A coalition of Civil Society Organisations has called on the Supreme Court to be more accountable in the handling of its funds and budgets to achieve judicial independence.
The coalition made the call in a statement on Thursday citing “issues of mismanagement and financial impropriety” raised in a petition by 14 Justices of the Supreme Court in the lead-up to the resignation of the immediate-past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Mohammad.
Mr Muhammad resigned from his role as CJN on June 27, citing ill-health.
His 14 colleagues on the Supreme Court bench had in the preceding week to his resignation accused him of running the apex court aground.
The jurists said the ex-CJN deprived them of their legitimate entitlements while funding personal foreign trips of his family members amid operational difficulties that threatened efficient justice dispensation.
Mr Muhammad’s abrupt departure paved the way for Olukayode Ariwoola, the next most senior justice, to be appointed as the acting CJN.
In a statement jointly issued by 45 CSOs on Thursday, the coalition commended the 14 Justices of the Supreme Court for their courage in raising the alarm over the crisis at the court.
“We must not lose sight of the critical issues of mismanagement and financial impropriety raised in the petition by the Supreme Court Justices,” the CSOs said.
The coalition urged the Supreme Court to professionalise the financial management of the court to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
“The apex court must as a necessity explore professionalising of the administration of the courts in such a manner that it addresses the legitimate concerns in relation to the accountability of the Judiciary for funds allocated to it, with adequate budgeting and discipline that prioritises needs; against the need to ensure that the independence of the Judiciary is not undermined or eroded.
“We, therefore, urge the court to competent professionals with the capacity for the management and administration of complex business organisations, while allowing judicial officers to focus on their primary responsibility of dispensing justice,” the statement said.
Some of the CSOs include — Accountability Lab, Nigeria, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD), African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Almajiri Child Right Initiative (ACRI), Associated for Democratic Citizens (ADC), and Borno Coalition for Democracy and Progress (BOCODEP)
Others include – BudgIT Foundation, Centre for Accountability and Inclusive Development (CAAID), Centre for Community Excellence (CENCEX), Centre for Impact Advocacy (CiA), Centre for Social Justice,Change Managers International Network, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and CLEEN Foundation.
The group noted that “a lack of transparency and accountability in the judiciary” has shown its “processes are vulnerable to manipulation.”
Emphasising the need for transparency, the CSOs said the forthcoming electioneering would require the judiciary to uphold citizens’ will as failure to do so amount to a loss of confidence in election petition outcomes.
‘Judiciary must be independent’
Calling for a more transparent process of recruiting judges, the CSOs said the 10 years post-call criterion is no longer enough, adding, “There is … a need for pre-set and publicly advertised processes which will ensure that the best candidates are sourced in accordance with a consistent and transparent process.”
They recommended the Kenyan judiciary template which emphasises a “vetting process for judges, in which an independent board of Kenyan lawyers, civil society leaders, and foreign judges review the records of each serving judicial officer to determine whether he or she is suitable to remain on the bench.”
They also called for the independence of the judiciary, asking the National Assembly to take necessary legislative actions “to bring about needed legislative reforms to guarantee the true independence of the judiciary.”
The statement urged the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to engage with the judiciary’s leadership to rid it of corruption.
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