Decision on 18 petitions against justices deferred till June 13
As the gale of reforms continues to sweep across the judiciary, the National Judicial Council (NJC) Thursday in Abuja established a prima facie case against Justice Abubakar Talba of the Abuja High Court who allowed a convicted pension thief, John Yusuf, to pay N750,000 fine and walk away free after he was convicted for stealing N1.3 billion.
Since her appointment as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, has vowed to embark on reform measures targeted at cleansing the judiciary of corrupt and inefficient judges and making the justice system more efficient and independent of undue external influence.
The council at its two-day meeting in Abuja, which ended Thursday, has therefore set up a panel to further investigate the judge and come up with a detailed report of what actually transpired between Yusuf and Justice Talba.
The committee will consider whether the judgment given by Justice Talba was appropriate in the circumstances.
Similarly, the same committee set up to investigate Justice Talba’s case would probe the petitions against four Court of Appeal justices.
However, the source who confirmed the outcome of the NJC’s meeting yesterday refused to give the names of the appeal court justices, saying that the panel has to conclude its work first.
He added that the council did not take any decision on 18 petitions against other judges because the responses of judges to the queries issued against them came late.
The council will at its next meeting billed to hold on June 13, 2013 consider the committee's report on the 18 petitions.
“The council would determine the 18 petitions at its next meeting scheduled to hold on June 13 when the responses by the judges would have been considered,” he said.
To guarantee the independence of the judiciary, the council also agreed that the funding of the judiciary should be made a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund, similar to constitutional provisions for the funding of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Assembly, the Joint Venture Cash Calls and Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).
The council agreed that Section 81(2)(3)(c) already provides for the funding of the judiciary and wanted this section enforced, the source explained.
Section 81(2) states: “The heads of expenditure contained in the estimates (other than expenditure charged upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation by this Constitution) shall be included in a bill, to be known as an Appropriation Bill, providing for the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the sums necessary to meet that expenditure and the appropriation of those sums for the purposes specified therein.
“(3) The amount standing to the credit of the (a) Independent National Electoral commission; (b) National Assembly; and (c) judiciary.
“In the Consolidated Revenue Fund shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively; in case of the judiciary such amount shall be paid to National Judicial Council for disbursement to the heads of the courts established for the Federation and the State under Section 6 of this Constitution.”
In the case of funding for the state judiciary, Section 121(3) of constitution states: “Any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the state shall be paid directly to the heads of court concerned.”
The source told THISDAY that if the relevant sections of the constitution were enforced, the NJC, like other institutions that have a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund, would simply prepare its budget for the approval of the National Assembly.
“This would enable the judiciary to be properly funded and attain the independence it so badly needs to operate effectively,” the source explained.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, last year had filed a suit at the Federal High Court to make the funding of the judiciary a first line charge on the Federation Account.
In the suit, he asked the court to declare as unconstitutional, null and void, the continued dependence of the judiciary on the executive arm of government for its budgeting and funds release since it is a violation of Sections 81(2),(3)(c), 84(20) and 162(9) of the constitution.
The source described the reforms being undertaken by Justice Mukhtar, who doubles as the chairman of the NJC, as revolutionary and are already beginning to impact on the judiciary.
“The judges are quaking in their boots. They are being forced to sit up because they know that it will no longer be business as usual.
“The corrupt and incompetent ones among them will be disciplined and they are all aware of it.
“The reforms are beginning to have an impact. Judges now get to their courts early; they would be more methodical in their pronouncements; they would think twice about granting arbitrary orders and judgments, and they would be careful in determining the rights and obligations of litigants,” he said.
He added that by the time the reforms are implemented, the judiciary would be catapulted back to the days when it was headed by upright justices.