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Judges serving abroad

The NJC earmarked seventy million naira (N70 million) in the 2012 budget for the salaries of judges serving abroad. The total budget estimate for the…

The NJC earmarked seventy million naira (N70 million) in the 2012 budget for the salaries of judges serving abroad. The total budget estimate for the Judiciary amounts to eighty five billion naira (N85bn). In the prevailing atmosphere of disquiet about the ever-increasing recurrent expenditure of the government in the face of dwindling resources, necessitating ‘’withdrawal of fuel subsidy,’’ few people would fault the senate committee’s cost cutting attitude. If previously, budget defence by ministries had demanded merely putting in an appearance and then taking the customary bow to secure the approval of whatever amount was budgeted from the committee, all that has changed now. It has been replaced by intense scrutiny by committee members of figures and the ‘’heads’’ to which they are being applied.

The new attitude is understandable. It is parlous times in Nigeria, which in street parlance means we are bone-broke, never mind that a Nigerian –Aliko Dangote has been named the richest man on the continent and a ranking one at that in the whole world, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bill gates and co! Therefore it will be unseemly to play the pauper at home while carelessly doling out the money abroad, as the senate committee on judiciary, human rights and legal matters would have us understand.  But this is one instant when the committee should have allowed itself to be guided by certain notions about the role of Nigeria on the African continent.

It may be trite to restate that Nigeria has a manifest leadership role on the continent—though the way we carry on at home it would seem as if that realization eludes our leaders-and this role has been played admirably over the years. The highpoints were Nigeria’s contributions to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa; minority rule in Zimbabwe and decolonization in Angola, Mozambique and other places. But if those instances seem like ancient history, recent successful attempts at helping countries racked by civil strife to stabilise and embark on growth are still fresh in everyone’s memory. Thanks to Nigeria’s pacifying role, Liberia recently held a second successful election as a democracy and with it the bitter internecine and fratricidal war that decimated much of that country during Master Sergeant Samuel Doe’s tenure is gradually fading in our collective memory. Ditto Sierra Leone whose internal strife resulted into an orgy of blood cuddling brutal amputation of limbs that has now rendered generations of Sierra Leoneans limbless.

Owing to its endowments- notably population and relative wealth, Nigeria has been able to continue to undertake these assignments. It should be recognized however that long before its forays into separating dueling combatants in these countries, it had long been giving assistance to African countries in developing their infrastructure. One well known area is that of law, where, as far back as the period immediately before independence and after, Nigerians trained in law had been sent all over the African continent to help other countries to draw up their legal systems. Late Justices Akinola Aguda and Udo Udoma- at one time two of Nigeria’s foremost legal minds were in Botswana and Uganda respectively. Many others were seconded to other places on requests. I presume that members of the committee on judiciary, human rights and legal matters must all have come from legal or related backgrounds, if so, then they surely would know the importance of codifying set of laws to form the basis on which these countries would be governed.

In recent years the policy has been broadened into many other areas under the Technical Aids Corps Scheme (TAC) entailing sending young Nigerian graduates to Africa, Caribbean and indeed Pacific countries needing assistance in whatever discipline or calling. If over the years, Nigeria’s need to contribute to the development of other countries has been recognized as a salient aspect of its foreign policy, it is difficult to understand that such a noble and far-sighted, even if altruistic policy, could now be threatened at a time when democracy is holding sway. To be sure, all this is not making a case for allowing over-bloated and padded budget to pass in order for some people to line their pockets undeservingly. No, by all means, the committee should reject any expenditure that remotely seems dubious and not well defended.

But its order of withdrawal of the vote for paying salaries of judges serving abroad should be re-examined on the basis of Nigeria’s role on the continent. The ungrateful attitude of countries receiving Nigeria’s aids was cited as a major reason, indeed some have even gone further to be out and out hostile to Nigerians in their midst. South Africa and many of our neighbours in West Africa are most guilty of this hostility to Nigerians. Nigerians may be partly to blame for this and also partly from deep –seated envy from these countries. The loud and aggressive nature of the average Nigerian is grating to these people and deeply resented by them. The envy owes much to the relative success wealth has bestowed on Nigeria, but while we can do something about the former by urging Nigerians to be less egregious abroad, nothing can be done about our much enhance circumstance and we should not be apologetic about it.

Still, withholding the vote for sending judges abroad on the basis of lack of appreciation of these countries smacks of retaliation and overlooks the reason that informs Nigeria’s decision to make its resources available to other African countries. It is because Nigeria seeks a leadership role in Africa that it is making all the sacrifice. Other countries –South Africa and Egypt –are in the race for the leadership role, it will therefore not augur well to now begin to role back all the laudable efforts made towards this end. Professor Joseph S. Nye of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University was reputed to have coined the term ‘’soft power’’ at a time when the administration of President George W. Bush had deployed massive US military power to subdue those it termed its enemy.  Soft power-according to him means making available to others the opportunities existing in its economy, universities, popular culture subsector and others.

He argued that the US would retain its leadership role in the world and win many more friends if it relied on projecting its soft power rather than whimsically playing the role of the bull in a china shop at the slightest provocation.  Nigeria is hardly known to throw its weight around needlessly as the US does, but it will do well to take Joseph Nye’s injunctions as guide as it charts its way out of the lean times prevailing.

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