FCT judges accuse chief justice of stealing multibillion-naira allowances, leaving them vulnerable to bribe traffickers
In discreet interviews conducted over seven weeks, five judges, in a rare move, supplied our newsroom with unspeakable humiliation they endured under Husseini Baba-Yusuf.
The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory has been embroiled in a crisis of corruption and personnel grievances that posses far-reaching implications for the administration of justice in the nation’s seat of power, Peoples Gazette has learnt, after judges, in a rare move, supplied our newsroom with unspeakable humiliation they endured under Chief Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf.
In discreet interviews conducted over seven weeks, five judges on the court bewailed the mismanagement of the division’s resources to help judicial officers fare better as misery proliferates nationwide after President Bola Tinubu ditched subsidies on petrol to purportedly stave off a broader economic collapse.
The judges also accused Mr Baba-Yusuf of bilking their meagre allowances, leaving their courtrooms without support personnel or equipment while running the court like his private estate and treating them generally like “secondary school boys,” according to accounts obtained by The Gazette, with the judges warning that the neglect could aggravate their susceptibility to bribe-taking — even though they stridently maintained they would rather quit than compromise justice.
Since 2007 when President Umar Yar’Adua raised the salaries of FCT judges from N200,000 to N530,000 monthly (roughly $600), no reviews have been conducted, much less approved, they said.
Consequently, the judges said their struggle to work effectively, feed or provide quality education for their children has made it difficult for them to administer justice for millions in the district and even tempted their sacrosanct allegiance to rectitude.
“We regularly sit on cases involving individuals and companies accused of stealing billions, and most of them have agents that usually try to bribe judges in order to influence court decisions,” one of the judges said. “Yet we cannot even feed ourselves or compromise our constitutional oath to guarantee a decent living.”
Even the prosecutors from the EFCC who bring cases to our courtrooms are better paid and equipped,” another judge said.
The judges spoke under anonymity to avoid retribution from the National Judicial Council, which they said has heard their complaint but failed to take action to rein in Mr Baba-Yusuf’s greed and avarice.
Their complaints echoed similar concerns of their Supreme Court counterparts who, in 2022, wrote an explosive memo to then-chief justice Tanko Muhammad, accusing him of being irresponsible and morally decadent after hoarding utility and data allowances from justices, The Gazette reported. Mr Tanko resigned shortly after The Gazette’s story. It is unclear if the same fate awaits Mr Baba-Yusuf.
For weeks, Mr Baba-Yusuf declined comments to The Gazette. He initially said took ill and requested a week’s delay to respond to his colleagues’ complaints. When reached again 10 days later, he abruptly ended the call. The court’s chief registrar also promised to discuss the crisis with him and revert, but he also reneged.
The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory has jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases emanating from the Nigerian capital Abuja and contiguous communities. Some federal cases are also handled by the court, which also controls several magistrate divisions that hear misdemeanours and small-claim disputes.
Since Mr Baba-Yusuf, born in June 1962 and slated for retirement in 2032, assumed office as chief justice in 2021, the court has witnessed a descent into disrepair amid financial mismanagement, his colleagues said.
More often than ever witnessed under his predecessors, Mr Baba-Yusuf dubiously slashed allowances to his brother justices into his own pocket, they said.
But it became untenable for the judges to keep suppressing his conduct following their ordeal during a recent training assignment to Morocco, The Gazette learnt. The training was organised by Collins Ijoma, who manages trial proceedings for the Superior Court of New Jersey in Newark, United States. Judicial officers from the United States and Europe also attended the event, The Gazette found.
Nearly all the 58 Nigerian judges on the FCT High Court attended the training, which was held July 17-21 at Le Meridien N’fis Hotel in Marrakesh, The Gazette learnt. The judges said they were each allocated $15,000 for the weeklong training, but Mr Yusuf-Baba only released about $3,500 to them, pocketing the rest.
He flew business class and forced the rest of us to enter the lowest economy, one of the judges said, adding that he “then humiliated us by making us travel from Abuja to Lagos and from Lagos to Casablanca before we had to carry our baggage to find transportation to Marrakesh.”
The judges said their suffering in Marrakesh was in sharp contrast to the decent manner with which their counterparts at the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory were treated when they travelled to Kigali for a retreat. The customary court judges were given more than $11,000 each, records said.
Mr Yusuf-Baba was accused ot stealing at least N495 million from the Marrakesh trip alone.
“He stole almost N500 million from our allowances on the trip to Morocco alone,” one judge said. “Now imagine the billions he has stolen on other trips and other resources he was supposed to provide for the courts that he unilaterally pocketed.” Mr Baba-Yusuf did not deny this specific allegation when asked by The Gazette.
The judges said they were further outraged when they considered that the FCT High Court receives four times the funding of customary court and handles a far heavier workload.
When issues surrounding corruption and welfare were raised by the judges at the Marrakesh event, Mr Baba-Yusuf walked out of the conference, his colleagues said. He later claimed he was suffering from diarrhoea.
Apart from corruption charges, Mr Baba-Yusuf was also accused of failing to support judges with equipment and personnel, thereby leaving a heavy toll of unresolved cases. Over 1,000 cases are not moving at all on the docket over the last quarter, judges said.
“There are no computers to work on the court, and clerks have not been employed to support us,” a judge said. “These are not claims, they are facts.”
The judge said federal earmarks for procurement in the judiciary have not been so used, even though they did not specifically say Mr Yusuf-Baba cornered the funds. Instead, they said he has been incompetent in securing release of the funds or recruiting paralegals for the courts.
Fewer clerks and tools meant the judges would spend more time writing opinions and hearing urgent motions, which would make it difficult to promptly issue rulings on substantive suits that daily pile up.
The same thing applies to monthly provision of toiletries, tea, water,” they said. “The chief justice has topped the supply after doing it only once after he assumed office.”
Now, they said, “he has just refused to listen to us. We’re just like secondary school boys to him.”
Unlike the Supreme Court revolt that toppled Mr Tanko, the judges said they have yet to write a scathing memo against Mr Baba-Yusuf because he has managed to divide the ranks, favouring only a few judges with whom he was accused of sharing his ill-gotten cash from judges’ allowances.
At the moment, there judges have been divided into three classes: first, second and third,” a judge said. “The first class travels three times each a year, the second class travels two times each a year and the third class only travels once a year.”
“No equal treatment among the judges, unlike how we were equally and respectfully treated by the past leaderships of Dahiru Saleh, Lawal Hassan Gummi, Ibrahim Bukar and Ishaq Usman Bello,” a judge said.
Although the judges said they shared the wisdom of keeping internal personnel issues from the public, they warned that they might be forced to publicly rebuke Mr Baba-Yusuf should the NJC continue to dither on its mandate to intervene.
A spokesman for the NJC did not return a request seeking comments.
“The memo of the Supreme Court justices that your paper reported last year came as a last resort,” one of the judges said. “Before the memo, they had long complained unsuccessfully to the former chief justice that there was a need to improve their living and conditions.”
The judges feared the neglect could force their exit if allowed to linger unchecked
“There will be a brain-drain of judicial officers if the present trend continues,” one of the judges said. “Because we shall rather abandon this career than compromise our most sacred principles and befoul the temple of justice.”