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Can we reform Judiciary with N70bn budget?

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By Ahuraka Yusuf Isah

DESPITE the wailing and crying in the Judiciary over the declining budget share for this Third Arm of Government, the Federal Government has proceeded to budget N70 billion for the entire nation’s Judiciary in the 2016 Budget proposals. This is N3billion lower than the 73 billion appropriated for the Judiciary in 2015.

Indeed, the previous Appropriation Acts have shown that funding from the Federal Government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010, from N95 billion in that year to N85 billion in 2011, then N75 billion in 2012 and again in the 2013 budget to N67billion.  In 2014 and 2015, former President Goodluck Jonathan, through his administration’s window budgeting principle threw N68 billion and N73 billion respectively to the Judiciary.

A cursory glance again at budget figures in the reference period shows that while the country’s budget witnessed a geometric incremental pattern annually, the third arm of government saw a slow but steady paralysis, brought about by a downward trend in its yearly allocation.  Indeed it has been debilitated by this funding gap.  Why do I say this? Well the figures tell the story once again.  Let us examine this poser- while the 2011 allocation to the Judiciary represented 2.2% of that year’s budget, in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the nation’s budget shares for the Judiciary were 1.7%, 1.3%, 1.3% and 1.6% respectively.

The proposed N70 billion for the Judiciary in 2016 (out of the N6.08 trillion total proposals) is 1.1%.  By the time the yearly supplementary appropriations are added, the percentage figures of the nation’s budgeted shares to the Judiciary would be less than one percent of the total.

Budgets for the Judiciary

Little wonder then that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed had raised alarm during the 2015 All Nigeria Judges’ Conference noting that the waning budgets for the Judiciary not only impoverished the Third Arm of Government but made it less independent, contrary to the intent and provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“It is a source of great concern that in a country where an arm of Government is appropriated with less than one percent of the National Budget, it is difficult to refer to our Judiciary as being truly independent’’, CJN said.

In the speech he delivered at the 2015 All Nigeria Judges Conference, President Buhari urged the Judiciary leadership to carry out various reforms to position and portray the administration of justice system as humane and efficient, adding that, ‘’the Judiciary must go the extra mile to sanitize itself and improve its capacity to act independently, courageously and timeously’.

“This administration is committed to the financial independence of the Nigerian judiciary in accordance with extant laws. We believe that the judiciary must be treated fairly and must be treated in much the same way as the executive and the legislature’’, President Buhari concluded.

With the current cascading crude oil prices, it appears to be out of place to engage in this discourse, except that the President’s promise to treat the Judiciary fairly and ‘’in much the same way as the executive and the legislature” still appears a mirage.

The Judiciary has been proposing budget of not less than N150 billion all these years, but unlike the legislature that gets virtually what it wanted, the executive adopts  the window budgeting principle to propose any figure it pleases for the Third Arm of Government.  Come to think of it, can the Judiciary meets its statutory obligations and at the same time carry out a genuine reform out of the N70 billion allocations for a year?

The answer is no; at least, if the size of the nation’s judiciary and our past experiences are to serve as a guide.  In any case, we can give it to the Nigeria Judiciary, call it a miracle or whatever, that despite the neglect, starvation or declining yearly budgetary allocations, it has taken some strident steps?

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