Distinguished audience, welcome to our weekly engagement on leadership. Let me commence by commending the leadership of the judicial workers for their sense of direction in a matter that concerns all of us as citizens of Nigeria.
In almost a week now, members of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has been on strike over a matter that should be the business of all Nigerians. It is the issue of financial autonomy for the judiciar. It will be recalled that it is a matter in which I am equally passionate and for which I have committed sizeable number of my writings and advocacy. The truth is simply that without financial autonomy for the judiciary, there cannot be judicial independence.
A situation in which members of the judiciary will have to go cap in hand to the executive for their needs is unhealthy for the administration of justice in the country. It must be remembered and borne in mind always that judiciary is an arm of government under our system of governance and in no way subservient to any other arm. The Constitution provides for the independence of the arm and several cases have been litigated in favour of the judiciary on the same issue. Therefore, it is not a matter of suasion or morality. It is a compelling matter of law. To the extent that the executive is not respecting the provision of the Constitution, it is an infraction of the oath of office that the various heads subscribed to and therefore, infracting the Constitution is an impeachable offence.
In the same vein, to the extent that there are judicial decisions that are being disrespected by these heads of the executive, it is contemptuous and which ordinarily, but for the immunity the President and the Governors enjoys, he should be purged of. The other two arms largely enjoy the financial autonomy. But for the fact that the other arms believe in cowling the judiciary, no other explanation can be offered for the financial deprivation..
They simply want to turn the judiciary into ‘he who pays the piper, dictates the tune’. I have witnessed several instances of oppression of Their Lordships due to this issue of financial castration. I have seen judges denied medical treatment financing, simply because they are regarded as anti- government in the dispensation of justice. I have witnessed several magistrates without official vehicles and judges with rickety and unserviceable vehicles.
In recent times, vehicles that are not only less durable but used for taxis are imposed on them; in some instances, the vehicles are aged over a decade. This is unlike the other two arms that enjoy posh cars under the guise of functional vehicles, after carting away huge sums as car allowances. While generally the vehicles given to judges are not meant to be used beyond four years, they are often not replaced earlier than ten years by the executive. For how long will this last?
Thanks to the Judicial Staff Union that has been in the vanguard of the struggle for long. I am embarrassed that my Association, the Nigerian Bar Association has been found wanting in this regard. Can we, beyond NBA, as lawyers, raise our voices up to support the agitation towards liberating the judiciary from shackles it is in? It is a struggle that transcends lawyers to well- meaning Nigerians.
Let me pause here while I continue largely in my usual column. Leaders must appreciate the fact that they will eventually taste out of this bitter pill out of office if not addressed now.