Nigeria’s Supreme Court engulfed in rare welfare complaints row

More than a dozen justices at the 18-member institution have lodged a letter of protest over their working conditions.

Map - Abuja, Nigeria
Map showing the NIgerian capital Abuja, where the Supreme Court sits (Al Jazeera)

Nigeria’s chief justice has defended the treatment of the country’s Supreme Court judges after more than a dozen of them lodged a grave complaint about their working conditions, according to local media reports.

Local newspapers reported that weeks ago, 14 of the apex court’s 16 judges had sent a complaint to the nation’s top judge. In the leaked memo, they complained about a number of welfare and logistical issues including a lack of research assistants and inadequate accommodation.

In a statement issued on Monday in response to the letter, Chief Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad said the Supreme Court had provided its members with adequate provisions, including vehicles for the entirety and accommodation for all but a “few”.

“The Apex Court has … been living [up] to its constitutional responsibility,” the chief justice said.

He added the general public should be “rest assured” that there was “no hostility or adverse feelings” among the 16-member court and said all justices were going about their normal duties.

But the chief justice also admitted that the institution “does not exist outside [of] its environment” and had also been affected by the harsh economic realities facing the country, which currently spends nearly 90 percent of all its revenues on servicing debt, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Justices accuse court of ‘ignoring’ demands for improvement

In the judges’ letter of complaint – reportedly the first of its kind to be submitted in the court’s nearly 60-year history – they said several of them sworn into their posts in late 2020 had “yet to be accommodated”.

The letter also raised concerns over the lack of legal research assistants provided to justices, erratic electricity supply to the court, allegedly decrepit work vehicles given to justices, several of which were claimed to be “substandard”, and a lack of internet provision in their residences and chambers.

The complainants said they had addressed the issues during a meeting in March with the chief justice, who they accused of having “received and ignored” their demands for improvements.

In his response, Muhammad noted that there had been a lack of available budget to provide some recently-installed justices with residential accommodation and equipped libraries.

But he also said the court had been forced to pay for refurbishment work this year and that funds had been ringfenced during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent redundancies.

“The Apex Court has to make do with the resources at its disposal to meet their needs over time,” Muhammad said, arguing it would have “amounted to an act of irresponsibility to divert money” set aside for the remedial works and during the pandemic elsewhere.

Source: Al Jazeera