Onnoghen canvasses adequate funding to save judiciary
• Olanipekun urges review of NJC, FJSC composition
Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen has warned that unless the Supreme Court is adequately funded, it might soon, at best, end up as a glorified high court.
He lamented that justices of the apex court had been suffering in silence since 2008 when their salaries and emoluments were last reviewed by the Federal Government.
Onnoghen, who spoke yesterday, in Abuja, at the public presentation of Nigeria’s first book on Construction Law, regretted that some justices of the apex court still live in rented apartments in unsuitable areas within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Besides parlous residences, the ex-CJN clarified that the chambers of the judges were unbefitting of their status. He, therefore, appealed that the court be properly funded and a conducive environment provided to enable the justices to perform optimally.
The Cross River State native recalled that while in office, he headed a team, comprising the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Solicitor General of the Federation, which prepared a new welfare scheme on the order of government.
He decried that since his exit, the Welfare Scheme Report, which would have enhanced the condition of service of the jurists, had been jettisoned.
Onnoghen, consequently, pleaded that funding of the judiciary should be immediately looked into with a view to improving the arm of government due to its critical role in nation-building.
He commended the author, Mrs. Ewuwuni Onnoghen-Theophilus, urging that youths should be encouraged to contribute meaningfully to the development of the country.
Also speaking, erstwhile AGF, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN), while lauding the writer’s resourcefulness, expressed optimism that the book would serve as a veritable tool for addressing the crisis bedevilling the construction industry.
In his remarks, the publisher, Chief James Onoja (SAN), submitted that laws in the construction industry as highlighted in the book would serve as a guide to players against the backdrop of incessant cases of building collapse.
IN a related development, Chairman, Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), yesterday, called for the composition of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) to be reviewed.
He sought the swift intervention of stakeholders in the nation’s judiciary on the matter.
The senior lawyer made the appeal while delivering a paper titled, “The allegation of corruption in the legal profession: Who is to blame,” delivered at the 2022 Alao Aka-Bashorun Memorial Lecture organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja Branch in Lagos.
Olanipekun observed: “With what the country has been experiencing in recent years, NJC and FJSC composition should be completely rejigged, readjusted, retooled, recast and overhauled to bring in independent people to perform the functions now vested in the two bodies regarding recruitment, appointment, discipline and welfare of judges and judicial officers. This is what operates in other climes.”
He spoke against the backdrop of the May 3 valedictory speech of the recently retired Justice Ejembi Eko of the Supreme Court, who suggested that budgetary allocations of the judiciary should be subjected to the scrutiny of anti-graft agencies.
Justice Eko had quoted the Director of Budget, Federal Ministry of Finance to have stated at the recent memorial lecture in honour of the late Abdullahi Ibrahim (SAN) in Abuja that, “it is baffling that the welfare of judges remains in the abject state in spite of the increase of the budgetary allocation to the judiciary under this regime. Why?”
He further said the director suggested that the panacea to the often touted underfunding of the judiciary would be for “the judiciary to allow its books to be opened” by the relevant authorities.
Olanipekun continued: “This clearly is an allusion, albeit an indictment, pointing to the internal fraud attending to the management of the budgetary resources of the judiciary. Nothing stops the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and other investigating agencies from opening the books of the judiciary to expose the corruption in the management of their budgetary resources.
“That does not compromise the independence of the judiciary. Rather, it promotes accountability.”
Also, one of the discussants, Yemi Candide-Johnson (SAN), said the function of the legal system could not be achieved if practitioners continue to destroy it with lies.
He asserted that if the system were corrupt, it would be difficult to get justice.
More so, a Life Bencher, Dele Adesina (SAN), said lawyers should be courageous enough to reject forum shopping from clients, stressing the need for the disciplinary committee of the NBA to sanction members as appropriate.
In his contribution, Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN) stated that lawyers were the cause of the problems in the judiciary.
“If we don’t regulate ourselves now, it will give room for the external body to regulate us.”