A retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Ejembi Eko, has asked the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC, and other investigative agencies in the country to probe and expose what he described as internal fraud in the management of the budgetary resources of the Judiciary.
Justice Eko, who bowed out of active judicial service, upon clocking the 70 years mandatory retirement age, yesterday alleged that in most jurisdictions, Chief Registrars allowed themselves “to be directed willy-nilly in the vandalism of Judiciary budget.”
He spoke at a valedictory session the Supreme Court held in his honour.
The retired jurist said it was baffling that the welfare of judges remained in abject state, in spite of the increase of the budgetary allocation of the Judiciary.
He argued that allowing investigating agencies to look into the financial books of the Judiciary, would not compromise its independence.
He said: “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 Abdullahi Ibrahim, SAN, 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 internal fraud attending to the management of the budgetary resources of the Judiciary.
“Nothing stops the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, the ICPC and other investigating agencies from opening the books of the Judiciary to expose the corruption in the management of their budgetary resources.
“That does not compromise the Independence of the Judiciary. Rather, it promotes accountability.
“In most jurisdictions, the Chief Registrars regard themselves as direct subordinates of even the spouses of Heads of Court and allow themselves to be directed willy-nilly in the vandalization of the Judiciary budget.”
Justice Eko equally accused the National Judicial Council, NJC, of applying double standards in the discipline of erring Judges.
He noted that whereas some Judges found guilty of misconduct, were barred from getting promotion, others that committed similar infractions had their promotions stalled for some years.
“With all deference to the NJC; the punishment fell short of the expectation of the public that these bad eggs should have been broken or smashed and/or exterminated, to serve as deterrence.
“When the punishment for an outstandingly bad and outrageous conduct is far too lenient, it encourages impunity and/or repeat by others of errant or atrocious misconduct,” Justice Eko added.
Earlier in is speech at the event, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, while extolling the virtues of the retired jurist, who he said distinguished himself through sound, well researched and erudite judgements, said there was need for the Judiciary to open its books for scrutiny.
He said the Judiciary must embrace open government initiative of the current administration “by showing transparency in its budgetary matters.”
He said the request was not aimed to expose the judiciary to ridicule, but guarantee transparency and accountability.
On its part, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, flayed calls for upward review of retirement age of both justices of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The body, in its speech read by Chief Thompson Okpoko, SAN, maintained that the country was not ripe for such suggestion.
The legal body further called for a constitutional amendment to allow states or any number of states come together, to establish States Court of Appeal and also have a Federal Court of Appeal separately.
“By this, the jurisdiction of the States Court of Appeal will cover all appeals from decision of states causes, where the issue involved is one of fact or one of mixed Law and fact.
“The Federal Court of Appeal that will coexist with the States Court of Appeal, will then concentrate its efforts in determining appeals from Federal Courts.”
It argued that the proposed arrangement would greatly reduce the workload on the Supreme Court.
In his remarks, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, described Justice Eko as “a thoroughbred personality whose name has become a recurring decimal in the annals of the Nigerian judiciary, ostensibly for his robust scholarly disposition and astounding erudition.
“His lordship has diligently offered 45 years of his life in service of his fatherland. By virtue of the lofty successes he has achieved, his name has, as a matter of necessity, been etched in gold and now deservedly occupies an enviable place in the hall of fame of the Nigerian judiciary,” the CJN added.
Credit: The Sun.