The Cost of Justice


Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai


Though not a practising lawyer, the legal profession and its intricacies have always fascinated me. It is for this reason that I worked in between my public assignments of the last ten years to earn a law degree from the University of London in 2008. And eventually, I found myself working with lawyers when the Yar’adua administration, unable to find evidence of any wrongdoing, went on its persecution and smearing spree. When that case was thrown out of court for lack of merit, government quickly re-filed against me in a case that is still in court.  But that is a story for another day.

My concern today is the cost of justice in Nigeria and public perception of the judicial processes. When Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi stated some time ago that the National Assembly, a body of no more than 469 Nigerians (with their handful of aides and support staff) took over 25 percent of the country’s recurrent expenditure, there was uproar in the country. It is no wonder that Senate President, David Mark has promised to cut the entitlements and allowances of legislatures. (In reality, it is the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission that is constitutionally empowered to fix their salaries and not the legislators themselves).

Interestingly, even the Boko Haram sect has also joined the fray by warning the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) not to increase the salaries of lawmakers. In an interestingly well written statement, the group notes: "It is very regrettable, especially when you compare their pay with the state of the Nigerian economy, the living standards of those they represent, life expectancy in Nigeria, the per capita income and the salaries paid to the Nigerian workers, Nigerian professors. It is even more unfortunate when you recall that the United States President, Barack Obama's salary is $400,000 per annum, while a Nigerian senator collects N48million per quarter, $1.7m per annum, and each member of the House of Representatives receives $1.2million per annum."

The statement further added that the less than 500 federal legislators earn N60.4 billion a year (N6.2 billion in salaries, and N54.2 billion in allowances), and that just 10,308 Nigerians (legislators at the three tiers of government) earn a total of N453.3 billion, which is an average of N43,975,553 a year. The statement concludes that the amount – a whooping USD 3 billion would make a huge difference if invested in infrastructure. Are we spending too much on our legislators? Compared to other Nigerians, certainly! Are we getting value for money for their services? That is an open question that every Nigerian is entitled to an opinion.

Similarly, much has been said about the high cost of governance in Nigeria. In my piece ‘Jonathan’s Tough Choices’, I tried to caution government about the inherent dangers in the 2011 budget which indicate that the entire oil revenues for this year cannot meet the salaries of politicians and public sector workers alone. This is in spite of the fact that the non-capital component comprises nearly 75 percent of the entire sum.  The average amount of recurrent expenditure per employee of the Federal Government is about N2.5 million every year while more than half of our population earn less than N100,000 per annum!

Since these legitimate questions have been asked of the legislature and the executive, for which no answers appear forthcoming, attention must also turn to the third arm of government - the judiciary. What is the cost of justice in Nigeria? I am not referring to any of the most mind-boggling judgments of the recent (for example in the Sokoto state governorship tussle) or the current face-off between the country’s two top Justices. I am interested here in what our nations spend on our machinery of justice at the federal level. The Federal Ministry of Justice has almost N20 billion for recurrent expenditure in this year’s budget.

Also, the sum of N95 billion has been approved as statutory transfer to the National Judicial Council in the Appropriation (Amendment Act) 2011. The Supreme Court has 22 Judges; Court of Appeal 67; Federal High Court 58; FCT High Court 38 and the National Industrial Court 13. If the about 198 Judges in the Federal Courts are well remunerated, what of the other ranks – the Judicial workers in the chain of the administration of justice?  Incessant industrial actions by the rank and file that belong to the Workers Union remain a challenge to the smooth functioning of the system. It is important to rethink if the structure within the judicial system is equitable when service delivered is compared with budget outlay and the pervasive delay in the process of administrative of justice. 

Some people are calling for specialized courts to handle certain class of offences such as those within the statutory powers of the anti-corruption agencies and electoral crimes.  Beyond the cost–benefit analysis of running the judicial system, we must ask why our judicial system is clogged with delays. Obviously, most of the distinguished members of the Bench still operate with the 19th century tools in the 21st century – court records are still primarily done in long hands despite the electronic gadgets displayed in most of the courts today.  One might be tempted to ask whether the recurrent votes for training and retraining the Judges are been appropriately utilized or is it the Judges that have chosen to retain the archaic tools of the past?

After addressing the issue of the high cost of administering justice and reducing delays in the system, we must also look at the need to reform the criminal laws which are mostly antiquated. For one, the Penal Code was drafted over 100 years ago (in 1903) and has little or no bearing with the social and economic conditions in Nigeria today. The country’s arbitration laws and practices are also outdated and legal practitioners prefer to take arbitration cases to other countries for expeditious resolution. Also, despite the advancements recorded in the medical sciences in the last half century, the country’s Pharmacy Act has not changed in 50 years.

Forensic evidence is for all intents and purposes missing in our criminal investigation. Again, notwithstanding the fact that DNA evidence is regarded as nearly 100 percent accurate, the term is conspicuously absent in our statutes. The Evidence Act in use in Nigeria is still the British version of 1945 which does not recognise the electronically generated evidence of the 21st century.  The public prosecution process is almost puerile. Police corporals and sergeants with little or no legal knowledge prosecute cases in our courts, while the prisons are jammed to the brim with thousands of suspects "awaiting trial".

First time offenders are often locked in the same prison cells with hardened and convicted criminals. The prison system lacks modern or even functional juvenile facilities. I am not aware of any prisoner reform schemes to ensure that incarcerated persons not only get education and vocational skills, but come out as better citizens after their sentences. The result is that even the shortest stint in jail tends to convert first offenders into hardened criminals. Rather than reform, our prisons actually train criminals.

In the end, for the many people in our prisons awaiting trial; for the indigent who cannot afford a lawyer; for the defendant waiting for the slow churning wheels of justice and for a citizenry that feels betrayed by the executive and the legislature, and the judiciary then being his last hope, the cost of justice must be realistic. I therefore end this with an appeal that the 2006 report of the Presidential Commission on the Reform of Administration in Nigeria chaired by the Late Justice Akintola Ejiwunmi and six other distinguished members be looked at with the view to restoring this hope. In these days of high insecurity and uncertainty, only an affordable, predictable and fair justice system will slow our progression to total anarchy.


The two articles I published, "Jonathan's Tough Choices" and "The Death of Objectivity" have elicited varying responses from condemnation to commendation.  I am self-assured as well as thick-skinned, and so can take both. The goal of this column is to present little-known facts and contrarian opinions that powers that be do not usually hear. I know. I have been there, and appreciate the scarcity of truth around those in power. Those that attack me rather than my message, and those that impeach my person to curry the favour of those that have jobs, contracts and hand-outs on tap, are entitled to do so. When they cross the line and defame my person, my lawyers will seek redress in court. To those that do not know me, know that we will continue and analyze and opine, to hold those that seek to lead us to account. And there is no going back.