The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, on Monday revealed that the events that saw his ascension to his present position shook the nation’s judiciary to its very foundation.
Although, Justice Muhammad didn’t mention the name of his predecessor, Justice Walter Onnoghen, he went ahead to call for the full enthronement of the rule of law in the land.
He also lent his voice to the raging debate over the independence of the judiciary, even as the Nigerian Bar Association, again, criticised the process of the removal of the immediate-past CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The debate over the independence of the judiciary has deepened in recent times following the circumstances surrounding the exit of Onnogen, from office earlier in the year.
Speaking in Abuja at the special court session marking the beginning of the new 2019/2020 legal year of the Supreme Court and the inauguration of 38 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria, the CJN said the Nigerian judiciary might be independent in conducting the cases brought before it,but the independence had been lost to lack of financial freedom.
He likened the state of the Nigerian judiciary’s independence to a cow that is asked to graze freely but remains tied firmly to a tree.
He said, “If you say that I am independent, but in a way, whether I like it or not, I have to go cap in hand, asking for funds to run my office, then I have completely lost my independence.
“It is like saying a cow is free to graze about in the meadow but at the same time, tying it firmly to a tree. Where is the freedom?”
He said at the Supreme Court, which he described as “the busiest and most hardworking” apex court in the world, was “totally independent in the way we conduct our affairs, especially in our judgments”.
He added, “We don’t pander to anybody’s whims and caprices.
“If there is any deity to be feared, it is the Almighty God.
“We will never be subservient to anybody, no matter his position in the society.”
He, however, said the third arm of government remained in a financial bondage.
He said, “Be that as it may, when we assess the judiciary from the financial perspective, how free can we say we are?
“The annual budget of the judiciary is still a foul cry from what it ought to be.
“The figure is either stagnated for a long period or it goes on a progressive decline.”
He also complained about judges’ salaries.
He said, “I make bold to say that the salaries of judicial officers in Nigeria are still far from an ideal package to take home.
“Effort should be made by the relevant authorities to increase the salary and also work out measures to improve the welfare package of judicial officers, especially after retirement.”
Appealing to the federal and state governments, the CJN said, “I am using this medium to appeal to governments at all levels to free the judiciary from the financial bondage it has been subjected over the years.”