The House of Representatives has called for the upward review of annual statutory allocation to the Judiciary pegged at N110billion as part of efforts aimed at engendering efficient dispensation of justice in the country.
Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Hon. Onofiok Luke, who presided over the 2020 budget performance and 2021 budget defence of the NJC yesterday, applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for the appointment of eight Justices of the Supreme Court, which raised the number of justices to 20.
Luke said that the recent appointment and confirmation of the newly appointed Justices of the Supreme Court will help in fast-tracking administration and delivery of justice, acknowledging the background and wealth of experience of the appointed Justices and the need for President Buhari to immediately fill the vacant positions in the Court of Appeal.
The lawmaker explained that the committee was aware of the challenges of the Judiciary as exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with security challenges, occasioned by prevailing restiveness that undoubtedly slowed down development in every aspect of the country.
He said, “The recent security threats to Judges, denigration of the sanctity of courts and vandalisation of court infrastructure are few examples. These destructive acts are highly condemnable and call for concerted action.
“The House believes that the Judiciary is mindful of the challenges being globally experienced while attempts are being made by Courts and Judicial Bodies, through budgetary allocations, to ensure that adequate provisions are made in priority areas like the welfare and security of Judicial officers, Staff of the Judiciary and litigants, electro-fitting and automation of Courts Rooms in line with global best practices as well as provision of modern infrastructures in courts which is sacrosanct for effective and efficient justice delivery and administration.
“The destruction of Court by hoodlums that hijacked the EndSARS protest has once again brought to fore the exigency of automating our court system right from the filing process to judgement delivery. The incident has led to the loss of some vital court documents in some courts, which will stall several lawsuits and trials.
“There is urgent need to implement electronic filing of court process, electronic recording and transcription of court proceedings and electronic collection of judgment and having a central saver that backs up court processes and documents and synchronise data across all remote locations. This will expedite justice delivery and forestall loss of court documents.
“It is worrisome to note that the 2021 Budget Estimates for the Judiciary in the sum of N110 billion only, which represents Statutory Transfer to the Judiciary, is inadequate in view of current realities.
“The committee will engage the leadership of the House, and indeed the National Assembly for more funds for the Judiciary to address the observed and obvious challenges of the judiciary for expedited and efficient dispensation of justice in the country”.
He further said that there was need for adequate funding of the Judiciary in order for it to independently carry out its constitutional mandate of check and balances, settlement of disputes and protection of fundamental rights of citizens.
“The Committee under my leadership will continue to assiduously work at ensuring the independence of Judiciary, quick and efficient dispensation of Justice for Nigerians while ensuring better welfare, security and working conditions for Judicial Officers and staff of the Judiciary,” he said.
He reiterated the resolve of the 9th Assembly to engage in every legislative initiative that will guarantee effective and efficient justice delivery and respect for the rule of law in the country, as well as the reforms of the Judiciary as encapsulated in the House Legislative Agenda.
Earlier, the Secretary of the NJC, Gambo Saleh, called for a paradigm shift in the budgeting system to the judiciary, disclosing that the Council was constrained to reduce the initial budgetary proposal of N188 billion to N110billion envelope given by the federal government.
He said, “I want to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for the sustained funding of the judiciary, the Chief Justice and chairman of National Judicial Council, wish to give their profound appreciation to Mr President, to the National Assembly for the 2020 appropriation.
“While we appreciate the sustained funding of the judiciary by the government, but permit me to re-echo the position of the chairman on the need for increased funding to the Nigerian Judiciary, we are all living witnesses to the current situation in the country. In view of this, I want to reiterate the same position that the Nigerian Judiciary is indeed in dire need for increased funding.
“At the instance of the Executive and coupled with public outcry for a fast efficient judicial system, the Supreme Court of Nigeria was made to increase the complement of that court to 20 including the Chief Justice.
“We were promised a special intervention and that intervention is yet to come. As a response to these yearnings, the Court of Appeal also had to establish four additional divisions, not only that they are also in the process of appointing additional 2- justices of the Court of Appeal. The Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court are also in the process of appointing 20 additional Judges so also are the various State Courts”.
“Without an increase in funding, I do not think Nigerian judiciary will be able to contend with this. Apart from this the challenges caused by Covid-19 pandemic has also now more than before compelled Nigeria Judiciary to continue to deliberate on ICT and technology, this Mr Chairman will definitely come with additional cost if we are to effectively function”.
Saleh further said that the unfortunate instance occasioned by the recent #EndSARS protest resulted in the destruction of different court rooms across the country apart from the vandalization, looting of court facilities, that for them to be able to get the court back to work, they will require a lot of funding.
“Please do consider an increase in funding of the Nigeria Judiciary; that will be a great service to this country. Our initial proposal for the entire Judiciary is N187,945,531,476 but we had to make a lot of adjustments, so our general overview now will be based on the N110billion given to us.
“For Federal Courts, we are proposing N3,804,500; total personnel proposal for 2021 is N29, 908,808; Salaries and allowances for State Judicial Officers: N13,893,404; Pension and gratuities of retired Federal Judicial Officers – N5,274,274. Our total capital proposal is N29,410,229; total Overhead for entire Judiciary: N21,201,460; Statutory retirement benefits: N390 million; IT infrastructure for the judiciary: N2,743,840 while Service Wide Votes was pegged at N200million”.