The judicial arm of government should be well provided for

While defending the 2023 budget proposal before the National Assembly Joint Committee on Judiciary, the National Judicial Council (NJC) Secretary, Ahmed Gambo Saleh raised a pertinent problem that plagues the administration of justice in Nigeria. He lamented that though the NJC has been able to assess 80 per cent of 2022 budget, inflationary trend in the country has made things difficult. Despite the challenges facing the NJC, according to Saleh, the budget proposal submitted to the Ministry of Finance was N338 billion but was given N150 billion envelope.  

The significant role of the judiciary in the maintenance of law and order, a primary condition for the peace and stability, is too obvious for any elaboration here. Anything that will hamper its work must attract the attention of every citizen who, in any case, would be the victim of the injustice that such a situation would cause. The task of administering justice has been placed in the hands of the judiciary by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended. Yet the function of law as an instrument of social engineering can only be made difficult if that arm of government is not adequately funded. We therefore call on President Muhammadu Buhari to find a lasting solution to this problem that has been with us for a long time with serious implications for the rule of law. 

  The crisis of credibility afflicting the judiciary has taken a serious toll on the institution. About eight years ago, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, told a visiting Senate committee that the judicial arm of government was financially castrated. He painted a gloomy financial picture and how it impacted negatively on justice delivery in a nation already bogged down by rising wave of violent crimes and social strife. “Our judges are insufficiently remunerated, and benefits are sometimes not paid on time,” Justice Mohammed told the senators. “Our judges face privation that would ordinarily lead lesser men to unscrupulous acts”.   

 The problems are legion. Infrastructural facilities, including physical structures and equipment are largely obsolete and weak. In this age and time, many judges sit in dilapidated and stuffy court rooms, no thanks to the perennial power outages. Legal aides and assistants are insufficient. And in many cases, judges’ chambers and libraries are bereft of law books and reports needed for the constant update of their knowledge of the law. No wonder cases take years to conclude. Yet when cases take so long to determine, the patience and confidence of the people in the legal process are eroded, and thus encouraging recourse to self-help. 

More serious is the overall implication of the neglect of the welfare of judges. A poorly remunerated and hungry judge is most likely to be incapable of rendering justice as he or she would be susceptible to inducement and compromise. In many instances, the NJC had come down heavily on judicial officers who were found to have abused and compromised the integrity of their office. But it is only fair that the basis for temptation is removed so that the judicial institution can stand on a firm ground. For every incidence of corrupt practice and its punishment is a black spot on the image of the judiciary. 

All of these stand a good chance of reversal if the funding situation of the judiciary is greatly improved upon. It should be remembered that the preservation of law and order not only engenders peace, stability, and security, it encourages both domestic and direct foreign investment in the economy.  

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