By Olalekan Awojodu, Abuja
Immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, has warned that unless the Supreme Court of Nigeria is adequately funded, the apex Court may soon at best ends up a glorified High Court.
Justice Onnoghen is the second Justice to speak on the poor conditions of service of the Justices of Nigeria’s Apex court within two weeks. On May 22, 2022, a retiring Justice Ejembi Eko threw the first bombshell when during a valedictory session in his honour, he revealed the poor conditions of service of the judges.
Onnoghen’s criticism is also coming amidst reports that Justices of the court are planning a showdown with the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad for making their plight worse due to his administrative style. The14 serving justices of the Court are allegedly planning to confront the Chief Justice of the Federation, CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad over welfare issues.
The aggrieved judicial officers alleged that while the relevant Federal Government agencies saddled with the responsibility of reviewing upward their salaries and allowances have kept them on the same salary for 14 years now, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, under the leadership of Justice Muhammad, has worsened their situation by denying them the welfare package they are entitled to, even when the package was captured by the court’s budgetary allocation. They said unfortunately, they were currently hampered by both internal and external forces to a point that it was becoming practically impossible for them now to discharge their sensitive duties to the nation.
The former CJN lamented that Justices of the apex court are suffering in silence since 2008 when their salaries and emoluments were last reviewed by government.
Onnoghen, who spoke in Abuja, at the public presentation of Nigeria’s first law book on Construction Law, revealed that some Justices of the apex court still live in rented accommodations in unsuitable areas in the Federal Capital Territory.
Besides poor residential accommodation issue, the former CJN explained that chambers of the Supreme Court Justices are unbefitting of their status and appealed that the court be properly funded to enable the Justices perform optimally in conducive atmosphere.
He recalled that while in office as CJN, he headed a team comprising Attorney General of the Federation AGF as well as Solicitor General of the Federation SGF which prepared a new welfare scheme on the order of the Federal government and lamented that since his exit, the Welfare Scheme Report which ought to have enhanced the condition of service of the Justices had been jettisoned.
He therefore pleaded that funding of Judiciary should be immediately looked into with a view to improving on it because of the critical role of the Judiciary in nation building.
Maintaining that the Supreme Court is still been overworked with Justices bearing the brunt, Justice Onnoghen canvassed that appeal cases should not get to Supreme Court as of right but by leave of the court to eliminate congestion in the workload of the court.
“The Judiciary is not Nigeria’s problem but bad leadership. There must be a rethink on issues affecting Judiciary, because without a strong legal profession, you cannot talk of the rule of law”, he said.
He commended the author of the book Mrs Ewuwuni Onnoghen-Theophilus and pleaded that youths should be encouraged to enable them contribute meaningfully to the general development of the country.
Also speaking at the book presentation, a former AGF Chief Bayo Ojo SAN praised the resourcefulness of the author and expressed optimism that the book would serve as veritable tool to address crisis bedeviling construction industry in Nigeria.
Also speaking at the occasion, the publisher of the book, a senior lawyer, Chief James Onoja, SAN, opined that laws on construction industry as brought out in the book would serve as guide to players in the construction industry, especially in the incessant cases of collapse structure.