Nigeria’s 2022 proposed budget of N16.39 Trillion proposes an envelope of N120 Billion for the Judiciary, which is a 9% increase on the current year’s budget of N110 Billion. Inflation is projected at over 13% in the 2022 budget year.
It is noteworthy that for the past three years, the Judiciary’s budget has remained static at N110 Billion Naira even within the context of double-digit inflationary pressures. The Judiciary’s budget covers salaries of superior court Judges in Nigeria, as well as the recurrent and capital expenditures of federal judiciaries.
It is not clear yet what aspects of the Judiciary’s budget will represent capital votes, and what kinds of capital projects are accommodated by the budget. In the course of budget defence, the Judiciary alluded to the fact that more appointments were made to fill the Supreme Court and other courts, as justification for increased funding.
An Analysis on the Impact on the Judiciary
Discontent over the composition of individual parts of the proposed budget is tempered by the fact that about a third of the budget is supplied by projected borrowing which has its own consequences for the nation’s future.
In real terms however, the Judiciary’s budget declines yet further even using the nominal budget figures, at a time when there is such an overwhelming need to re-articulate the structure of how judicial and legal services are delivered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its toll on the administration of justice.
Most courts were shuttered for a considerable part of 2020 as a result of measures announced by Federal and State governments to manage the pandemic and it took several months for courts nationwide to resume operations. Unfortunately, Nigerian courts are, even up to this time, not quite prepared to weather another storm if an exigency arises tomorrow.
In other words, the budget for the Judiciary, remaining relatively stagnant, will not likely place the Judiciary in a favourable position to put its best foot forward in the prevailing circumstances; the envelope will not probably support courts to invest in technology required to explore and adapt to digital justice delivery systems, automate court operations and build local capacity to navigate the transition to a more robust justice delivery landscape in order to stay ahead of the curve of the pandemic, irrespective of whatever wave is prevailing at any given time.
In this context, it must also be remembered too, that following the two month long JUSUN strike that also shut down courts, a heavy backlog of cases has accrued in various courts, alongside new causes that awaited the resumption of courts, all of which are causing congestion and delays. If the Judiciary does not take innovative action to reinforce or amplify its current set of operational tools, it could take several years to resolve non-complex litigations in Nigeria.
Judiciary Has Not Made a Good Case Itself
Having said that, A2Justice observes that the Judiciary has not done enough to set out its case for “special” funding. It has not effectively shown that past investments in IT projects expected to produce significant returns in delivering justice more efficiently have borne fruit.
The Judiciary has not articulated a portrait of what its justice delivery vision is, alongside its ideas for achieving that vision, nor built stakeholder consensus on that vision, which could have helped to galvanize key stakeholder and political buy-in and support. Rather the Judiciary’s language has centred majorly on requiring infrastructure spending to support the appointment of Judges.
Sadly, President Buhari, who has variously lamented his frustration with the Judiciary and spoken of the dire need to reform it, and ensure that trials are speedily concluded has not matched rhetoric with action, beyond the fact that he has used strong arm tactics to remove a sitting Chief Justice and politicize the appointments of Supreme Court Justices.
Ultimately, the 2022 budget will not likely produce a game-changing feat in the way Nigeria’s system of justice administration functions, and there is not much to cheer about it. Notwithstanding this shoe-string budget, A2Justice believes the Judiciary can find spaces within its body to make significant progress in making the delivery of justice more efficient, affordable and satisfactory to Nigerians.