Is Nigeria Judiciary Under Attack?
Since the advent of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal administration there has been lingering controversy on how the principle of separation of power is practiced.
The executive arm of government headed by president Buhari has come under increasing focus for displaying what seems like overwhelming emasculation of the two other arms of government namely the legislature and the judiciary.
Sadly, those heading these arms of government have yet to stand their ground and defend their place in the constitution so as to stop Nigeria from evolving into a totalitarian regime.
The lack luster attitude of the hierarchies of the legislature and judiciary reminds me of the allegory of an appeaser who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last as told by one of Europe’s most respected politicians- Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who was a powerful premier of Great Britain in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.
From "The politics Book" published by Jonathan Graham we read the following essay on the allegory of the appeaser whom as I earlier pointed out feeds the crocodile with the fatal faith of enjoying the misfortune of been consumed last which in the overall calculation is projected towards finding a way out or what is called soft landing.
Winston Churchill wrote that an appeaser believes he is not powerful enough to defeat a tyrant. Therefore the appeaser makes concessions in order to avoid going to war. But his concessions make him weaker and in the same vein the concessions make the tyrant stronger. Much of continental Europe as observed by Mr Winston Churchill played the politics of appeasement with Adolphus Hitler of the then Germany and before they realised the futility of their collective gamble, the tyrant from Germany had overran much of Europe and undertook the Holocaust which saw over 6 million Jews killed.
You may wonder why I had to deploy the post -world war 1 experiences of continental Europe to equate to happenings in our contemporary political epoch.
These are my reasons: the executive arm of government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari took exceptions to the emergence of the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly with very specific reference to the emergence of the firer two terms governor of Kwara State Mr Bukola Saraki as the President of the Senate- thus positioning him in a good stead to run for a possible Presidential slot in 2019.
Muhammadu Buhari an erstwhile military ruler, made it clear that he was not comfortable with the independence exercised by the national legislators in picking their principal leaders and he hinged his opposition to the extraneous fact that the political party with the majority members of the National Assembly -All Progressives Congress had a different list from those officials who were freely chosen by the legislators but instead of the legislators to vigorously maintain its independence the hierarchies of both the Federal House of Representatives and the Senate eventually capitulated half way and placated their political party by nominating into powerful offices candidates sponsored by the forces that control the All Progressive Congress and the leadership of the Senate thought it could use this capitulation to negotiate soft landing from the prosecution by the office of the Federal Attorney General of the Senate president for alleged falsification of assets declaration whilst he was a state governor in kwara many years ago. Most Nigerians are notorious for false assets declaration and since the Freedom of information Act may or may not be cited to gain access to such declarations of assets not a lot of these lying politicians have faced prosecution.
Bukola Saraki is thought to be persecuted by the political powers that be because he towered above the dictates of controlling forces within his party to become the Number three citizen of Nigeria as the Senate President.
The executive arm of government has continued to remain resolute to use the pretense of prosecuting the Senate President for alleged false declaration of assets to settle scores over the emergence of the current National Assembly leadership which some forces within the party in power at the center felt offended and insulted because their ordained foot soldiers in the National Assembly couldn’t emerge as the hierarchies of both chambers.
The consequences of the appeasement process initiated wrongly by the Senate leadership with the executive arm is that Nigerians have continued to witness the unleashing of centrifugal and centripetal forces of instability especially in the upper chamber of the National Assembly which have culminated in the multiple prosecutions for alleged forgeries of both the senate president and his deputy. Dr Ike Ekweremadu of the PDP who became Deputy Senate President thus upstaging the apples carte is ferociously attacked from the Presidency even as a charge of forgery of Senate Rules has been foisted around his neck in an attempt to unseat him for becoming the first ever Deputy head of the Legislature at the center from a seemingly minority party.
Ironically, the Federal House of Representatives headed by Speaker Yakubu Dogara is yet to witness any of these subterranean plots to undermine the authority of the house leaders as is the case with their counterparts in the senate of the Federal Republic.
The judiciary has also played this politics of appeasement with the executive arm of government to such an extent that even when President Buhari failed to comply with bail orders to release the detained leader of the indigenous people of Biafra Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and the erstwhile National Security Adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki the Nigerian court system failed to take action to stem the tidal waves of the emasculation of the judicial powers of the federation which is truly theirs in line with the constitution.
For instance the court system in Nigeria would have proceeded on strike to press home their righteous indignation over the erosion of her constitutional powers as done by the president who is the head of the executive arm of government. Rather the courts have continued to hear not just those cases involving the two litigants whose human rights were violated and the powers of the courts overlooked, but the Nigerian Judiciary has continued to work as if nothing untoward had happened.
Sensing that the leadership of the Nigerian court system has fallen into the error of playing politics of appeasement in which the Appeaser is seen as someone who feeds the crocodile hoping that it would be the last to be eaten up, the President has since fired a salvo from far away Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during the last African Union meeting by categorically telling the World that the Judiciary is the main problem of Nigeria.
Smarting triumphantly from this attack on the credibility of the Nigerian Judiciary, it would seem that the judiciary is facing another barrage of attack from the Executive forces.
The Judiciary has raised alarm of deliberate starvation of fund to operate making the National Judicial Council incapable of meeting necessary financial obligations even when the constitution conferred financial independence on the Judiciary.
The prize for unnecessary appeasement is that Judicial officers, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, Supreme Court Justices, justices of the Court of Appeal and all Federal and state High Court judges, are yet to get their January salaries, it was learnt recently.
February's pay falls due last week but the over 600 judges seem not to have any hope of getting paid.
The development as rightly observed has affected workers in the Judiciary in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal Federal High Court, National Industrial Court and the National Judicial Council.
Only workers in the state Judiciary in the 36 states have been lucky. Is this another sinister way of seeking to erode the judicial powers of the federation which by right belongs to the Court system?
Interestingly, the Judiciary is on First Line Charge, its allocation for January has not been released due to lack of funds.
It was gathered by reporters that the National Judicial Council (NJC) has made representations to the Executive to release the votes in the First Line Charge but the request was still being considered as at press time.
The 600 judges affected include Supreme Court(15), Court of Appeal(85), Federal High Court(88) and National Industrial Court(19).
Most of the judges are said to be grumbling because they cannot meet their basic needs. The law forbids them from engaging in any trade.
A source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The CJN and over 600 judges are stranded because they have not been paid since January. The allocation due to NJC for the payment of salaries and allowances of Judicial officers is yet to be released.
“Most of the judges are unhappy but they cannot complain due to their Judicial Oath. The non-payment of salary has affected workers in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal Federal High Court, National Industrial Court and the National Judicial Council.
“We appeal to the Executive to look at this delay in payment of salary. Already, the judges are due for February pay too. The danger is that these judges can be tempted to find alternative means of survival.”
Section 81(3) provides for Direct Line Charge for the Judiciary and remedy if there is any shortfall.
The constitution says: “The amount standing to the credit of the (a) Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) (b) National Assembly, and ( c) Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively;
“in the case of the Judiciary, such amount shall be paid to the National Judicial Council for disbursement.
“If in respect of any financial year, it is found that (a) the amount appropriated by the Appropriation Act for any purpose is insufficient; or (b) a need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by the Act, a supplementary estimate showing the sums shall be laid before each House of the National Assembly and the heads of any such expenditure shall be included in a Supplementary Appropriation Bill.”
The time is ripe for all defenders of democracy to speak out and condemn this indiscriminate attacks on the two institutions of democracy as engineered by the Presidency.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.rightsassociationngr.com, www.huriwa.org; www.huriwa.com