Since judiciary workers, under the umbrella of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), went on strike to press home their demand for favourable conditions of service, the courts have remained closed to the public. At the core of their demand is the implementation of the constitutionally guaranteed financial autonomy for the judiciary at the state level.
Authors of the 1999 constitution as amended deemed it fit to provide for financial autonomy of the judiciary. Sections 81(3), 121(3) and 162(9) of the Constitution provide that “funds/amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Federation Account/Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federal and states shall be paid directly to the heads of courts concerned.”
However, while the federal government is obeying this constitutional provision, state governments are observing it in the breach in spite of repeated appeals and a subsisting court order. Rather than grant full fiscal autonomy to the judiciary as provided for in the constitution, governors delight in giving the sector piecemeal allocation of funds.
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There is no gainsaying the fact that this seemingly beggarly allocation to the judiciary, at the pleasure of state governors, gives the executive arm at that level, the temerity to put the judicial arm on its leash, interfere with the judicial processes and the dispensation of justice. This is unconstitutional and must be discontinued in the interest of the code of separation of powers.
Determined to ensure the implementation of the financial autonomy contained in the new Section 121(3), President Buhari, in March 2019, constituted an Implementation Committee on Autonomy of the State Legislature and Judiciary.
In line with the committee’s recommendation, Buhari issued Executive Order 10 on May 20, 2020 which seeks to ensure compliance with the constitutional provision of fiscal autonomy for the judiciary. Following this development, the governors who have constituted themselves into a powerful pressure group, had approached the court to contest the legality of Executive Order 10.
They contended that by issuing Order 10, the federal government was running away from its responsibilities under sections 6 and 81(3), and item 21(e) of the Third Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution.
The Governors, suing under the auspices of Nigerian Governors’ Forum, averred that the above provisions saddles the Federal Government with the “responsibility for funding all capital and recurrent expenditures of the High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal and Customary Courts of Appeal of the states of the Federation”.
No doubt, the implementation of financial autonomy for the state legislature and state judiciary will strengthen both institutions, make them more independent and accountable in line with the doctrines of democracy. It is sad, in our opinion, that JUSUN, like members of the state Assemblies’ staff, are left with no option than to embark on strike with all its implications on justice delivery.
We note, rather sadly, that the ongoing strike will have an adverse effect on those seeking redress at the courts. More than anything else, the impact on those confined to illegal detention and other forms of human rights abuse including victims of domestic violence or a tenants facing unlawful eviction, can better be imagined.
As things stand, litigants cannot go to court to get justice even as police cells are congested because suspects cannot be taken to court.
It is with these in mind that this newspaper frowns at the non-implementation of financial autonomy for both the judiciary and legislature by governors and its attendant consequence which is the ongoing strike action. In our considered opinion, governors who swore to defend the constitution of Nigeria cannot, for whatever reason, choose what aspect of the same constitution to obey and what aspect not to. They must be told in an unmistaken term that financial autonomy for the other two arms of government is a given.
All Nigerians of good conscience must rise up and prevail on the governors to obey this constitutional provision. The nation cannot afford to watch idly while these politicians weaken these important arms of government just the way they emasculated the third tier of government.
All over the federation, local government areas which are designed to serve as government closest to the people at the grassroots, are no longer functioning due to a total hijack by governors.
Through a contraption called joint account, governors have continued to frustrate effective functioning of council areas by starving them of funds. Attempts to grant council areas financial autonomy have failed due to overt influence of the governors. We can’t afford to see the same thing play out with judiciary and the legislature.
Litigants cannot continue to bear the brunt of industrial disharmony in the judicial sector hence governors, whose action is responsible for the strike, must retrace their steps and do the needful so as to end the strike now!