,804,500; total personnel proposal for 2021 is N29,908,808; salaries and allowances for state judicial officers: N13,893,404; pension and gratuities of retired federal judicial officers – N5,274,274. Our total capital proposal is N29,410,229; total overhead for entire Judiciary: N21,201,460; statutory retirement benefits: N390 million; IT infrastructure for judiciary: N2,743,840 while Service Wide Votes was pegged at N200 million.”