By Ibrahim Ahmad Kala, LL.M
The responsibility for the interpretation, enforcement of laws of a country, and punishment of offenders rests squarely with the judiciary.
This is the case in Nigeria where at the apex of the court system, we have the Supreme Court being the highest court in the land. Here we have the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, presiding, with at least 12 justices of the Supreme Court.
The court receives and handles appeals from the Court of Appeal. However, the court has direct judicial responsibility otherwise known as Exclusive Original Jurisdiction on matters or disputes arising from among states and the Federal Governments, National Assembly and the Executive President, National Assembly and State, and finally the states inter se. The Supreme Court decision on any matter brought before it is final.
Thus speaking through the apex court on its finality on matters before it, a profound pronouncement forms part of the ipsissima verba of My Lord, the Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, (now of blessed and remarkable memory), when he delivered the leading judgment (to which Obaseki, Nnamani, Karibi-Whyte (all late too) and Agbaje, JJSC all agreed), on Friday May 19, 1989, in the popular case of Adegoke Motors Limited v. Dr. Babatunde Adesanya and Others 1989) 3 NWLR (pt 109) 250 at 274; (1989) 5 S.C 113 at 129; in response to the issue whether there is a conflict between the Supreme Court cases of SKENCONSULT (NIG.) LTD and ANOR v. UKEY (1981) 1 SC 6 and EZOMO v. OYAKHIRE (1985) 1 NWLR (pt 2) 195, each decision having been made on its own peculiar facts. The Supreme Court of Nigeria boldly asserted:
“My simple answer is that it is not part of the jurisdiction or duties of this Court to go on looking for imaginary conflicts. We are final not because we are infallible; rather we are infallible because we are final.”
In the hierarchy, the Court of Appeal is the next to the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal is headed by the President of the Court of Appeal, assisted by a number of justices of the Appeal Court. The Court of Appeal, which was created as far back in 1976 as the Federal Court of Appeal, now so far have 20 divisions across the country.
The court has the power to handle cases on appeal from the federal, states and or FCT High Courts, the National Industrial Court, Sharia Court of Appeal of a state and of the FCT, Customary Court of Appeal of a state and of the FCT, and decisions of other tribunals (such as Court Marshall, Code of Conduct Tribunal, Election Tribunal and etc).
The original jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to entertain fresh or new case is also unassailable, especially on the determination of the seat of the President or Vice President of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The federal, states and or FCT High Courts, the National Industrial Court, Sharia Court of Appeal of a state and of the FCT, Customary Court of Appeal of a state and of the FCT, and other tribunals (such as Court Marshall, Code of Conduct Tribunal, Election Tribunal and etc), are next in hierarchy to the Court of Appeal. The various courts and tribunals are headed by different designations such as Chief Judge of the federal, state or FCT High court, assisted by some considerable number of judges of same high court, President of the National Industrial Court, heading and assisted by other judges of same court.
Also, the President of the Customary Court of Appeal heads the Customary Court of Appeal to be assisted by some justices of the court. The same way Grand Khadi heads the Sharia Court of Appeal of either the FCT or the states that desire it, and he will be assisted by other Khadis of the court, and finally, the tribunals which usually have a Chairman and assisted by not less than two members.
All these courts and tribunals are of coordinate jurisdictions. In another word, they are of the same rank in hierarchy next to the Court of Appeal, especially in respect of their decisions. However, the various courts and tribunals may have distinct claims from one another as delineated by the constitution and other enabling laws.
Down the pyramid and almost at the bottom, are the Magistrates’ Courts which handle minor criminal cases, and when a Magistrate acts in civil jurisdiction, it is usually called District Court. Upper Area and or Sharia Court and Customary court are design to handle cases of Islamic personal laws, and native law and customs as the case may be.
They serve as court of first instance, in virtually all local and ordinary matters in their respective areas of sphere. However, few among them such as Upper Area Court and Upper Sharia Court, consider appeals from Area and or Sharia Courts respectively. Their decisions too finally go to State High Court, Sharia Court of Appeal, and or Customary Court of Appeal as the case may be.
It is therefore clear that the federal courts consist of Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Court, and National Industrial Court. Whereas, the state courts consists of state High court, Customary Court of Appeal of State and Sharia Court of Appeal of State and the FCT too, Magistrate/District Court, Customary Court, Area, and Sharia Courts.
These courts were established for the federation and as such, the remuneration, salaries and allowances of all judicial officers of the courts have been placed at the doorstep of the Federal Government by the constitution.
The National Judicial Council, NJC, shall be responsible to “collate all capital and recurrent expenditures of these courts from their various heads, make a consolidated budget and present it to the Budget Office.
Section 84(7) of the Constitution provides that “the recurrent expenditure of judicial offices in the Federation (in addition to salaries and allowances of the judicial officers mentioned in subsection (4) of this section) shall be a charge upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
According to one of the learned constitutional lawyers, Sabestine Hons, SAN, the phrase ‘recurrent expenditure’ here carries its ordinary, grammatical meaning – ‘that which happens again and again.’ This then means that all year-in, year-out expenditures of these courts are a direct responsibility of the Federal Government! There cannot be any other reasonable interpretation of this subsection, which has decidedly used the words ‘of judicial offices’ (not ‘officers’).
These courts, as embodiment of Nigerian judiciary, have not had the best in freedom terms, especially at state level – being subject many a times to the whims and caprices of the other arms of government, i.e the ‘mighty’ executive governors and the ‘powerful’ legislature. This is especially so in the control of fund and expenditure of the state’s judiciary, where judicial appointees invariably find it difficult to discharge their obligations without fear or favour, as the dictum, “he who pays the piper dictates the tune” has often proved to be true especially with the executive – judiciary relationship.
Many countries, including Nigeria, believing in the need for an independent judiciary, have had to take certain measures to preserve same. Undoubtedly, one of the guarantees for the independence of the judiciary comes from the wages/salaries of the judges, which are not paid from the same source as other public servants. Judges salaries are paid from the consolidated fund. Such arrangement provides security of service and serves as a buffer against unnecessary intimidation and victimization of judges.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, May 22, 2020, signed Executive Order No. 10 for the Implementation of the Financial Autonomy of State legislatures and state judiciaries, based on powers conferred on him by section 5 of the Constitution 1999 (as amended).
According to the statement issued by Dr. Umar Jibrilla Gwandu, the media aid to the Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the signing of the Executive Order by the President will surely strengthen institutions at state level. The executive order No.10 is coming at the heels of the states Governors’ puzzling of funding of states courts, which is illegal and unconstitutional, as it exposes the courts at state level to undue manipulation by state sovernors.
Thus, the state governments’ funding of State High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal and Customary Courts of Appeal is a breach of Sections 6 (1); 84(1) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
I commend President Buhari this time again in the issuance of this Executive Order No.10 in an effort to make the institutions of states more independent, more transparent and more accountable in line with the democratic ideals.
As presently contained in the Order, the Accountant General of the Federation is mandated to authorize the deductions of money from source in the cause of Federation Account Allocation for money allocated to any state of the federation that fail to release the allocation meant for the state judiciary to their respective head of court in line with the Financial Autonomy, guaranteed by section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
*Kala Esq. wrote this piece from Gombe and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org