The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Abuja, spent almost N1.5 billion in violation of financial regulations between January 2019 and December 2020, the latest audit report of the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (OAuGF) has shown.

The 2020 report, released in December 2023, demands explanations from the Chief Registrar of the court, Hadiza Dodo.

Although the infractions preceded Ms Dodo’s appointment to the office of the Chief Registrar in November 2021, the current occupier of the office was directed in the report to recover and return the funds to the national treasury.

Husseini Baba-Yusuf, the court’s chief judge, appointed Ms Dodo as the accounting officer of the court following the elevation of Muhammed Mustapha Adamu to the FCT High Court bench.

Mr Adamu, who was only appointed a judge of the FCT High Court in November 2021, was the chief registrar of the court at the time of the flagged transactions.

Ishaq Bello was the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court at the time. He retired on 5 January 2021.

The issues raised concerning the transactions totalling about N1.479 billion took place during Mr Adamu’s tenure as Chief Registrar from 2018 to 2021.

The infractions include misapplication, diversion, waste and misappropriation of public funds, non-remittance of taxes, and payment of contractors without supporting documents or for jobs not executed.

In one of the expenditures, the report referenced the payment of N2 billion (N2,088,716,000 in total) to six firms for the supply of 77 vehicles. While 38 vehicles costing N1 billion (N1,034,800,000) were seen by auditors in the course of the auditing exercise for the year under review, “39 vehicles costing N1,053,916,000 were not presented for audit.”

Citing relevant provisions of the Financial Regulations, stipulating that “on no account should payment be made for services not yet performed or goods not yet supplied,” the report revealed that the sum of N322.7 million was paid to two contractors for the supply of diesel and general cleaning services, but “relevant documents such as store receipts vouchers, store issue vouchers, job completion certificates and the schedule of cleaners paid were not presented for audit.”

In another case, the report said, the payment of N42.8 million to a contractor for the supply of diesel in payment vouchers dated 20 and 28 February 2018 respectively, was without “evidence of delivery and issuance of diesel to end users.”

Also, the report faulted what it termed “irregular engagement of insurance broker.” It disclosed that N60.4 million was paid to an insurance broker to provide indemnity for loss or damage to the FCT High Court landed property for the year 2019.

However, relevant documents like “the insurance policy to show the period of the insurance cover, receipt from the insurance company, terms of agreement and certificate of registration with the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) were not produced.”

It attributed the “anomalies” to weaknesses in the internal control system at the court, adding that the infractions pose “loss of government assets, funds and payment for non-executed jobs and items not supplied.”

In its response to the infractions, the court admitted that it had no policy documents for the contract it had with the insurance company.

“We have written several letters to the insurance company asking them to bring the policy documents, but have proved abortive,” the court explained.

But responding to issues of payments to contractors without job execution, the court denied the allegations.

“The evidence of utilisation of the diesel is hereby attached via different locations of the court across the FCT and Honourable Judges residences for your onward confirmation.”

On the issue of car purchases, the court said it attached necessary documents of the transactions and presented the vehicles for inspection to audit officers.

Despite the court’s denials, the audit report recommended the recovery of sums of money and justification of other sundry transactions.

It specifically asked the Chief Registrar to “remit to the treasury the sum of N1,053,916,000” and “forward evidence of remittance to the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly.”

It added that sanctions relating to irregular payment and payment for jobs not executed as stipulated in the Financial Regulations should be applied.

Similarly, Ms Dodo was asked to account for the sum of N322.74 million being payments without relevant supporting documents.

“Chief Registrar should be requested to account to the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, the sum of N60,416,609.49 being payment for irregular engagement of insurance brokers.”

Issues raised in the latest audit report are only snippets of the broader transparency and accountability questions Nigerians have asked the Nigerian judiciary over its handling of its funds over the years.

The FCT High Court, like other federal courts and judiciary institutions, including the National Judicial Council (NJC), has persistently run its annual budgets hidden from the public.

Suggesting deliberate efforts at maintaining secrecy, the NJC has resisted repeated Freedom of Information requests for disclosure of the details of its annual budgets, which cover the annual spending estimates of all federal courts and institutions, including the FCT High Courts.

Top government officials are also in the dark and as concerned as other Nigerians, with then Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, in January 2022, challenging the Nigerian judiciary to be transparent and accountable in the spending of the funds allocated to it in its annual budgets.

Alleging widespread corruption in the Nigerian Supreme Court and down the hierarchy of the judiciary, a retiring justice of the Supreme Court, Dattijo Muhammad, made scathing remarks about the handling of the funds allocated to the judiciary.

He said despite the “phenomenal” increase in the judiciary’s budgets over the years, there had been no commensurate improvement in the welfare of judges, putting the judges of the Supreme Court in a situation where the Chief Registrar of the court earned more than them.

Calling for a probe of the judiciary’s handling of its funds, Mr Muhammad said “unrelenting searchlight need to be beamed to unravel how the sums are expended.”

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