A retired justice of the Supreme Court, Ejembi Eko, on Monday, lamented the corruption in the Nigerian judiciary, especially in the handling of its finances. He, therefore, called on anti-graft agencies to probe the financial records of the judiciary.
Mr Eko spoke during a valedictory session held in his honour in Abuja.
“Nothing stops the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, the ICPC and other investigatory agencies from opening the books of the judiciary to expose the corruption in the management of their budgetary resources,” Mr Eko said.
“That does not compromise the independence of the judiciary. Rather, it promotes accountability,” he said in apparent response to people who may claim that such a probe compromises the independence of the judiciary.
Budgetary allocations to the Nigerian judiciary are shrouded in secrecy despite public outcry. Not only are Nigerians denied access to the judiciary’s budget, its income and expenditure are also kept secret.
This led to the recent call by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, for the judiciary to make its budget public.
Mr Malami also said the federal government could not determine if the judiciary’s allocation was sufficient or not because its budget is shrouded in secrecy.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how calls for more allocations to the judiciary are not being complemented with financial transparency and probity.
The National Judicial Council and the National Assembly do not reveal the breakdowns of their budgets to the public. Journalists and members of the public are also prevented from witnessing legislative proceedings on the judiciary’s budget, a situation Ben Akabueze, the director-general of the Budget Office, lamented recently.
In his valedictory speech on Monday, Mr Eko, who clocked the mandatory retirement age of 70, said chief registrars of courts surrender themselves “to be directed willy-nilly in the vandalization of the judiciary budget.”
“My Lords, the heads of court in the federation have enormous budgetary resources from which they can improve the welfare of serving judges,” the retired jurist said.
Expressing the lack of financial transparency in the judiciary, Mr Eko said, “As it is, presently, and as the Director of Budget in the Federal Ministry of Finance disclosed recently at the memorial lecture in honour of the late Abdullahi Ibrahim, SAN, it is baffling that the welfare of judges remains in abject state in spite of the increase of the budgetary allocation to the Judiciary under this regime. Why?
“The said director of budget suggested that the panacea to the often touted underfunding of the judiciary would be for ‘the judiciary to allow its books to be opened’ by the relevant authorities.”
Double standards in disciplining erring judges
Similarly, Mr Eko criticised the National Judicial Council (NJC), which he accused of applying double standards in the discipline of erring judicial officers.
The NJC is the statutory body with the mandate of recruiting judges and disciplining those found guilty of misconduct.
Mr Eko said that while some judges found culpable of misconduct were barred from getting promotions, others that committed similar breaches, had their promotion stalled for some years.
“With all deference to the NJC; the punishment fell short of the expectation of the public that these bad eggs should have been broken or smashed and/or exterminated, to serve as deterrence.
“When the punishment for an outstandingly bad and outrageous conduct is far too lenient, it encourages impunity and/or repeat by others of errant or atrocious misconduct,” Mr Eko said.
Malami extolls retiring justice, restates calls for open budget
In his eulogy, the AGF, Mr Malami, said Mr Eko set himself apart through sound judgements.
Mr Malami said there is a need for the judiciary to open its financial books to public scrutiny.
He urged the judiciary to embrace the open government initiative of the federal government “by showing transparency in its budgetary matters.”
Eko, a ‘thoroughbred personality’
At the event, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, praised Mr Eko for offering 45 years of his life in the service of Nigeria.
Mr Muhammad described Mr Eko as “a personality whose name has become a recurring decimal in the annals of the Nigerian judiciary, ostensible for his robust scholarly disposition and astounding erudition”.
“By virtue of the lofty successes he (Mr Eko) has achieved, his name has, as a matter of necessity, been etched in gold and now deservedly occupies an enviable place in the hall of fame of the Nigerian judiciary”, Mr Muhammad said.
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