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A human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) yesterday challenged judges to form a national association of judicial officers to protect the interest of the judiciary in line with section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
Falana, a former President of the West African Bar Association (WABA), alleged that floating such an association became imperative to prevent the executive arm from compromising and sabotaging the judiciary.
He suggested in response to a letter 14 Justices of the Supreme Court recently wrote to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad about their poor condition of services despite an annual allocation of N110 billion.
Responding to THISDAY’s inquiries, Falana said the executive “cannot stand a judiciary that is independent to the extent of ruling against the subversion of the rule of law, constitutional breaches, human rights abuse and official impunity.”
Consequently, he added that judges “are deliberately poorly paid to compel them to depend wholly on the executive organ of the state. Even though the constitution provides for financial autonomy for the judiciary, the executive arm has sabotaged it.”
In spite of the independence of the judiciary, according to the senior lawyer, the salaries and allowances of judges are withheld while houses and cars are supplied to judges by state governors.
On these grounds, Falana said: “Notwithstanding that judges are conservative, it is high time that Nigerian judges form an association to defend and protect the interests of the judiciary.
“This demand is justified by section 40 of the Constitution which guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of association,” the senior lawyer said.
He drew the attention of the judges to similar bodies across the world, citing the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association, Judicial Officers Association of South Africa, South African Chief Justice Forum, International Association of Judges and National Associations of European Administrative Judges, among others.Falana also cited similar bodies already functioning in the federation to include the National Association of Women Judges and the Magistrates’ Association of Nigeria.
The senior lawyer emphasised the need to set up the Nigerian Judicial Officers Association “to defend the interests of judges and promote judicial independence, human rights and rule of law in the country.”
He noted that the letter signed by the 14 Justices of the Supreme Court had confirmed that judges had been suffering in silence, and called for a holistic review of the conditions of service of judges in the country.
He added that the federal and state governments should be compelled “to actualise the financial autonomy for the judiciary in line with the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.”
Falana, however, pointed out that it had been difficult to join the struggle for the improvement of the working conditions of judges on the ground that the budget of the Supreme Court “is shrouded in secrecy.”
He said the details of the expenditure of the N110 billion budgeted for the judiciary are not set out contrary to the provision of section 81 of the Constitution, making it difficult to demand an increase in the budget of the judiciary.
On the part of judges, Falana asked the judiciary “to stop giving undue attention to political cases to the detriment of other more pressing matters relating to the liberty of citizens.
“How can election cases or pre-election matters be more important than the cases of citizens who are languishing in prison custody? Judges should ensure that equal time is allotted to all cases,” he explained.
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