By Our Correspondents |
Apparently bowing to pressure amid nationwide protests, governors of the 36 states of the federation yesterday said the implementation of judicial autonomy may kick off in May.
The governors’ decision followed a series of protests by judicial workers and the closure of courts in parts of the country to press home their demands for financial autonomy as provided for in the Nigerian Constitution.
Members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the Federal Capital Territory and most states of the federation yesterday staged a protest at the premises of the National and State Assemblies in support of financial autonomy for states’ judiciary.
Speaking with State House correspondents yesterday, chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, said, “But for us we’re here for legislative and judicial autonomy and the governors, the speakers and the judges are on the same page as far as this issue is concerned.
“We just emerged from a meeting with the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the representatives of the judiciary, the representatives of the Conference of Speakers, and the House of Representatives and we are on all fours. An agreement has been reached.
“First, the issue is about implementation. There has been no objection from governors on judicial and legislative autonomies. As a matter of fact, it would not have passed if governors were not in support, in the first instance, in the state Assemblies.
“So that issue has been fully and holistically addressed, but we don’t just want to agree to something on paper without working out the modalities for implementation. Thankfully, the meeting we have just emerged from, with the Chief of Staff to the President chairing, has worked out the modalities to the satisfaction of all parties.”
On when Nigerians should expect the implementation, he said, “As soon as the final document that is being cleaned up emerges; that is, preparatory to implementation. We’re not going to put a timeframe in the air, but it will be implemented as soon as possible, definitely no later than the end of May 2021. He also appealed to judicial workers to call off their strike in the interest of the nation.
“I think we’re basically at a position where whether you speak to the Conference of Speakers’ chairperson or you speak to me or you speak to the representative of the judiciary or you speak to the Solicitor-General of the Federation, you will hear that we’re speaking with one voice on the implementation and no later than May, you will start seeing the implementation of the agreement that we’ve reached.”
On the N60 billion currency printing claim by Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, Fayemi maintained that it was not an issue that required a statement from the governors.
“It’s because, for us, this is not an issue that requires a statement from the governors. The Honourable Minister of Finance has dealt with it and the issue is out there for you to deal with,” he noted.
The minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, had denied the allegations while the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele had described the claims as unfortunate and totally inappropriate.
Meanwhile, members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja took their protest to the National Assembly in support of financial autonomy for states’ judiciary.
A mild drama, however, ensued when security officials manning the National Assembly main gate locked the gate against the protesting lawyers and refused to allow them to gain entrance.
The lawyers, who were on a peaceful march in solidarity with judiciary workers, who are protesting financial autonomy, noted that they were on a solidarity visit to the National Assembly, adding that their protest was not against the legislature.
The protesting lawyers also claimed that the president of NBA, Olumide Akpata, had intimated the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila of the visit.
Notable among them are Chief JK Gadzama (SAN), Y. Maikau SAN, Mazi Afam Osigwe (SAN), NBA 1st Vice President J.O Aikpokpo Martin, Abuja branch chairman Hauwa Shekarau, Bwari Branch chairman Clement Chukwuemeka Ugo, welfare secretary Kunle Edun, Gwagwalada Branch chairman Isah Abubakar Aliyu and many others.
Reacting to the development, the Senate yesterday asked state governors to ensure the independence of the judiciary, stating that it is not negotiable.
Chairman, Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Opeyemi Bamidele, stated this while reacting to the invasion of the National Assembly by members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in solidarity with judiciary workers protesting financial autonomy for the third arm of government.
Addressing journalists, Bamidele said the National Assembly had made laws guaranteeing full autonomy for the judiciary at the federal level, even as he called on state Houses of Assembly to pass similar laws to give full autonomy to the Judiciary.
“It is laughable that that at this point we are still grappling with the need to grant independence to the judiciary arm of government at the state level and local governments. The National Assembly has been making laws that would guarantee full autonomy to the judiciary at the Federal level.
“The National Assembly does not make laws for the states; such power resides in the state Houses of Assembly. Judiciary at the Federal Capital Territory is independent because we have done what we are supposed to do. What is next is for the state Houses of Assembly to do what they are supposed to do”, he stated.
In Ekiti, lawyers called on the state governors to accede to the demand of the members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) on financial autonomy for the sector.
The legal practitioners under the auspices of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said the sector in all countries of the world enjoys such autonomy and Nigeria should not be an exception.
The body spoke after presenting a letter to the state governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, on the need to meet the demands of the JUSUN and halt the ongoing nationwide strike.
Speaking on behalf of the lawyers, the Chairman of NBA, Ado Ekiti branch, Mr Adeyemi Adewumi said JUSUN had been on strike for two weeks now and wants the government to intervene in the matter.
Responding, Governor Fayemi advocated the use of dialogue among the stakeholders to resolve issues that led to the strike action embarked upon by JUSUN.
The governor, who was represented by his deputy, Otunba Bisi Egbeyemi described the strike action as not too good for the system, saying a dialogue involving all stakeholders remains the best option to resolve all issues on ground for the judicial sector to move forward.
Also, lawyers in Ondo State yesterday protested the continued strike action.
The lawyers from five branches in the state converged in Akure, the state capital, to demand financial autonomy for the judicial arm of the government.
They moved around the state capital and ended in the governor’s office in Alagbaka where a letter of protest was presented to the government.
The lawyers said the judiciary which is an independent arm of government under the constitution saddled with the important role of administration of justice should not be strangulated by the executive arm of government.
The bodies insisted that the Akwa Ibom government has all it takes to implement the executive order 10 of the 1999 constitution even if other states do not have the capacity to do so.
Members of the Kogi State Chapter of JUSUN yesterday embarked on a peaceful protest alongside their colleagues across the country to press home their demand for the implementation of financial autonomy for the Judiciary.
Members of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Kogi chapter, also joined in the protest in support of financial autonomy for the Judiciary.
The protesters were seen carrying placards with inscriptions, “Grant us our financial autonomy”, “the Judiciary as a third arm of government deserves its financial autonomy to enhance its productivity”, “autonomy is not a gift but a right”.