After several entreaties and cries by many stakeholders, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari increased the budget for the judiciary from N70 billion in 2016 to N100 billion for the 2017 fiscal year. From all indications, the Federal Government handed over a budget envelope of N100 billion to the Judiciary for the 2018 fiscal year. While maintaining budgetary status quo for this Third Arm of Government, the Federal Government expect it to deliver on its mandate, adjudicates on plethora of pre-election, election petition and post-election cases; as well as fast tracking the trial of over 2000 anti-corruption cases involving tons of trillion of naira. When the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Mr Ahmed Gambo Saleh led the Chief Registrars of superior courts, representatives of the departments and agencies in the judiciary to defend this figure before the senate on February 14, 2018, they left nobody in doubt that the budget envelop was grossly inadequate. According to officials of the courts, departments and agencies in the judiciary, the preparation of their 2018 budget proposals were based on the Budget Call Circular Guidelines issued by the NJC to guide them on amount they can propose as a result of the N100 billion budget envelope allocated for the entire judiciary for the 2018 fiscal year. The Call Circular directed also that Capital and Recurrent expenditure is reduced by 20% by all and sundry in the judiciary. Previous Appropriation Acts before 2017 have shown that funding from the Federal Government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010, from N95 billion in that year to N85 billion in 2011, then N75 billion in 2012 and again in the 2013 budget to N67 billion. In 2014 and 2015, former President Goodluck Jonathan, through his administration’s window budgeting principle threw N68 billion and N73 billion respectively to the Judiciary.
A cursory glance again at budget figures in the reference period shows that while the country’s budget witnessed a geometric incremental pattern annually, the third arm of government saw a slow but steady paralysis, brought about by a downward trend in its yearly allocation. This is exactly the case this year where national budget is expected to increase from N7.441 trillion appropriated for 2017 to N8.612 trillion proposed by the executive for the nation for the 2018 fiscal year. In line with President Buhari’s anti-corruption war, the National Judicial Council chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen inaugurated Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trials Monitoring Committee (CONTRIMCO) last year to give verve to the criminal justice system. The committee has identified 2,306 existing corruption related cases across the country for prosecution. Curiously, only N581, 300,000 is available or budgeted for this alltime important project of the administration of President Buhari. This will amount to clapping with one hand. While the capital budget for the Federal Judiciary was N31.3 billion in 2017, this reduces to N26.9 billion for 2018 fiscal year. Recurrent for the Federal judiciary increases from N50.I billion (2017) TO N53.2 billion in 2018. Just as the recurrent budget for the states court increases from N11.0 billion in 2017 to N11.3 billion in 2018. This is because more judges are to be recruited especially in preparation for the arduous task of the election petition exercises. But there is less provision for their office and residential accommodations In line with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s released Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2019 general elections, party primaries for the Presidential, Governorship, Federal and State Elections would begin on August 18 to end on October 7, 2018. From August 2018 till February 2019 when general elections will begin and thereafter, flurry of pre-election and election petitions will flood the courts all over the country.
Because it is election year, the FCT High Court, Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal have proposed to appoint 15, 7 and 14 justices respectively. Two justices of the Supreme Court that will be retiring after attaining retirement age of 70 years old will also be replaced accordingly. These expanding mechanisms are now to go with reductions in the budgets of the courts which is not healthy for the nation’s polity. The Nigerian Prison Service (NPS) on December 15, 2017, put the total number of inmates in prisons in the country at 72,384 with 48,527 (67.04%) of these awaiting trial inmates, meaning only 23,857 have actually been convicted by the courts. The prisons are also congested because official capacity of prison system is 50 153; in other words our prisons are over-congested or having occupancy level of 125.9%. The Federal Government also expects the judiciary to reform criminal justice system in order to decongest the prisons in the country. For much is expected, much has to be given.