THE judiciary is a revered institution. Not just because it is the last hope of the common man, but for its role in bringing about peace and tranquility through the eye of the law in the society. In Nigeria, as one of the three arms of government alongside the legislature and executive, the judiciary under Section 6(6) (b) of the 1999 Constitution is vested with the power to determine all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person.
Of late, the Nigerian polity is mindlessly treating the judiciary with levity and each time the option before it is worse. Quite often than not, the judiciary in Nigerian politics is misused, misrepresented and misunderstood than any other institution in the country. At the moment, the judiciary is facing its starkest choice, if really it has the option to make one. Sometime in May 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari signed on Executive Order no 10 into law. The executive order provides the possibility for the Federal Government to relinquish the responsibility of financial autonomy of the legislature and the judiciary to the state level. Notwithstanding the woeful state of affairs and the struggling nature of many of the states across the country, an added responsibility could absolutely be sickening and unbecoming.
Without being told, the executive order triggered a spontaneous anti-response among the 36 states of the federation. The outburst resulted in filing a suit against the Federal Government through their respective attorneys-general seeking an order of the Supreme Court to quash the President’s executive order for being unconstitutional. In this situation, the judiciary has become not just a child of circumstance but one whom the political players are seeking to decide its future. It would surprise you to hear that since May 5th, 2019 the Federal Government, aside paying the salaries of the judicial officers, has not funded the capital and recurrent expenditures of the State High Courts, Sharia Court of Appeal and the Customary Court of Appeal.
The judicial challenges can no longer be ignored or swept under the carpet. It makes sense to do the needful urgently to rescue the Judiciary and not allow it to be castrated and rendered impotent like other famished institutions in the country. Speaking about the deplorable condition of the judiciary has become an anthem among well meaning Nigerians advocating for its adequate funding and independence. The other day at a special session to mark the commencement of the 2019/2020 legal year of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad noted that the judiciary has become a beggarly institution. It is quite disturbing to hear such song of grief from Chief Justice.
But for one reason, Tanko is right to speak out about the ugly condition of the justice system because public safety is at risk when the judiciary starts to earn favour from questionable characters in the society. Such external grant could colour the quality of judgment when individuals who previously assisted the justice system are confronted or brought before it on litigation. Furthermore, the judiciary’s beggarly nature reveals that the justice system is in great need of fund. The judicial shortcomings could subsequently lead to delays in court cases. This may further allow cases to be left in limbo before justice is seen to be done and the threat associated to such quagmire may leave suspects to languish behind bars for longer periods.
There is no doubt that, delays compromise justice. Long delays in dispensing justice in courts as a result of inadequate funding are truly having alarming consequences in the nation’s courts and on citizens. This brings to bear on the case of Olaide Olatunji who spent 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Indeed, justice came too late for him and others who suffer the same fate. This is not only perilous but imperfect circumstances on the part of the justice system. However, should the best way to achieve speedy trials or for the judiciary to be well funded be seen as avenue for the Federal Government to relinquish its responsibility on the states by invoking an executive order? At the moment, the judiciary is struggling to figure out ways to deal with virtual court proceedings in this COVID-19 era and the Federal Government is busy creating artificial implications for the wig and gown.
The Federal Government’s executive order is indeed a golden lapse for abdication of responsibility. It is interesting to know how the Federal Government arrived at that order. The government should know that serious politics is not simply to delegate ones responsibility to others by way of order. It is always telling when a government goes out of its way to abdicate its responsibility to another and tries to justify it through the back door. How come the Federal Government and its advisers did not see that the executive order No 10, 2020, was a clear violation of Section 6 and 8(3) of the 1999 Constitution, which made it the responsibility of the Federal Government to fund the High Courts, Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Court of Appeal respectively.
The position of the 36 states of the federation shows that the executive order was clearly out of order. The stern disapproval, unionism and the way passions run high among the 36 states governors stipulate that the executive order died right on arrival. Passing that order was woefully reckless on the part of the Federal Government. The Federal Government should endeavour to make Nigeria’s justice have a global reputation. Nigerians deserve a justice system that rests on nothing but transparency and accessibility. Therefore, the bedrock of the justice system should rest on the principle that trials must be fair. In the same breath, fair trial should be based on the idea that justice must not just be done, but must be seen to be done.