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Judicial Rumble As Chief Justice Of Nigeria, Accused Of Corruption By 14 Supreme Court Justices, Fights Back

In an unprecedented move signalling the greatest blow to the integrity of Nigeria’s judiciary, 14 Justices of the Supreme Court have accused the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, of corruption.

But Justice Muhammad has fought back, denying the accusation and labeling himself the epitome of anti-corruption and claiming to have managed the resources at the disposal of the apex court effectively.

Muhammad had stepped into office after Walter Onnoghen, his predecessor, was removed on a controversial note after the former CJN was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari in the run-up to the 2019 elections on a mere petition filed against him by a civil rights group at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

Among the allegations levelled against him was owning some secret foreign accounts, which were run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.

Although he denied the allegations, Onnoghen was convicted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on April 18, 2019, for false assets declaration, and banned from holding public office for 10 years.

Muhammad, who has been in charge of the nation’s apex court since then, is now facing his own major test of integrity.

In the protest memo signed by 14 Supreme Court judges, Muhammad was accused of not giving justices their legitimate entitlements, alleging that their annual foreign training, meant to enhance capacity building for the country’s judicial process, had been blocked by Muhammad.

The main issues put forward by the Justices in their letter through a welfare committee were; non-replacement of poor vehicles; accommodation problem; lack of drugs at the Supreme Court clinic; epileptic electricity supply to the Supreme Court; increase in electricity tariff; no increase in the allowances for diesel; lack of internet services to residences and chambers.

“Your lordship received and ignored these demands since 24th March 2022.”

“In the past, Justices were nominated to attend two to three foreign workshops or training per annum with accompanying persons for reasons of age. Since your Lordship’s assumption of office, Justices only attend two workshops in Dubai and Zanzibar. They were not accorded the privilege of travelling with accompanying persons as was the practice.

“Your Lordship totally ignored this demand and yet travelled with your spouse, children, and personal staff. We demand to know what has become our training funds, have they been diverted, or it’s a plain denial.

“Your lordship may also remember that the National Assembly has increased the budgetary allocation of the Judiciary. We find it strange that in spite of the upward review of our budgetary allocation, the Court cannot cater for our legitimate entitlements. This is unacceptable!”

But responding in a statement, which Ahuraka Yusuf Isah, his media aide, issued on his behalf, the nation’s number five citizen said he had managed the resources at the disposal of the apex court effectively.

“The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad would wish to confirm receipt of letter written and addressed to him by his brother Justices of the Supreme Court Bench.”

“Judges in all climes are to be seen and not heard, and that informed why the CJN refrained from joining issues until a letter, said to be personal, is spreading across the length and breadth of the society. This was akin to dancing naked at the market square by us with the ripple effect of the said letter

“The Supreme Court definitely does not exist outside its environment, it is also affected by the economic and socio-political climate prevailing in the country. Besides that, the Apex Court has to a larger extent, been living to its constitutional responsibility.

“When a budget is made, it contains two sides, that’s the recurrent and the capital, yet all the two are broken down into items. The Federal Government releases the budget based on the budget components. And it’s an offence to spend the money meant for one item for another. Take for instance, the Supreme Court budgeted this year to re-roof and rehabilitate its complex built over 30 years ago and that is being done.

“The work on the extension of the complex is near completion, the esthetic lawns and cleanness of the perimeters are being well kept, and security and water supply are adequately provided for his brother Justices in their offices and residences. During the period of pandemic, a profound and extra-care was maintained to avoid causalities among them as well as the staff generally. It would have amounted to an act of irresponsibility to divert money meant for the above for otherwise.

“The accusation so far, in summary is that more or all ought to have been done and not that nothing has been done; which is utopian in the contemporary condition of our country.

“Before eight new Justices were appointed in 2020 onto the Apex Court bench, there was no additional budget to provide new chambers with equipped library, legal assistance, residential accommodations and logistics for them. The Apex Court has to make do with the resources at its disposal to meet their needs over time. All the Justices of this Court has at least a legal assistance, except some may opt for more. One of the CJN’s legal assistance (now Justice Aina) was appointed to Abuja FCT High Court last month, while another (Barr Ramatu) died three months back. Generally the Judiciary is looking up to recruitment of more legal assistance and other supporting staff this year.

“Besides, two Supreme Court Justices died within the period under consideration. Both the four retirees and the two departed cost the court some funds in the forms of gratuities and allowances.”

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