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Body of Benchers wades into rift between CJN, 14 other Justices of Apex Court

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 Body of Benchers wades into rift between CJN 14 other Justices of Apex Court

Following the rift between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Muhammad, and 14 Supreme Court Justices over welfare and administrative issues, the Body of Benchers has set up a seven-man committee to look into the matter.

The Chairman, Body of Benchers, Wole Olaonipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, told The PUNCH on Tuesday that the committee is headed by a former CJN, Mahmud Mohammed.

He said, “We held an emergency meeting today (Tuesday) and for now, we have set up a Body of Benchers Judiciary Advisory Committee. It will be a standing committee of the Body of Benchers and the Chair of the committee is Justice Mahmud Mohammed, former Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“I am a member and the Vice Chairman of the Body of Benchers is a member and four others. We are swinging into action. We are talking to parties concerned, individually and collectively.

“For now, we are advising that they should sheath their swords. The immediate objective of the committee is to resolve the impasse while the ultimate objective is to work out an acceptable package for judicial officers all over the country, particularly judicial officers in superior courts.”

Olaonipekun also disclosed that the committee would work to improve the welfare package for judicial officers in the country.

He added, “The committee has also been mandated to compare and contrast what the judicial officers take as their remuneration among others with what is obtainable in other parts of the world.

“The committee will confront the executive with what we derive as the best condition of service, remuneration, among others, as obtained by other countries of the world. The CJN cannot do this; the organogram tilts against the independence of the judiciary as we want it.”

About 14 aggrieved Supreme Court justices had, in a leaked letter, accused the CJN of abandoning his responsibilities and diverting funds meant for the running of the apex court.

They complained about their accommodation, vehicles, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, internet services to justices’ residences, training for justices and epileptic electricity supply to the court.

They also accused the CJN of receiving their demands without acting “after several persistent requests” to hold a meeting which was finally held on March 31, where a welfare committee was set up.

Among other things, the Supreme Court Justices are demanding to know what had become of funds set aside for the training of justices, alleging that they were denied the usual two to three international workshops annually.

CJN’s defence

Reacting to the allegations on Tuesday, the CJN stated that the apex court, like other establishments in the country, is affected by “a devastating economic crunch.”

As a result of the economic crunch, Muhammad explained that the leadership of the Supreme Court could no longer meet some of its obligations to the Justices, especially in the area of welfare.

The CJN, while berating his colleagues for bringing their complaints to the public, said the apex court was facing a cash crunch.

Muhammad’s reaction was contained in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Strategy, Ahuraka Isah, titled, ‘State of Affairs in the Supreme Court and demand by Justices of the Supreme Court.’

The statement read, “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 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 up to its constitutional responsibility.”

Muhammad explained that the Supreme Court this year budgeted to re-roof and rehabilitate its complex built over 30 years ago.

According to him, two Supreme Court Justices died within the period under consideration while four retired costing the court some funds in form of gratuities and allowances.

(THE PUNCH)

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