By Ise-Oluwa Ige, ABUJA
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad has resigned his office.
Vanguard can authoritatively confirm that the jurist cited health ground as reason for his decision.
The development is the latest on the rumblings that followed the altercation between the 14 justices of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Vanguard had less than two weeks ago exclusively reported that 14 serving justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, SCN had confronted the Chief Justice of the Federation, CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad over welfare issues.
Vanguard had reported that the aggrieved judicial officers said while the relevant Federal Government agencies saddled with the responsibility of reviewing upward their salaries and allowances kept them on the same salary for 14 years now, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, under the leadership of Justice Muhammad, had worsened their situation by denying them the welfare package they were entitled to, even when the package was captured by the court’s budgetary allocation.
The justices contended that the work they do is very serious and sensitive ones which ordinarily required the appropriate authorities to take good care of them to be able to deliver as expected.
They said unfortunately, they were currently hampered by both internal and external forces to a point that it was becoming practically impossible for them now to discharge their sensitive duties to the nation.
The Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad-led Supreme Court of Nigeria include Justice Kayode Ariwoola, Oyo, South West; Justice Musa Datijo Muhammad, Niger, North Central; Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Lagos, South West; and Justice Chima Centus Nweze, Enugu, South East.
Others are Justice Amina Augie, Kebbi, North West; Justice Uwani Musa Abba-Aji, Borno, North East; Justice John Inyang Okoro, Akwa Ibom, South South; Justice Lawal Garba, Zamfara, North West; Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, Ondo, South West; and Justice Abdu Aboki, Kano, North West.
Also in the Supreme Court are Justice I.M. Salnwa, Katsina, North West; Justice Adamu Janro, Gombe, North East; Justice Tijani Abubakar, Jigawa, North West; and Justice Emmanuel Agim, Cross River, South South.
Vanguard reports that the Supreme Court of Nigeria is the highest and final court of law in the country, and a vital constitutional organ in the separation of powers scheme.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has saddled the SCN to be its guardian. By its interpretation, the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is and its decisions on varying issues including life and death are final.
It is a court with the highest stake in the stability and structure of Nigeria and how good governance emerges or is protected.
The justices said as important as their roles are in the country, they said they have been relegated to the background even by their own.
Specifically, one of the aggrieved justices of the court who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue told Vanguard that their grievance was not unconnected with the handling of their welfare by the administration of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad.
He contended that past administrations since democracy berthed in 1999 had never treated them shabbily as it is presently as the Chief Justice had allegedly refused to give them what they were entitled to notwithstanding the fact that the entitlements were captured by the court’s budget.
Specifically, he said a number of their allowances was not paid since last year and that they were not allowed to go for their annual international training/ workshop last year while the money meant for the purpose was withheld.
Vanguard learnt that the judges are paid in dollars to embark on the annual trip for the international training/ workshop but that the present Supreme Court administration denied them.
It was learnt that in other jurisdictions, top judicial officers of their stature are exposed to series of such trainings annually to improve their skills.
Besides, they said the Chief Justice refused to sign their practice direction already prepared since the time of COVID.
He was said to have practically sat on it for reasons best known to him.
It was also reliably learnt that the administration of Justice Tanko Muhammad refused to renovate their residences, arguing that the shoddy treatment did not happen under previous administrations.
The judicial officer added that the justices had, indeed, jointly prepared and signed a petition asking the Chief Justice of Nigeria to give to them all they were entitled to or escalate the matter to the appropriate authorities if nothing was done soon.
Vanguard learnt that the justices of the apex court had already reported the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, to his closest friend and former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sidi Bage, to call him to order.
“I can confirm that Justice Sidi Bage who is now the 17th Emir of Lafia brokered a meeting between the Chief Justice of Nigeria and other justices of the apex court to resolve the matter amicably on Thursday, June 9, 2022. The meeting held at the Supreme Court last week Thursday,” he added.
The source said that they were still talking but that there was tension in the court.
In the meantime, Vanguard recalls that a Justice of the Supreme Court who recently retired last May after clocking the mandatory retirement age of 70 years, Justice Ejembi Eko, had hinted that he left the bench worried, owing to the plight of both serving and retired judges in the country.
The jurist had expressed his views in the speech he delivered during the valedictory court session organised in his honour by the Supreme Court.
He literally invited agencies of government with investigatory powers into the courts of records in the country, including the Supreme Court of Nigeria, to compel their heads of court to open their books for scrutiny.
He raised the alarm that so many strange things were happening in the judiciary, particularly in the area of management of budgetary allocations.
His words: “My Lords, the Heads of Court in the Federation have enormous budgetary resources from which they can improve the welfare of serving judges.
”As it is currently and as the Director of Budget in the Federal Ministry of Finance disclosed recently at the memorial lecture in honour of the late Abdulkahi Ibrahim, SAN, at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre, it is baffling that the welfare of judges remains in abject state, in spite of the increase of the budgetary allocation to the judiciary under this regime. Why?
“The said Director of Budget suggested that the panacea to the often touted under-funding of the judiciary would be for ‘the judiciary to allow its books to be opened’ by the relevant authorities.
”This clearly is an allusion, albeit an indictment, pointing to the inter a, fraud attending to the management of the budgetary resources of the judiciary.
“ Nothing stops the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, and other investigatory agencies from ‘opening the books of the judiciary’ to expose the corruption in the management of their budgetary resources. That will not compromise the independence of the judiciary; rather, it promotes accountability.
“In most jurisdictions, the Chief Registrar regard themselves as direct subordinates of even the spouses of Heads of Court and allow themselves to be directed willy-nilly in the vernalisation of judiciary budget.”
The Chief Justice had not only confirmed but also reacted to the memorandum sent to him by the 14 justices of the Supreme Court.
He spoke through his media aide, Mr Ahuraka Yusuf Isah.
In a statement issued on the matter, the CJN said he had managed the resources at the disposal of the apex court judiciously and that there was nothing to hide.
The statement reads: “The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Ibrahim 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 informed 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 definitely 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 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 causalities 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 library, 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 (Barr. Ramatu) died three months back.
Generally, the Judiciary is looking up to the recruitment of more legal assistants 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 forms of gratuities and allowances.”
With the response from the CJN, many Nigerians, rightly concluded that the rot in all spheres of our national life has, finally, caught up with the Judiciary.
Though there have been allegations of corruption against some judges in the past which have been dealt with either through demotion or outright dismissal, many are now convinced that the nation’s Judiciary is also not immune to the rot in the system.
Indeed, what do you expect when many of the Justices earn less than N600, 000 monthly and you expect them not to compromise in giving justice to the highest bidder?
Already, the Nigerian Bar Association NBA, the Body of Benchers and the Senate Committee on Judiciary have set machinery in motion to intervene in the current face-off with a view to resolving the crisis in the Judiciary.