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From the Supreme Court, a Self-serving Request

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A former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, last week, came down hard on the memorandum sent to the Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution, seeking to increase the retirement age of justices of the Supreme Court Justices from 70 to 75 years.

Penultimate week, the Deputy Senate President and Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, had revealed that the Supreme Court justices were pushing for their retirement age to be increased from 70 to 75 years.

According to him, there was also another memo calling for increase in the retirement age of judges of the states, including the FCT and the Federal High Courts from 65 to 70 years.

At present, Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Justices retire at 70 years while state High Court and Federal High Court judges, including judges of the FCT High Courts, retire at age 65.

Omo-Agege said the apex court’s proposal and that of the High Court judges would be treated by the committee and brought before the Senate for consideration as two bills by March 2021.

Among others, he said: “To put you under further pressure, we have also decided to extricate one or two issues dealing with the judiciary, most importantly, the one dealing with the retirement age for judges of the states, including the FCT and the federal high courts to bring in parity with the 70 years retirement age of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

“There is also the issue of the clamour by the Supreme Court to also move from 70 to 75 years. I am sure you are all aware that it is up to our colleagues in both chambers and of course, the State Houses of Assembly to decide whether or not we should move ahead with both.”

But the proposal has been heavily criticised by many Nigerians, who feel that instead of the judges to harp on absolute independence of the judiciary, they were making mundane requests that would not do the country any good.

For instance, while justices of the Supreme Court of the United States serve for life, in other jurisdictions such as Germany, United Kingdom and Canada, where life expectancy is high, they retire at 68, 70 and 75 respectively. Many have argued that in these countries, even at these ages, they are still of sound minds unlike in Nigeria.

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This is why many analysts and observers feel that it would be wrong for the National Assembly to increase their retirement age. They argued that when the judiciary is independent, not only would the emoluments of judges be significantly improved, many other conditions of service would be well taken care of.

Those who spoke to THISDAY wondered why the judges were afraid of retirement? They also wondered if the soundness of their minds would remain intact at 75, questioning the depreciation of productivity value, level of their physical fitness and their mental fitness for the delicate national assignment?

For these reasons, they enjoined members of the National Assembly to concentrate their energies on issues like independence of the judiciary, devolution of powers, restructuring, state police and others that are urgently needed to move the country forward. Justice Salami, while reacting, advised the Senate to ignore it, saying some of the judges were not healthy and strong enough as many of them regularly travel abroad for treatment. He also claimed that some of them forget easily in addition to memory challenges.

The former PCA added that some of the judges do not know their actual age and have been using declaration of age affidavit, noting that the nation could fill the vacancies from a pool of qualified, experienced and healthier professionals.

He said: “It’s understood that it’s being contemplated to raise the tenure of the Supreme Court justices and possibly those of the Court of Appeal to 75 years within the next couple of weeks, to be precise, before the end of March. The profession is ominously silent over it.

“I could remember that the same issue was brought up by the Senate during my screening for the President of the Court of Appeal, which was persuaded by my reasoning. I contended that very few of us had birth certificates. Invariably we rely on declaration of age, which is generally inflated, because they are inferred from incidences or occurrences the happening of which we were not sure of.”

According to him, it is dangerous and unproductive for the nation to increase the age of judges it is unsure of, adding that to be increasing age, which is predicated on unsure parameters could be dangerous merely, because their counterparts elsewhere retire at about that age without taking into account the faulty starting point.

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“Many of them are not healthy. They regularly travel abroad for treatment, and some of them forget easily in addition to memory challenges. In the circumstances, some of the justices would only be there as passengers to fulfill statutory conditions without ability to make meaningful contribution. This is a condition that could easily be exploited by dishonest members of the court.

“It’s my humble opinion that the present retirement age is adequate for any sincere hardworking member of the court. It’s not only consuming but also tasking emotionally, physically and mentally. There is a pool of qualified, experienced and healthier professionals from which vacancies created by their respective retirements can be filled,” he said.

Salami said even at 70 years, some of the judges in the apex court were no longer strong as they used to be, adding that what should be paramount to the nation now was the output of the judges at old age.

He said: “We should have in mind their output at old age. The interest of the nation and not preference of the justices should be paramount on the minds of the senators. The employer and not the labourer, determines the duration of the contract. It’s the people who make a constitution for themselves and not an institution thereof.”

Supporting Salami’s views, a lawyer, Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, did not see the need for the new retirement age.

“On my part, I do not see the need for such increase in the retirement age. If our judges and justices are unanimous on this demand, it means they are all comfortable with what is happening in the system, including deprivation of the independence of judiciary, poor facilities and remuneration and the unnecessary workload they are being shouldered with.

“It was the politicians that insisted the other time that they must be allowed to argue their appeal on governorship election cases up to the Supreme Court, which further increased the workload of the Supreme Court Jurists.

“The appeal on such cases used to terminate at the Court of Appeal. I am of the view that the Supreme Court Justices in particular must be seriously concerned, and be pushing for the constitutional review that will checkmate the nature of the appeal cases that go to the Supreme Court as observed by some justices of the court.

“There are appeal cases that should not have business going to the apex court but should terminate at the Court of Appeal. Another thing again is that we operate a system that encourages people to falsify their ages unnecessarily.

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“It is not surprising that some judges have been sanctioned in recent time for falsifying their ages, when going into the system. It is not the number years that a judge put into the judicial service that matters but the positive impact and contributions made. It is for this reasons that I concur with Hon. Justice Ayo Salami and I have nothing more to add,” he stated.

Also faulting the proposal, a public affairs analyst, Alex Enemanna said, “Why is the muscled and emasculated judiciary not harping on independence rather they concentrate on elongation of retirement age? Are they comfortable with the current system, where they beg cap-in-hand, wholly at the mercy of the executive for allocation in a way that stifles the principle of independence of the arms of government? These are questions begging for answers.

“Left to fly, new retirement age for judges will serve as disincentive for younger benchers, who aspire to reach the top of their professional career. With one representation from each state, it implies that there will not be any replacement until a sitting judge clocks 75 or 70 as the case may be. Lest I forget, why are we so sure that the soundness of the minds of the judges will remain intact while we over-labour them at an old age? Are they immune from depreciation of productivity value, as they grow higher in age?

“What is the level of their physical fitness that we must bank on their mental fitness for such a delicate national assignment at the age of 75 and 70, respectively? Aside this, this self-serving mission has the tendency to further generate constitutional crisis than we may envisage. What happens if civil servants, police officers, the military and para-military agencies and the rest begin to ask for a new retirement age? Can we shoulder the pressure?

“The national and state legislatures must discard such bill to the bin, where it rightly belongs. They should commit their energy to pushing agenda that will have a wide spread and minister to the critical needs of our people particularly, security, employment and national unity. These should occupy the front burner in the upcoming Constitution Review exercise. Anything short of this will amount to effort in futility,” he concurred.

Credit to Thisday

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Judiciary

Alleged N10bn scam: Secondus demands N1bn, retraction from Afegbua

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Following this week’s allegation of financial fraud to the tune of N10 billion made against Prince Uche Secondus, national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP by Kassim Afegbua, the former, Thursday, demanded a retraction of the story and payment of N1 billion in damages from Afegbua.

Secondus through his counsel, Emeka Etiaba, threatened to take legal action against Mr. Afegbua within 48 hours if he fails to meet his demands.

Afegbua had accused Secondus of mismanaging the sum of N10 billion which he claimed accrued to the party from the sales of nomination forms for the 2019 election; a claim punctured by party spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, who noted that the party realized the sum of N4.

6 billion and not N10B billion.

The PDP boss noted that Afegbua, a former Information Commissioner in Edo state had in two national dailies as well as in a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, said that “much of the financial transaction of the PDP under Prince Uche Secondus have been shrouded in mystery.”

Afegbua also accused the Secondus leadership of using the bank account of Morufu Nigeria Limited in the sale of nomination forms in 2019, instead of the party’s account.

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However, Secondus in a letter from Emeka Etiaba Chambers and addressed to Afegbua through his counsel, Kayode Ajulo and Co obtained by Vanguard demanded the sum of N1billion from Afegbua within 48 hours failure to which he will be sued for libel.

Prince Kassim Afegbua
The letter reads in part “The above publication of yours portrays our client in a bad light and gives notice to the whole world that our client is a fraudster who is incapable of holding the exalted office of the national chairman of the PDP.

“The two publications made by you were given prominence on the front pages of the Newspapers you employed for your defamatory actions and the publications were widely circulated and read’.

The letter captured some of the prominent federal political positions Secondus held in the past including chairman, National Insurance Commission; Chairman, National Identity Management Commission; Member, Nigerian Railway Board, stating that he “kept an unblemished reputation.

The letter continued: “Your publications which you know to be false have therefore brought him to odium and has challenged his right standing in the society as a trustworthy character.

“The publications were read worldwide and most especially in all nooks and crannies of Nigeria and this fact has been confirmed by the phone calls that have trailed your publications.

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Take notice that if you fail to retract your said publications, apologize to our client in the said newspapers with the same prominence with which you published the offensive statements and pay the sum N1,000,000,000.00 (One Billion Naira) to him as damages (all within 48 hours from the date hereof), we shall proceed to institute an action to seek redress from a court of competent jurisdiction”.

Meanwhile, when our correspondent contacted Afegbua for his reaction, he had this to say: “When I receive the letter, I will respond to it. I will consult my lawyers. I haven’t received any letter. But I cannot be intimidated or distracted from pursuing accountability in PDP. That will be my initial reaction.”

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Judiciary

We Cannot Suspend Strike Now, JUSUN Tells CJN

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The national officials of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) had told the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad that it would be very difficult for it to call off its ongoing strike now.

JUSUN had visited the CJN in his office on Wednesday ostensibly to give him a feedback on his recent demand on the union to call off the ongoing strike.

The CJN had, at an earlier meeting with JUSUN leaders on April 6, asked the union to call off the strike in view of its adverse effect on the justice system in the country. According to a statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the CJN, Ahurakah Isah, the JUSUN officials, led by its Deputy National President, Emmanuel Abioye and Jimoh Musa Alonge (Treasurer), explained why the union found it difficult to heed the CJN’s demand to call off the strike.

Abiyoye told the CJN that the state governors must begin to demonstrate some level of seriousness by putting in place some measures precedent to the implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary in their respective states.

‘’Though there’s financial autonomy for the judiciary already in some states while some are assuring that they would comply, others have to take steps in readiness for compliance,’’ Abioye said. According to Abioye, the union expects each state to start implementing its selfaccounting law to deal with the Internally Generated Revenue in line with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended; and that states without such law should put it in place.

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Abioye said it is his union’s position that there must be some level of seriousness from all quarters and, as such, the amount standing to the credit of the judiciary from the monthly federal allocation should be deducted directly from the source by the Accountant General of the Federation and remit same to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for onward transmission to heads of courts.

He said for the Federation Consolidated Account also known as Federal Allocation, the budget of each state judiciary submitted to the implementation committee (received) on October 2, 2020 should be implemented by deducting the amount due to the state judiciary directly from source by Accountant General of the Federation AGF) in line with Sections 81(3) and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) for the states. “In other words, the AGF should deduct from the monthly Federal Allocation and remit it to NJC for onward transmission of the fund to the Heads of Courts at the State Judiciary.

“Until this is done, there is no going back, the strike would go on.’’ However, the CJN said it has become difficult to fault the idea of the strike since the rights of the union and its members which are clearly defined in the Constitution are being denied, especially at state level. ‘’I can’t fault your reasons for embarking on this protest because the union wants its rights restored in line with the provisions of the Constitution. I commend you for following due process so far to protest against the injustice,’’ the CJN said.

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JUSUN insists allocations must be deducted at source, as govs beg members to call off strike

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The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has insisted that each state must implement its self-accounting law in dealing with Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).

In a statement issued by its General Secretary I. M. Adetola, in Kaduna, on Thursday, the Union maintained that states must implement the Fund Management Law in dealing with the state consolidated funds, in accordance with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended.

This is as governors through the platform of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) on Thursday implored the union to call off its strike, and pledged to implement the financial autonomy for the judiciary.

JUSUN maintained that the monthly federal allocation to the judiciary should be deducted directly from the source by Accountant General of the Federation and remitted to National Judicial Council (NJC) for onward transmission to heads of courts,

“For the Federal Allocation, the Budget of each State Judiciary submitted to the implementation committee (received on Oct.

2, 2020) should be implemented by deducting the amount due to the state judiciary directly from the source by Accountant General of the Federation.

“This is in accordance with Section 81(3), Section 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria (as amended) for the states. The Accountant General of the Federation should be directed accordingly,” he said.

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The union also called for the payment of the arrears from the month of October 2020.

Nigeria reported that JUSUN, on April 6, in efforts to ensure it strike action was effective, shut down all courts across the country by mounting guard at the entrance of the courts to ensure that no one entered the court premises.

The action has crippled court proceedings as well as commercial activities around the court premises.

It would be recalled that a Federal High Court, which sat in Abuja had in January 2014, held that the financial autonomy for the judiciary was a constitutional provision that must be complied with by the executive branch of government.

Also, President Muhammadu Buhari, on May 23 2020, signed into law an Executive Order to grant financial autonomy to the legislature and the judiciary across the 36 states of the federation.

The order mandated the Accountant-General of the Federation to deduct from source amount due to state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state for states that refuse to grant such autonomy.

Also, the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, made the Executive Order No. 10 of 2020 mandatory, stating that all states of the federation should include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.

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Meanwhile, the state governors through the platform of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) on Thursday, pledged to implement the financial autonomy for the judiciary by May ending at the latest and called on the striking members of the JUSUN to call off their two weeks old strike.

The chairman of the NGF and the Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, gave the assurance while speaking with journalists after meeting with stakeholders from the state judiciary and legislature at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

He said the modalities for the implementation were worked out at the meeting held at the Presidential Villa.

According to him, the meeting, chaired by the Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Ibrahim Gambari was attended by the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the representatives of the judiciary, the representatives of the Conference of Speakers, and House of Representatives.

 

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