By Deborah Onyofufeke, Abuja
Fourteen Justices of the Supreme Court yesterday accused the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Mohammad, of corruption and lack of transparency.
In a letter entitled: The state of affairs in the Supreme Court of Nigeria and demand by Justices of the Court’, the Justices expressed worry, and dissatisfaction and complained about their budgetary allocations that have not been increased in the last four years.
A couple of issues which include failure to replace dilapidated vehicles, accommodation problems, poor healthcare services at the Supreme Court Clinic, and poor electricity supply to the Supreme Court, were raised by the 14 Justices whose names appeared in the letter.
The 14 Justices who signed the letter include: Olukayode Ariwoola, Musa Dattijo Mohammed, Kudirat Motonmori O. Kekere-Ekun, John Inyang Okoro, Chima Centus Nweze, Amina Adamu Augie, and Uwani Musa Abba-Aji.
Others are Mohammed Lawal, Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju, Abdu Aboki, Ibrahim Saulawa, Adamu Jauro, Tijjani Abubakar, and Emmanuel Agim.
The Justices questioned the CJN’s sense of responsibility, saying they feared a potential shutdown of the judiciary due to the concerns they pointed out.
They pointed accusing fingers at the CJN for diverting their housing, vehicles, and electricity allowances into his pocket, and pursuing his children’s political ambitions.
“We are serving this country diligently, and to the best of our ability. We resolve disputes between the Executive and the Legislature, including all manner of disagreements, between governments and individuals…
“It would be a tragedy if the Nigerian public were to know that we are unable to resolve our problems internally, without going public.
“The decision to write to you formally must be seen by Your Lordship as an effort on our part to preserve the dignity of the judiciary, and the respect accorded to us by governments and people of Nigeria,” the judges penned.
They also decried the increase in electricity tariffs, lack of modified allowances to reflect the increase in diesel prices and lack of internet services in their chambers.
The Justices called Mohammad’s attention to an internal memo served by the Chief Registrar, which notified judges that electricity would be supplied to the court between the hours of 8am and 4pm daily due to the lack of diesel.
“This memo implies that the Justices must finish their work and close before 4pm. Your Lordship, with all due respect, this is the peak of the degeneration of the court; it is the height of decadence and clear evidence of the absence of probity and moral rectitude.
“Your Lordship, this act alone portends imminent danger to the survival of this court and the judiciary as an institution, which is gradually drifting to extinction”, the judges wrote.
Other issues covered the non-signing of amended court rules, an abrupt stoppage of foreign workshops and training per annum for justices; and a lack of provision of qualified legal assistants.
“Your Lordship, this is a wake-up call. Your Lordship must take full responsibility as our leader. You must not concession your responsibility to people who have no responsibility or stake in preserving and defending the dignity of the institution.
“Your Lordship occupies a position of leadership. We will not wait for the total collapse of the institution,” the Justices added.
•Tanko: Blame economic crunch for decline in judges’ welfare
But replying to the letter in a statement, the CJN, through his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Ahuraka Yusuf Isah, explained that the Supreme Court was going through an economic crunch, and as such unable to meet all demands before it.
The CJN stated that the Supreme Court, like other establishments in the country, has been hit by a devastating economic crunch, which has led to major setbacks, especially in the area of welfare that his brother justices are lamenting about.
The statement read in part: “The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Tanko Mohammad, would wish to confirm receipt of a 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 informs 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 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 up 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 aesthetic 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 the pandemic, profound and extra care was maintained to avoid casualties 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 libraries, 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 have 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 (Barrister Ramatu), died three months back. Generally, the judiciary is looking up to the 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 form 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 an SUV and backup cars. If any of them were purchased but refurbished, the external and internal auditors are here in the court to take those that brought them up over it.
“The high cost of electricity tariff and diesel are national problems. 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 statement added, “The amendment of court rules is in the process, it has to be critically reviewed to avoid conflict with the constitution and other extant laws. Not all CJNs have 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 be held this week.
“The general public should 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.