By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
In what he described as dancing naked in the market square, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dr. Muhammad Tanko, has replied to a memo written by his fellow Justices accusing him of depriving them of good working conditions. He admits that the economic crunch in the country is responsible for the court’s inability to meet all their demands.
In an unprecedented happening, a memo by Justices of the apex ccourtto the CJN was leaked on social media, detailing the frustrations of othe justices, who blamed Tanko and his management of funds for the problems of the court, and Justices in the performance of their duties.
A week earlier, the immediate past CJN, Walter Onnoghen, had lamented the precarious working condition of the court warning it could soon become a glorified high court.
Reacting officially on Tuesday, Muhammad admitted that the Supreme Court, like any other establishment in the country, has been hit by a devastating economic crunch.
Supreme Court justices accuse CJN of depriving them of good working conditions
As a result of this, the CJN said that the leadership of the court, under him, could no longer meet some of its obligations to justices especially in the area of welfare.
He however said that the memo sent to him by the aggrieved Justices notwithstanding, there is no rift between him on one side and Justices of the court on the other side.
A statement issued by his Special Assistant on Media and Strategy and entitled “State Of Affairs In The Supreme Court And Demand By Justices Of The Supreme Court” reads in part “The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad would wish to confirm receipt of letter written and addressed to him by his brother Justices of the Supreme Court Bench.
“Judges in all climes are to be seen and not heard, and that informed why the CJN refrained from joining issues until a letter, said to be personal, is spreading across the length and breadth of the society.
“This was akin to dancing naked at the market square by us with the ripple effect of the said letter
“The Supreme Court definitely does not exist outside its environment, it is also affected by the economic and socio-political climate prevailing in the country. Besides that, the Apex Court has to a larger extent, been living to its constitutional responsibility.
“When a budget is made, it contains two sides, that’s the recurrent and the capital, yet all the two are broken down into items. The Federal Government releases the budget based on the budget components. And it’s an offence to spend the money meant for one item for another.
“Take for instance, the Supreme Court budgeted this year to re-roof and rehabilitate its complex built over 30 years ago and that is being done.
” The work on the extension of the complex is near completion, the esthetic lawns and cleanness of the perimeters are being well kept, and security and water supply are adequately provided for his brother Justices in their offices and residences.
“During the period of pandemic, a profound and extra-care was maintained to avoid causalities among them as well as the staff generally. It would have amounted to an act of irresponsibility to divert money meant for the above for otherwise.
“The accusation so far, in summary is that more or all ought to have been done and not that nothing has been done; which is utopian in the contemporary condition of our country.
“Before eight new Justices were appointed in 2020 onto the Apex Court bench, there was no additional budget to provide new chambers with equipped library, legal assistance, residential accommodations and logistics for them.
“The Apex Court has to make do with the resources at its disposal to meet their needs over time. All the Justices of this Court has at least a legal Assistant, except some may opt for more.
“One of the CJN’s legal Assistants (now Justice Aina) was appointed to Abuja FCT High Court last month, while another (Barr Ramatu) died three months back. Generally the Judiciary is looking up to recruitment of more legal assistance and other supporting staff this year.
“Besides, two Supreme Court Justices died within the period under consideration. Both the four retirees and the two departed cost the court some funds in the forms of gratuities and allowances.
“Two weeks ago, eight Supreme Court Justices were nominated for a workshop in London as the court cannot take all of them there at once otherwise the job would suffer. They would be going in batches.
“Accommodations are being gradually provided for the few that are yet to get. There is none of the Apex Court Justices without SUV and back up cars. If any of them were purchased but refurbished, the external and internal auditors are here in the court to take those that bought them up over it.
“The high cost of electricity tariff and diesel are national problem. The Chief Registrar might have budgeted for N300 per litre but diesel is now selling for over N700 per litre and therefore has to find a way around it without even bringing it to the attention of the CJN. But there is no way the generator would be put off if the Court is sitting.
“The amendment of court rules is on the process, it has to be critically reviewed to avoid conflict with the constitution and other extant laws. Not all the CJN has reviewed the rules in the past. Within the three years his brother Justices mentioned came the pandemic and the judiciary workers’ strike.
“The internet services have been restored to Justices’ residences and chambers, just as some allowances have been paid to them. The CJN held a meeting with his brother Justices last Thursday and another one is due to hold this week.
“The general public should be rest assured that there’s no hostility or adverse feelings amongst the Justices of the Supreme Court, as everyone is going about his normal duty.”