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… Says SANs and over 20,000 lawyers nationwide will down tools, if…

… Warns 36 state governors to implement financial autonomy for Judiciary

… Directs branch chairmen to embark on a peaceful protest to Govt Houses nationwide

… Protests to continue until their demands are met

THE leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is set for showdown with the governors of the 36 states across the federation over the ongoing industrial action by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN over the implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary. The NBA has directed its branch Chairmen nationwide to lead “visits” to Government Houses in their states over the 36 governors’ alleged unwillingness to implement the judiciary’s financial autonomy.

A highly placed judiciary source yesterday confirmed to Nigerian Pilot that failure to cooperate with the NBA, the Association is ready to join the strike alongside backing with all the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs with over 20,000 lawyers across the country. A statement by the President of the Association, Olumide Akpata, directed the branch Chairmen to lead the “visits”, which are more like peaceful protests today (Monday) and on all other subsequent Mondays until the demand for judiciary’s financial autonomy is met. It urged the branch leaders “to effectively mobilise their members” for the “visit to the governors at the State Government Houses” to press home their demand. The Association said during the visits, the branch leaders should “present a jointly written demand to their state governors requesting full compliance with existing legislative instruments and Court judgments on the financial autonomy for the judiciary.” It also urged them “to ensure that these visits are embarked upon every subsequent Monday until there is full compliance with this demand that is aimed at strengthening our democracy and the dispensation of justice.”

The directive came few hours after the striking members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) last Friday issued a similar threat to stage peaceful protests in the 36 states and Abuja on Monday. JUSUN members had embarked on the nationwide strike since April 6, 2021, over their longstanding demand for the financial independence of the third arm of government as stipulated in the Constitution. NBA had backed JUSUN’s demand, but kicked against the timing of the strike, Akapta recalled in his statement. He however said the Association had, in a bid to find a solution to the crisis held various meetings with JUSUN officers, representatives of the federal government, the National Judicial Council (NJC) and body of state Chief Judges among others.

Meanwhile, the NBA President noted that the Association was part of a meeting with the federal government officials, the NJC, and the body of state Chief Judges on April 12, 2021. He expressed sadness that the meeting adjourned till Thursday was called off by the government officials at the last minute and adjourned indefinitely. He added that an earlier meeting scheduled to hold between state governors and JUSUN officers had failed to materialise on Wednesday largely due to the lack of feedback from the umbrella body of state governors, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).

According to him, these developments and certain comments by state government officials showed that the governours were not ready to implement the judiciary’s financial autonomy being demanded by the striking workers, hence the need for the NBA to take more “decisive steps”. “With these developments and the recent actions and utterances of officials of some of the state governments, it has become apparent that most of the state governments are not ready or willing to implement the constitutional provisions which grant financial autonomy to the judiciary. “After due consultations with several stakeholders, we have come to the inevitable conclusion that the NBA must take more decisive steps at this troubling moment,” the statement added.

Akpata while directing NBA branch Chairman to lead the visits to the Government Houses appealed for the cooperation of members of the Association. He said “as a body”, the NBA needed to “act in consonance with the aims and objects of our Constitution by effectively playing our role in the defence of the independence of the Judiciary which this fight for financial autonomy seeks to achieve.” The relevant constitutional provisions on financial autonomy were affirmed in two Court judgments delivered in 2014, yet the state governors have refused to comply with them.

A further amendment of the relevant provision of the Constitution in 2018 placed the state judiciaries and legislatures in the first line charge of state governments’ budgets, a status that qualifies the two arms of government to receive their funds in bulk as contained in their budgets. Still, the governors merely release funds to the two other arms of government as they pleased. It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari issued an Executive Order in May 2020 for the enforcement of the new constitutional provision.

The Executive Order, among others, directed the Accountant General of the Federation to deduct funds meant for the state judiciaries and legislatures directly from the Federation Account and pay to them. As soon as the Executive Order was issued, the governors approached the Court to challenge the Order for being “unconstitutional” as they claimed “it was against the spirit of Nigeria’s federal structure” as enshrined in the Constitution to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

 


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