•We can’t guarantee justice without proper funding
The recession facing our country appears to be adding salt to our festering injury. In the words of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mahmud Mohammed: “The current budgetary challenges permeating the nation, no doubt, affects the judiciary more than any other arm of government and remains a perennial challenge to judicial independence and the effective performance of our constitutional roles”.
The CJN made this observation last week, at the 2016 refresher course organised for chief registrars, deputy chief registrars, directors and secretaries of Judicial Service Commissions/Committee, by the National Judicial Institute, in Abuja. The theme of the conference was: “Ensuring efficiency and transparency in judicial administration”.
In its efforts to engineer a new Nigeria, the conference and its theme, should attract the attention of the Federal Government.
Underfunding the judiciary is scary, considering the wider implications for the stability of our fledgling democracy. Of note, our constitution recognises the importance of the judiciary for the survival of our democracy and even the country, and that explains why the funding of the judiciary is made a first-line charge, by the provisions of section 81 (3) of the 1999 constitution, as amended. The section provides: “any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the consolidated revenue fund of the federation shall be paid directly to the National Judicial Council for disbursement to the heads of the courts established for the federation and the state under section 6 of this constitution”.
We hope the executive and the legislature understand fully the import of the above provision. If they do, then they should obey it, for our common good. For, it is dangerous enough that our country is held hostage by corruption, but it will be suicidal if the judicial officers are ensnared by poor funding to also engage in corrupt practices. Our leaders must not pretend as to the gravity of the challenges we face with regards to corruption, and ensuring that the judiciary is properly funded is one way to show seriousness in the fight against the cankerworm.
Again, our political contests are still precarious, and the result is perennial disputes. To have a semblance of sanity, the country needs a virile and an independent judiciary to resolve the many disputes that arise from electoral contests. It will be a disaster if the underbelly of our judiciary is left vulnerable for the invasion of our very corrupt political class. Without doubt, an underfunded judiciary is a recipe for unmanageable disaster, and we must make necessary efforts to forestall such possibility.
Even for the general welfare of the society, only a fool will toy with the need for an efficient and transparent judiciary. For, by the provisions of section 6(6) of our constitution, the judiciary is the engine room of an egalitarian society. Where the judiciary is befouled, all aspects of the society will eventually be affected by the putrid odour. Even for the revival of the economy, the importance of the judiciary is paramount, as no businessman will invest in an environment where the independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed.
As the foremost jurist noted in his address, the integrity of those working with the judges is as important as that of the judges. In the words of the CJN while addressing the participants: “As the ‘heart’ of the court system, the chief registrar and/or secretary must be honest, a person of exceptional integrity and decorum and an expert in financial, administrative and social matters.” Towards ensuring the independence of the judiciary, it also is important to ensure the proper funding of those working with the judges.