2021 budget: Awomolo, Ali, Ozekhome call for improved judiciary funding

• Urge NASS to jerk up N110bn estimate

Some senior lawyers in the country have urged the National Assembly to increase the 2021 budget estimate for the judiciary.

It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had, last Thursday presented the 2021 Appropriation Bill of N13 trillion before a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representative, where the sum of N110 billion has been earmarked for the judiciary.

However, some Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) have described the funds for the judiciary as “paltry”, when viewed against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic that has amplified the need to expand court facilities for swift dispensation of justice.

While reacting to the presentation of a N110 billion budget estimate for the judiciary over the weekend, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) said, Nigeria’s post COVID-19 judiciary requires massive investment in critical infrastructure in terms of recruitment and remuneration of judges as well as Information Communication Technology (ICT) to fast tract adjudication of cases in various courts across the country.

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He lamented that the nation’s judiciary under President Buhari’s watch had not been accorded its rightful place as an independent arm of government, adding that: “The judiciary has always been at the short end of the stick. It has not found favour at all under the current dispensation.”

Awomolo further explained that: “The truth of the matter is that the judiciary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria post-COVID-19 cannot be regarded as judiciary pre-COVID-19. This is because the new normal has thrown up the imperativeness of the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) as a tool to achieving the quick administration of justice, whether criminal or civil.

“But the truth is that it appears that the executive arm of the government has not realized the need to take a critical look at the gap in the infrastructure, training of personnel and the application of ICT in the judiciary.

“The allocation to the judiciary is very unrealistic. It is a repetition of what has been happening in the last four or five years. But the National Assembly still has an opportunity of improving on the N110 billion budget estimates for the judiciary in the 2021 Appropriation Bill,” Awomolo suggested.

Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mallam Yusuf Ali, in a separate reaction to the 2021 budget, said, “it is in the strategic interest of Nigeria and Nigerians that adequate funding for the judiciary should be a priority.”

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He advised that, “the judiciary should stop going to the executive cap-in-hand,” saying, “if you want an independent judiciary, it should be independent in the way it dispenses its own income as well as expenditure.”

Mallam Ali averred that, “if the judiciary is given adequate funding, the leadership of the judiciary will do exactly what should be put in place to have a 21st century court system that will deliver justice.”

He said it was high-time the judicial arm of government got its fair share, warning that, “without an independent, viable and vibrant judiciary, the rule of law is imperiled, democracy is imperiled and even development is imperiled.”

On his own part, a constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), advised the Federal Government to ensure that the judiciary’s budget remains on the first-line-charge.

According to Ozekhome, “if the judiciary is on a first-line charge. Its allocations should be paid directly to the heads of the courts, to be disbursed directly for budgeted projects.”

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