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General News of Monday, 12 September 2022

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2023: Lack of funds may hamper hearing election petitions - Appeal Court President

President, Court of Appeal, Monica Dongban-Mensem President, Court of Appeal, Monica Dongban-Mensem

The President of the Court of Appeal, Monica Dongban-Mensem, said, Monday, that lack of funds could hamper the efficient adjudication of election petitions that might arise from the 2023 general elections.

Mrs Dongban-Mensem, as the President of the Court of Appeal, is responsible for constituting various tribunals that hear disputes arising from the presidential, governorship, state and national assembly elections across the country.

The Court of Appeal serves as the coordinating secretariat for all election petition tribunals.

Mrs Dongban-Mensem spoke of the financial predicaments threatening the smooth running of the yet-to-be-constituted election petition tribunals ahead of next year’s general elections at the 2022/2023 legal year ceremony of the appellate court in Abuja on Monday.

With a few months to the 2023 polls, Mrs Dongbam-Mensem said the federal government has yet to release funds for the setting up of the panels of judges and supporting staff for the tribunals.

“The essential ingredient for the tribunals to function effectively to maximum capacity is the provision of the much-needed funding to provide adequate facilities for the tribunals across the nation,” she said in her address.

She said, “the funds to prosecute the 2023 general election petition tribunals have still not been released,” adding, “This is becoming worrisome as it may impede plans to constitute the various tribunals and courts.”

She said the issue has stalled the training of justices and supporting staff for tribunals.

Appealing to the relevant government agencies for the release of the funds, the appellate court’s president said the existing election petition tribunals in Ekiti, Osun, Plateau and Anambra states, “have taken up a whole chunk of the very limited resources of the Court (of Appeal).”

Similarly, she highlighted the lack of funds as “impediments to increased adoption of ICT in the court.”

Concerning the staff strength of the court, Mrs Dongban-Mensem said the appellate court has 10 existing vacancies for justices.

“A depletion of a workforce of 11% of our strength is significant,” she said while revealing that the process of appointing replacements for the vacancies was ongoing.

NBA accuses executive, legislature of ploy to weaken, pauperise courtsThe Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) says there is a deliberate plan by the executive and legislative arms of government to weaken Nigerian courts.

NBA’s President, Yakubu Maikyau, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), made the assertion at the Court of Appeal’s event on Monday. in Abuja.

Speaking at the gathering, Mr Maikyau said a suit had to be filed to compel the two branches of government “to look into and improve the welfare of judges and justices.”

Referring to a recent judgement by the National Industrial Court in Abuja  which

ordered a substantial increment in the salaries of the CJN and other Nigerian judges, the NBA President said, “there is a deliberate ploy to emasculate and pauperise the courts and by so doing strangulate the course of justice in this nation.”

The trial judge, Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae, in her verdict said: “Judges have been victims of great injustice” and described their poor salaries as a “national shame.”

He cited President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent increment of allowances for ministers and other top government officials but refused to address issues of judges’ welfare.

Also referencing the protest letter by 14 Justices of the Supreme Court over the poor working condition, Mr Maikyau noted that the “embarrassing revelation of the state of affairs in the apex Court” never pushed the “Executive and Legislature to consider emergency measures to address the situation.”

“Instead, what we see is the upward review of the allowances of Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and top civil servants. The legislators in Nigeria have never had to complain of poor remunerations and/or allowances.”

The NBA President blamed insecurity, economic crisis, political instability and corruption ailing Nigeria on the absence of justice.

“The legal profession (the Bar and Bench) has been rendered incapable of dispensing what is otherwise its primary responsibility of promoting the rule of law to serve the cause of justice,” Mr Maikyau said in his address.

He reminded lawyers that Nigerians look up to the legal profession for the “recovery, reformation and repositioning of the country,” adding that a functional Nigeria could only be achieved through a deliberate pursuit of justice, which must be led by the legal profession.

Speaking in the same vein, Kanu Agabi, a former AGF, decried the poor working condition of judges.

Mr Agabi, also a SAN, spoke on behalf of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

He blamed the spate of violent killings across Nigeria on powerful individuals whose interest is to destabilise the country for political power.

Malami reactsIn his response to the NBA’s assertion, the AGF said the welfare of judges remained Mr Buhari’s top priority.

Acknowledging the persistent challenges regarding salaries and welfare of judicial officers, Mr Malami said there was an ongoing process of improving the welfare package of judicial officers, adding that it would be completed in accordance with extant constitutional and statutory provisions.

He referred to the budget of the judiciary which declined from N95 billion in 2010 to N68 billion in 2014, but there was an upward swing in 2015 from N73 billion to N120 billion in 2022 (being the highest in the history of the judiciary).

The event had in attendance, the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, and representatives of the National Assembly. The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, John Tsoho, was represented by another judge of the court, Inyang Ekwo.

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