THE CHIEF Justice of Nigerian (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola has said the Nigerian Judiciary is not truly independent due to the absence of financial autonomy.
Justice Ariwoola made the assertion on Monday, November 28, at a special session of the Supreme Court held to mark the beginning of the 2022/2023 Legal Year and swearing-in of 62 newly conferred Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN).
According to the CJN, harsh economic realities are having a negative effect on judicial activities in the country.
He said: “I will make it clear to whoever that cares to listen that when the Nigerian Judiciary is assessed from the financial aspect, we are yet to be free or truly independent.
“The annual budget of the judiciary is still far from what it ought to be. The figure is either stagnated for a long period of time or it goes on a progressive decline when placed side-by-side with current realities in the market.
“Prices of goods and services are not getting less or friendly to buyers, while at the same time, our purchasing power is abysmally low and weak enough to transmit on the same wavelength with market forces.”
He pleaded with other arms of government and allied agencies “to clear all the impediments so we can enjoy our independence holistically”.
“This is a clarion call to the other two arms of government to make the funding of the Judiciary a major priority,” the CJN added.
Calling for an improvement in the welfare of judicial officers, Justice Ariwoola noted, “Our extremely poor and pitiable salary package is a major issue of concern that equally has to be attended to with the urgency it requires.”
However, the CJN said despite the challenges, the Nigerian Judiciary “will never be subservient to anyone, no matter his position or influence in the society”.
“We don’t pander to the whims and caprices of anybody. If there is anybody to be feared, I must say with full confidence, that it is only the Almighty God,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami who also spoke at the occasion, said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has placed priority on the welfare of judges.
“I like to place on record that since inception, this administration, in line with it its commitment to promoting rule of law, has accorded top priority to the funding of the judiciary.
“As a result, we have ensured a progressive budgetary allocation to the judiciary which has seen an increase from N73 billion in 2015 to over N130 billion in 2022 and a further increase of N150 billion has been proposed for 2023.”
Malami also said that the much-needed development in the country cannot be attained without the judiciary “since law and development are interwoven”.