The bedrock of our democracy is the rule of law which means we must have an independent Judiciary, with judges who can fearlessly and courageously make decisions independent of the political wind that is blowing.
To ensure judicial independence the framers of the 1999 Constitution enshrined separation of powers as advanced by scholars like Baron Montesquieu . Under this model, organs of government are divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers and areas of responsibility so that the powers of one branch are not in conflict with the powers associated with the other branches. The typical division is into three branches: a Legislature, an Executive, and a Judiciary.
The integrity of the judiciary is tied to her being independent to the extent that the Judicial officers will operate unfettered from the over bearing interference of the other arms of government, for only an independent judiciary can safeguard the interest of the people.
The first step in ensuring an independent Judiciary is financial autonomy. So long as judges go cap in hand to beg for funds, so long as judges go to the president and governors to lobby for welfare, then the judiciary is not free and like prisoners cannot prevent tyranny from enveloping the land.
The Chief Justice of Nigerian, Tanko Mohammed, addressed the vexed issue of an independent Judiciary arm of government at the commencement of this year’s Legal Year of the Supreme Court, where he affirmed that the Supreme Court which he heads is independent in the ways judges conduct their affairs, especially in their judgments.
However, in what seemed like a contradiction he further admitted that their annual budgets are far below their needs and he often has to “beg” for their funds to be released. The question is, how can you be “free” when you are starved of funds and even at that, you have to beg another arm of government before your money is released?
I most respectfully disagree with the CJN that the Supreme Court or any other level of the Judiciary is free enough. The Supreme Court and the entire Nigeria judiciary are not free. It is widely known and everyone knows that they are all prisoners of the Executive arm. And it’s now left for them to plot their escape.
The jailer perfectly understands they are his captives. Perhaps to further the stranglehold, the president in a recent statement gratuitously pledged the Judiciary will be well funded. Need I remind him that what we need now is not a judiciary well funded by him but a judiciary that has financial autonomy at all levels as provided by the constitution? It is an elementary fact that whoever pays the piper dictates the tune. Starving the judiciary of fund is a deliberate ploy to keep judges in check and methodical ploy to destroy the only institution that can hold them accountable.
In Nigeria today there is no rule of law as court orders are routinely disobeyed but if a cowed and compliant judge favors them, they obey; no freedom of speech, no free press, no freedom of thoughts as critics are harassed and imprisoned at greater rate; no free elections and no freedom of religion- the shittes are not allowed to practice their faith. This is embarrassing to democracy.
We watched with horror as the home of judges were invaded. We witnessed serving Supreme and Appeal Court judges arrested and charged to courts without recourse to NJC. We saw the roles played by a compliant judiciary and NJC in the illegal removal of the former CJN. All these happened without consequence and yet we pretend the Supreme Court is free.
What happened in the case of Onnoghen and the way the courts at all level failed to protect him is a slap against the 1999 Constitution which affirms the separation of powers and checks and balances among the three arms of government. I never for a moment envisaged that the judiciary in my life time would allow itself to be so bullied, harassed and intimidated without a wimp. If the Judiciary cannot help one of their own, who is the common man they will help?
It is no good pretending we have a free Supreme Court, when we know we don’t. We must accept the reality, our judges are prisoners and the sooner they too realize they are prisoners in this big jail house, the better they will plot their escape.
I will encourage CJN Tanko Mohammad to pursue judicial financial autonomy as his legacy project. The Nigeria Judiciary must be allowed to create, defend and apply their own budgets. It is in the interest of both the maximum rulers of today and we the ruled to have courageous and upright judges that are fearless and independent because one day, they too and their children or children’s children will need justice.
I will urge the National Assembly to make laws that will unchain our judiciary. They should not wait for a bill from the CJN as one of them suggested during the Senate Confirmation of the CJN or wait for an Executive Bill in regards. As law makers the Senate and House of Representatives must read the pulse of the nation and make legacy laws that will grant autonomy to the judiciary. Now is the time to invest in the improvement of our judiciary.
If the National Assembly had to “beg” the Presidency for its funds, this democracy would have died a long time. The importance of free and responsive judicial and law enforcement systems cannot be overplayed. If the citizens of a country believe they can obtain justice through the courts, they would follow the rule of law. But because the judiciary in most states is comatose, people are taking laws into their hands or resorting to self help.
Many of the challenges we face today, like insurgency, ethnic strife, violent crimes are linked to the failures of the justice system because one fascist in his vice grip on power, pocketed the executive , pocketed the legislature and now about to pocket the Judiciary.
The battle for freedom of the Judiciary arm is a battle that must be won if we must save the core value of our justice system. So long as any level of our judiciary, even as lowly as the customary court or magistrate court is not free, then our judiciary is not free, and that includes our Supreme Court.