Just days after the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, lamented the parlous state of funds and appalling state of welfare of the nation’s top justices, new information has emerged that the justices of the country’s apex court are not happy with their head over the management of the financial resources of the court.
They are unhappy that Chief Justice Muhammad Tanko is not handling the issue of their working conditions well.
Sources suggested that Onnoghen may have been privy to the memo written by his former colleagues before speaking up last week.
In a memo to Justice Tanko Muhammad, according to The Peoples Gazette, which published the new information, the justices demanded to know what had happened to their legitimate entitlements.
Onnoghen warned last week that unless the Supreme Court of Nigeria was adequately funded, the apex Court may soon end up as a glorified High Court.
But in the new memo, the justices appear to be complaining that the sitting CJN is part of their problem.
They said their annual foreign training, meant to enhance capacity building for the country’s judicial process, had been blocked by Justice Muhammad.
They accused him of junketing abroad with his wife, children, and personal staff while denying them (justices) from doing the same.
“In the past, justices were nominated to attend two to three foreign workshops or training per anum with accompanying persons for reasons of age. Since your Lordship’s assumption of office, Justices only attend two workshops in Dubai and Zanzibar. They were not accorded the privilege of travelling with accompanying persons as was the practice,” stated the memo seen by Peoples Gazette and authenticated by sources at the Supreme Court.
The justices added, “Your Lordship totally ignored this demand and yet travelled with your spouse, children, and personal staff. We demand to know what has become of our training funds, have they been diverted, or it’s a plain denial.”
While demanding to know what had happened to their entitlement, they complained that their welfare under the leadership of the CJN was appalling.
“Your Lordship may also remember that the National Assembly has increased the budgetary allocation of the judiciary. We find it strange that in spite of the upward review of budgetary allocation (from N110 billion to N120 billion), the court cannot cater for our legitimate entitlement. This is unacceptable,” added the aggrieved justices in the letter.
The justices berated Mr Muhammad further, saying his weak leadership had drastically deteriorated the standards known with the nation’s highest court.
According to our sources, the letter sent to Mr Muhammad earlier this month caused further upheavals in the judicial circles. Traditional leaders have tried to wade into the crisis and resolve the dispute, bedevilling the top jurists’ ranks.
When reached for comment, Ahuraka Isa, a spokesman for Mr Muhammad, said, “The memo written by the Supreme Court justices to the CJN complaining of their poor state of warfare was earlier expressed during their quarterly meeting held in March this year. The CJN was attending to the complaints before his colleagues decided to reduce the complaints into writing. They have been settled now, and the apex court bench is calm.”
He added, “CJN is not the cause of Supreme Court justices’ financial woes but a collective woeful working condition. The CJN does not close from work till sometimes 7 to 8 pm. Meanwhile, most of the judges’ complaints have been attended to or have received adequate attention as they were made to know during their meeting with Justice Bage.”
The former CJN, Onnoghen, had lamented that justices of the apex court have been suffering in silence since 2008 when their salaries and emoluments were last reviewed by government.
Onnoghen, who spoke in Abuja, at the public presentation of Nigeria’s first book on Construction Law, revealed that some Justices of the apex court still live in rented accomodations in unsuitable areas in the Federal Capital Territory.
Besides poor residential accomodation issue, the former CJN explained that chambers of the Supreme Court justices are unbefitting of their status and appealed that the court be properly funded to enable the justices perform optimally in conducive atmosphere.
He recalled that while in office as CJN, he headed a team comprising Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) as well as Solicitor-General of the Federation (SGF) which prepared a new welfare scheme, lamented that since his exit, the Welfare Scheme Report which would have enhanced the condition of service of the justices had been jettisoned.
He, therefore, pleaded that funding of Judiciary should be immediately looked into with a view to improving on it because of the critical role of the arm of government in nation building.
Maintaining that the Supreme Court is still been overworked with justices bearing the brunt, Onnoghen canvassed that appeal cases should not get to Supreme Court as of right but by leave of the court, to eliminate congestion in the workload of the court.
“The judiciary is not Nigeria’s problem but bad leadership. There must be a rethink on issues affecting judiciary, because without a strong legal profession, you cannot talk of the rule of law”, he said.
▪︎ Additional report by Peoples Gazette