Nigerian Judges and Car Gifts: Constitutional or Entitlements?

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In what appears to be a trend across states in Nigeria, judges have constantly been gifted cars in the name of “welfarism” by state Governors. Many have asked if this is constitutional or some sort of entitlements? Or will the car gift influence the court rulings of the judiciary or undermine its judicial processes?

 

Nigeria practices a Presidential system of government with clear separation of powers among the 3 arms of government – Executive, Legislature & Judiciary.

The three arms of government are expected to act as checks on each other by virtue of each branch’s roles clearly defined.

Recently, some state governments purchased cars for Judges in the states. The images of the donated cars set tongues wagging especially on Twitter.

The news about the Lagos government reportedly handing over 51 Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and eight houses to judges of the state high court generated mixed reactions.

This gift whether Greek or not is not uncommon in this clime; this has become a common practice by governors in most states if not in all the states across the country.

There are arguments that the bane of governors presenting cars to judges is not only demeaning but capable of eroding the confidence reposed in the judiciary by the ordinary man on the street. The Nation spoke to different legal experts to shine the light on this practice by governors with respect to ‘judicial independence’ which has now become a trend across the country.

The ‘car-gift’ syndrome across states

The culture of gifting cars to judges had sparked outrage in the past; different state governors in Nigeria have publicly shown the gestures of giving car gifts to judges in their various states.

In Lagos, when Sanwo-Olu gave out over 51 Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and eight houses to judges of the state high court, he noted in his remarks: “In our quest to constantly improve the welfare of our judicial officers, today, I handed over official vehicles for Honorable Judges of the Lagos State Judiciary at the High Court Ikeja.”

Sanwo-Olu described the act as a ‘donation.’ He said the donation is to support the state judiciary and ensure it carries out its functions.

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, also gave out car gifts which set tongues wagging too.

Wike, handed out 41 new Sport Utility Vehicles to judges of the state High Court to boost justice delivery as reported.

The governor, while delivering the vehicles, announced the completion of the judges’ quarters in the state and promised to release the Certificate of Occupancy to them.

Wike said his gestures were in fulfilment of his promise to improve the working conditions in the state judiciary and to enhance effective delivery of justice.

Also, sometimes in May, the executive Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, presented 20 new SUVs to judges in the state, stating that it was “a way of motivating them to work better.”

He added that the gesture was necessary so as to bring about a harmonious working relationship between the judiciary and the other arms of government in Imo State.

Uzodinma stated that dividends of democracy can only be delivered to the people when the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of government are working harmoniously.

Similarly, in February 2020, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai, gifted 24 Toyota Forerunners to State Judges.

In June, Osun State Governor, Mr Adegboyega Oyetola, on Friday presented 13 Toyota Jeeps to the High Court Judges – the first time in 12 years.

“As we all know, in our State, there is a cordial relationship between the three arms of government. That is the way it should be. No arm of government can do it alone without the support of the other. Oyetola noted.

‘Why do governors buy vehicles for Judicial officers’ 

This common practice by different state governors elicited some questions as to if these gestures by the governors won’t undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Also, many have found it difficult to differentiate if this is an entitlement or  an act of good gesture/kindness from the governors to the judges?

A twitter user @sama_on_point in his tweet asked; “Can someone educate me on why state governors buy vehicles for judicial officers? Does the judiciary not have a budget of its own?

“Governors also buy vehicles for House of Assembly members (and probably LGAs Chairmen too). Where is the separation of powers? They don’t have budgets?”

Also, one @BayoAdedosu in a tweet said, “And who’s the Governor sharing exotic cars as gift to the Judiciary? I will call out any erring Governor when they act corruptly. It’s NOT the responsibility of the Governor to buy cars for Judges…..that’s totally wrong. Let’s not be selective cos we’re the victims eventually.”

One @DeeOneAyekooto sometimes in August quoted one Dr Olusesan in his tweet saying, “Rivers has a decrepit transport system, but the focus is always on Tinubu’s Lagos. After gmb gave Wike N78B, he went to buy 41 SUVs of N60M each, for judges. His statutory allocation last month is N39Bn. Lagos got N25Bn. He is borrowing N18Bn from Access Bank again.”

@UcheMerife on Twitter also said, Gifts are great. My worry with the trend of Governors giving car-gifts to Judges is:

“What is my fate if I have a pending case before a Judge today, against a Governor who has just gifted an exotic car to His Lordship yesterday?”

@Akpan522E in a reaction to a post berating Wike’s car gift, said, “The Nigerian judiciary commission should stop receiving gifts of this nature. Did they judges complain that they lack vehicles? Why will a judge in rivers drive this type of car while his/her colleagues in another state go on foot. This is not right.”

All these questions above, prompted Dubawa to put a beamlight on the issue.

Lawyers bare thoughts on the issue

It was a legal practitioner, Inibehe Effiong  who spoke expressly about this act by state governors, while reacting to a news of Governor Nyesom Wike gifting 41 new Sport Utility Vehicles to judges of the state High Court, He stated in his twitter thread saying “This is rubbish. Governor Wike has no respect for judicial independence. I have a problem with this report. A governor is not in a position to donate “gifts” to judges. It is nonsensical. If judges need vehicles, the Judicial Service Commission is supposed to provide the same.

“The idea of governors donating vehicles to judicial officers is preposterous. It is saddening that a governor who is a lawyer and a member of the Body of Benchers, is indulging in this illegal practice. Judges do not work for governors. Judges are not employees of governors.

“Judicial independence has been eroded by the likes of governor Wike. Addressing the welfare of judicial officers is not the function of a governor. It is the responsibility of the National Judicial Council and the Judicial Service Commission.”

Philip Njetene, Former Treasurer of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Lagos Branch, said, “The Judiciary arm receiving gift from any of the order arms of govt portend grave danger for democracy and separation of powers as most gifts in this part of the world as these gifts are truly never gifts, if at all, they are Greek gifts as greek gift have been rightly described as a gift given with the intention of tricking and causing harm to the recipient, this time the harm goes beyond the recipient.”

A former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu also said, “The judiciary all over the world is an arm of government, being an arm of government the only peculiarity about the judiciary is that it is expected to be independent and impartial.

“It is supposed to be an arm of government that should be co-equal, but it is quite irrational that they are dependent on the executive and it has undermined their independence in a sense.

“The whole idea of getting vehicles is just like in the National assembly, how they set appropriation; the state executives also have their budget arrangement.

“They hand over keys to judges in photo ops that clearly suggest that their tools of engagement are directly coming from the executive. When you give judges a key, and announce to the whole world that you have bought a car, how will you have the moral strength to go against the executive?

“The recent executive order 10 is a good move to ensure how best to make the judiciary access their funds directly.

“If you buy a car for someone in Nigeria today, that is a huge gift. The requirement for democracy is that the judiciary must be independent and impartial.”

Conclusion

While there is no constitutional backing for this act, it is a gesture by state executives toward engendering cordial relationships with the judiciary. The culture of giving car gifts to judges has often created a sort of public confusion in recent times with respect to the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.


 

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