BREAKING: One Year In Office: X-raying Tinubu’s Judicial Sector Reform

On May 29, 2023 when his administration was inaugurated, President Bola Tinubu promised that his administration would carry out reforms that will have far-reaching implications for Nigerians. Reforms in the economy such as fuel subsidy removal, floating of the naira and harmonisation of exchange rate have dominated the headlines. However, Tinubu has, within this past one year, taken actions that have largely gone unnoticed but which experts say hold the prospect of repositioning the judiciary to meet the yearnings of Nigerians....Read The Full Story Here ▶

This is not unconnected to the saying that the judiciary is the bedrock of democracy and last hope of the common man.

For instance in December 2023, Tinubu recommended 11 Justices for appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court. Following their confirmation by the National Assembly, the Tinubu administration made history by becoming the first to ensure that the apex court has the full complements of 21 Justices as required by law.

Section 230 (2) (b) of the 1999 constitution (As amended) provides: “The Supreme Court of Nigeria shall consist of such number of Justices not exceeding 21 as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.”

There is no doubt that this will speed up the process of dispensing justice in a court where some cases could last for years. It would also ensure that all parts of the country are fairly represented at the zenith of the nation’s litigation hierarchy.

Another major step taken by the Tinubu administration is the move to improve the welfare of judicial officers. It is fact that in some cases there is a correlation between poverty and justice dispensation. This becomes more challenging when one occupies an office when officers are tempted with financial inducement daily.

Perhaps it was against this background that on March 19 Tinubu has sent a bill to the National Assembly proposing a new structure of salaries and allowances for judicial officers. In the letter communicating the bill to the lawmakers, the President said the bill seeks to end the “prolonged stagnation” of the remuneration of judicial officers, adding that it will improve their welfare.

The letter was entitled: “Transmission of Judicial Office Holders’ Salaries and Allowances Bill, 2024.” The transmission was in accordance with the provisions of section 58, sub-section two of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

President Tinubu wrote in the letter read by the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio: “I forward herein, the judicial office holders, salaries and allowances bill, 2024, for the kind consideration of the senate.

“The judicial office holders salaries and allowances bill seeks to prescribe salaries and allowances and fringe benefits for judicial officials to end the prolonged stagnation in their remuneration and to reflect contemporary socio-economic realities.

“While I hope that the judicial office holders salaries and allowances bill 2024 will be carefully, yet expeditiously considered and passed by the senate.”

The Bill, which has been passed by the House of Representatives, seeks to 300 percent increase in the salaries and allowances of judicial office holders.

Similarly, in June 2023, Tinubu signed another Constitution alteration bill, which provides a unified retirement age for all judicial officers of superior courts of record. The alteration provides that all pensions, allowances and other retirement benefits of judicial officers shall be charged to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation and paid directly by the National Judicial Council.

Judicial experts say this will address a situation where payment of retirement benefits of state judges is left to the state governments to handle. In many cases, these benefits are owed or delayed.

Tinubu’s actions have attracted applause from lawyers and other stakeholders in judiciary. A Lagos-based lawyer, Josephine Ijekhuemen, described the appointment of the 11 justices as “a positive development for easy and quicker dispensation of justice”. Ijekhuemen said before now, the apex court was left with 10 justices after the death of Justice Centus Nweze, and the retirements of Justices Amina Augie and Dattijo Muhammad. “I welcome the president’s decision to Increase the number of justices of the Supreme Court as required by law,” she said.

On the proposed increase in salaries and emoluments for judges, the human rights lawyer said the judiciary, being the third arm of government, also deserves to be well remunerated for services rendered. “The approval for an increase in the allowance and remuneration of judges is equally a welcome development,” she added.

Another lawyer, George Itodo, said Tinubu, so far, had done tremendously well by increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to 21. Itodo said: “The appointment will ensure quick dispensation of cases as there will be more panels to hear cases. There will be early hearing and determination of cases. A situation where you have a matter at the Supreme Court and it will be going for 10 years will be a thing of the past. Because there will be more panels now, it makes things easier. Cases will be quick dispensed with thereby promoting the course of justice.”

A legal expert, Suleiman Lawal, urged judges to reciprocate the adjustment in their salaries and allowances through impartial and quick dispensation of justice.

However, some stakeholders say more still needs to be done to make the judiciary perform optimally. Paul Daudu, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Bwari Branch in Abuja, listed the challenges to include prolonged pre-trial detention, delayed trials, lack of access to legal representation and poor case management. He said the problems also include conflicting and perverse judgments for superior courts of record, unethical practices by some legal practitioners and law enforcement agents, amongst others.

According to Daudu, there is indeed the perception by ordinary citizens that what presently operates in Nigeria is the “administration of law” and not “administration of justice”, adding: “The former being a system riddled by hybrid technicalities, legal jargon, cumbersome adjudicatory procedure and rhetoric.”

Daudu called on the legal practitioners, as guardians of the law, to reaffirm their commitment to upholding the rule of law and ensuring access to justice for all.

Other stakeholders say no reform in the judicial sector is complete without guaranteeing true independence of this third arm of government. “The preservation of and non-interference with, the independence of the judiciary and the jurisdiction of the court are so important, if not indispensable,” argued legal luminary, Afe Babalola, in a piece entitled: “The role of a strong and independent judiciary in a nation.”

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