CJN Tanko Muhammad asks Senate to amend Supreme Court Act
• Says apex court Justices overburdened • We are underfunded, Bulkachuwa cries out
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad and President of the Court of Appeal Zainab Bulkachuwa at separate sessions with the Senate Committee on the judiciary have sought the intervention of the federal lawmakers to address unsavoury development in the third arm of government.
The two senior judicial officers expressed their strong reservations over working conditions in the national judiciary.
Addressing the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters led by its Chairman, Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, who paid him a courtesy visit, Justice Muhammad pleaded with the Senate to amend the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) so that not all appeal cases would terminate at the apex court.
Justice Muhammad told Senator Opeyemi and his team that the number of cases pending before the Supreme Court were overwhelming and taking its tolls on the health of the justices.
The CJN submitted that the amendment has become compelling for timely dispensation of justice and to reduce the mental stress the heavy burden of pending appeals was weighing on the Justices of the apex court.
He said: “Many of us don’t sleep for 12 hours as recommended by stress managers. We don’t write judgement merely by stating that so, so, so and so cases were filed by this and that, and end it up by saying the appeal is hereby dismissed or upheld. We have to give reasons which are the bedrock of judgement writing.
‘’Nigerian Judiciary is one of the best in the world; and if nobody tells you, I am telling you today.
‘’The Constitution enjoins the Supreme Court to have 21 justices, yet we are having less than that number. We will have to appoint more justices to fill the gap soon.”
The CJN also expressed his disaffection over the annual budget of the judiciary which he dismissed as grossly inadequate.
“If you see the amount allocated to the judiciary, it is far less than what is given to some ministries. Salaries of the judicial officers are also stale for over 12 years running, and I hope you would look at all that.”
In his response, Senator Bamidele said both the Senate Standing Orders 2015 and the 1999 Constitution empowers his Committee to oversight the Federal Judiciary.
He noted that his visit was to keep faith with the tradition to show deference to the CJN, is the Head of the Judicial Arm of Government.
‘’We are here today to keep faith with the time-honoured tradition of the Committee’’.
Senator Opeyemi further revealed that all the 14 members of the committee are lawyers with their names in the Legal Practitioners’ Roll of the Supreme Court.
He said apart from being coming, the visit was to interact and familiarise themselves with the CJN in order to find out the progress made by the judiciary so far as well as the challenges facing it.
‘’This, no doubt, would enable us to make appropriate legislative interventions in times ahead, for the betterment of the Judiciary.”
While acknowledging the pivotal role of the judiciary in the sustenance and deepening of democratic core values, he assured the CJN that his Committee would make necessary interventions to strengthen and guarantee the independence of the judiciary through appropriate legislative interventions to ensure proper funding for the judiciary.
‘’The Committee would work in collaboration with the judiciary to review laws and embark on reforms – including the amendment to the Constitution – to ensure effective and efficient administration of justice.”
At a separate meeting with President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa she equally asked the senators to avert their minds to the poor funding of the judiciary.
According to her most of their buildings were collapsing and dilapidating virtually in the 16 divisions of the Court of Appeal.
Senator Opeyemi also assured the President of the Court of Appeal that his Committee would ensure the review
of the judges’ salaries and change narratives of poor funding in the judiciary.