Mr. Malami, who doubles as the Minister of Justice, said the federal government was not in a position to know whether the judiciary’s budget allocation was inadequate due to the opacity that characterises its financial records.
The AGF spoke on Tuesday at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Justice Sector Summit 2022 in Abuja.
It was the first time the judiciary will be openly confronted by a top member of the executive arm of government about the age-long secrecy of its budgets.
“Why is the N104 billion provided for the judiciary in the budget insufficient?,” the justice minister asked rhetorically.
“We are not in a position to answer, because their (judiciary’s) books are not open,” the AGF said while speaking on the theme of the summit, ‘Devising practical solutions towards improved performance, enhanced accountability and independence in the justice sector.’
Querying how the judiciary applies its funds, Mr. Malami noted that until the three arms of government allow “the operation of an open government partnership arrangement, we can never be in a position to identify to what extent the budgetary provision made is inadequate.”
He said the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government had prioritised the financial independence of the judiciary by issuing the Executive Order 10.
Towing a similar line of argument, Luke Onofiok, a member of the House of Representatives, said “the judicial branch of government has transparency issues in its budget spending.”
MrOnofiok cited a scenario where a federal court paid allowances to its workers under the guise of “overtime” during the coronavirus pandemic when court sittings were restricted.
“During one of our oversight functions at a federal court, we had a running battle with a federal court; we discovered that overtime allowances were paid to workers during the coronavirus pandemic when Court sittings were restricted,” the federal lawmaker narrated.
Also, the Chairperson of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Bolaji Owasaonye, said “ghost contracts and unretired funds” have tainted the judiciary’s financial records, while advocating transparency.
He called for more transparency in its budget spending.
PREMIUM TIMES reported recently how calls for more allocations to the judiciary are not being complemented with an attitude of financial transparency and probity.
For Eze Onyekpere, a lawyer and fiscal accountability expert, poor budgetary allocation to the judiciary is not a justification for the lack of transparency and probity.
“The National Judicial Council (NJC) would also say, ‘we don’t have enough money to run our affairs,’ but what about the money they gave you? What are the details?” Mr. Onyekpere had said.
The NJC and the National Assembly do not reveal the breakdowns of their budgets to the public. Journalists and members of the public are also blocked from witnessing legislative proceedings on the judiciary’s budget defence, a situation Ben Akabueze, Director-General of the Budget Office, lamented on Tuesday at the event.
Not only that, the NJC, which is the custodian of the budgets of all federal courts and institutions as well as the estimates of the salaries and allowances of all state judges, ignores requests for information on its budget details and finances, despite the request being anchored on the FoI Act.
The last of such letters sent to the council last August by PREMIUM TIMES was not replied to.
It is a conduct that betrays the calling of an institution set up to, among other mandates, take disciplinary actions against judges that breach their oath of office by flagrantly violating the law, transparency activists say.
Nigeria can no longer endure justice delay – Osinbajo
In a remark at the summit, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, said expeditious dispensation of justice can no longer wait.
While speaking on the process of appointment of judges, Mr. Osinbajo noted that candidates for judicial offices must be subjected to a rigorous process that throws up the best minds who would be entrusted with the power of “life and death.”
The process of appointment of judges is the least rigorous in Nigeria,” the Vice President said, adding, “There shouldn’t be a ‘bowing-and-go’ of potential judges during interviews.”n the same vein, NBA’s president, Olumide Akpata, said the problems confronting Nigeria’s justice sector were not insurmountable.
He argued that Nigerian “courts must be manned by not just the best hands we can find but also by incorruptible minds.”