Detectives have uncovered huge cash payments to Supreme Court Justices, members of the management and staff of the apex court.
Some of the payments, which were effected through a secret/ Operation Account, are alleged to be outrageous and outside the allowances approved by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
The allowances include cash for justices and management staff during festivities, especially Easter, Christmas, Ramadan and Eid-el Kabir.
Detectives are probing why the apex court paid cash instead of remittance of such payments to the accounts of the beneficiaries.
The Presidency is said to be in dilemma on what to do because all the former Chief Justices of Nigeria (CJN) and Justices of the Supreme Court were paid the jumbo allowances in cash from the unauthorised secret/ Operation Account.
Some documents attached to the charge sheets of some of the suspects on trial by the Department of State Service (DSS) provide insights into the cash payments.
The breakdown of what the past and present CJN and Justices have been receiving since 2009 is as follows: Salary—N750,000 (paid into account of each Justice); N750,000 monthly subsidy—(payment in cash); N950,000 quarterly subsidy (payment in cash); £10,000 (estacode) for trips (payment in cash); $25,000 (medical fees yearly (payment in cash); Unspecified payment for Business Class to them and spouses in cash depending on airline; $750 per night for number of days abroad in cash; N350,000 cash as welfare for each of the festivities (Easter, Christmas, Ramadan, Eid-el-Kabir); Chief Registrar—N700,000 as robe allowance; N200,000 for each of the festivities (in cash); and other lawyers—N500,000 as yearly dress allowance (In cash).
A top security source, who spoke in confidence, said: “Detectives have unearthed all manner of allowances which were paid and still being paid to Supreme Court Justices since 2009 from a Secret/Illegal/ Operation Account.
Some of these allowances are outside those ones approved by RMAFC. Our investigation confirmed the RMAFC approvals for CJN and the Justices as including regular salary and allowances: Monthly Basic Salary; Vehicle Maintenance/Fuelling; Personal Assistant; Domestic Staff; Entertainment; Utilities; Outfit; and Newspapers/Periodicals.
“Their Non-Regular Salary and allowances include: Accommodation (once annually); furniture (once in four years); annual leave bonus; severance/gratuity (after successful tenure); vehicle loan (optional); Duty Tour Allowance per night (where applicable) and Estacode per night (where applicable).
“In fact, one of the arrested Justices was in December 2014 paid N2million as a mark of welfare from the court to support him for his daughter’s wedding.
“So, we discovered a lot of discrepancies in the allowances being paid to the past Chief Justices of Nigeria and Justices of the Supreme Court since 2009. Even four of the Justices who are beneficiaries of the monetisation policy still earned double allowances.
“Technically, everyone was paid all these unauthorised allowances from the operation account based on the computation of the management. Nobody knows how the allowances were arrived at.
“And the situation has not changed. We have documents showing that all the Justices were paid N910, 000 in April and N710, 000 in May as allowances.”
On the status of the Operation Account, a document confirmed that one of the officials of the Supreme Court told DSS interrogators: “All these payments, except the salary, are paid in cash to the Justices which they signed for collection. I am aware that has been the tradition but I am not sure of any written authority backing the payment.
“None of the Justices has ever, to my knowledge, refused payment of medical fees given to them.”
But another source said the Operation Account was legally opened in 2009 after the e-payment policy was introduced.
The source cited a memo, dated March 3, 2009 by a former Deputy Director (Finance and Accounts).
The memo has also been tendered in the court by the DSS as part of its evidence against some suspects.
He said the memo was explicit that the Justices be paid in cash.
The memo, signed by M. B. Tambawal and sent to the then Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, said: “You may recall that we had a management meeting last week where we discussed the way forward on e-payment. We had various suggestions on how to have an Operation Account that would ease the operations of this Honourable Court.
“In view of this, I humbly wish to suggest that a non-COT Operation Account be opened for the cashier (Ahmed Fagbenro).
“The account would accommodate payment for their Lordships and staff. The cashier will be responsible in cashing these payments and pay to the beneficiaries. He would keep a Petty Cash Book in order to record the payment plus a register that would be signed by the payees.”
The source added: “You can see that all the former CJN, present CJN and Justices of the Supreme Court were made to collect the allowances in cash by the management. This is not their making at all; they have committed no infractions.
“I think it is a system problem which the present Chief Registrar, Ahmed Gambo Saleh is trying to reform since 2014.”
The Presidency is weighing options because everyone has collected unauthorised allowances unknowingly. They are also unexpected to collect payment in cash – in line with financial regulations. I think they are victims of bureaucratic trap, but ignorance is no excuse in law.
“What the government is doing is to address the issue of corruption first before looking into other accountability problems besetting the Supreme Court.
“Certainly, the management of the Supreme Court needs to be overhauled. This is part of the agenda for the incoming CJN in collaboration with the Presidency.”
The Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Ahmed Gambo Saleh has denied involvement in any fraud or sharp practices in the apex court.
He also said he was never involved in any bribe deal or in the management of Operation Account.
Saleh, who made the clarifications in his testimony to the DSS, said he has introduced reforms, including stoppage of cash payment, since he took over in 2014.
He said: “I have never directed anyone to pay the sum of either N12million or N18million to any Justice of the Supreme Court.
“”I am aware the practice of cash payment is not in line with financial regulations but that has been the tradition I met in the court.
“But on assuming office, I stopped cash payments to staff; all payments are now paid into their accounts.
“The Operation Account is in Ahmed Fagbenro’s name (the Cashier); I don’t know how much is the balance in the account.”
Excerpted From The Nation