THE Judiciary as an independent arm of government plays a pivotal role in deepening the roots of a young democracy like ours. The 1999 Constitution emphasises this importance and makes sure this arm of government does not rely on other arms of government in discharging its functions. This underscores its inclusion in direct first line charge in terms of funding as provided in Section 81(3) of the Constitution.
We, therefore, find media reports that over 600 judges were owed two months salary – January and February 2016, unsavoury. The unpaid wages cut across board. It included those of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justices of the Supreme Court, Appeal Court Justices, Federal High Court and National Industrial Court Judges. Judiciary workers are also still affected to date.
The January salary was paid last week, while that of February is still pending.
According to Section 81(3) of the Constitution: “the amount standing to the credit of the (a) Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) (b) National Assembly, and (c) Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively; in the case of the Judiciary, such an amount shall be paid to the National Judicial Council for disbursement.
“If in respect of any financial year, it is found that (a) the amount appropriated by the Appropriation Act for any purpose is insufficient; or (b) a need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by the Act, a supplementary estimate showing the sums shall be laid before each House of the National Assembly and the heads of any such expenditure shall be included in a Supplementary Appropriation Bill.”
The National Judicial Council’s (NJC’s) call on the Executive to release all allocations on first line charge is, therefore, timely and apt. The importance of this cannot be over-emphasised.
The anti-corruption crusade of the Federal Government may suffer a severe setback if grumbles echo from the hallowed temple of justice over the Judiciary’s inability to meet its basic needs. The nation cannot afford a situation where judicial officers appear disillusioned and unhappy in their jobs.
We wholeheartedly agree with former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, that poor funding exposes judges to corruption. Judges are human beings and may be susceptible to temptations if their wellbeing is neglected. A corrupt judge is a danger to the society. Our much vaunted war against graft cannot be won when judges are going on empty stomachs.
The Federal Government must always comply with the provisions of the Constitution and give the independent arms of government their funds to enable them discharge their constitutional duties without financial or any other hindrance. Vanguard