The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Friday directed its branch chairmen nationwide to lead “visits” to government houses in their states over the 36 governors’ alleged unwillingness to implement judiciary’s financial autonomy.
A statement by the president of the association, Olumide Akpata, directed the branch chairmen to lead the “visits”, which are more like peaceful protests, on 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 the demand.
The association said, during the visits, the branch leaders should “present a joint written demand to their state governors requesting full compliance with existing legislative instruments and court judgments on the financial autonomy of 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), on 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 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, Mr Akapta recalled in his Friday’s 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, and others.
Meanwhile, the NBA president noted that the association was part of a meeting with the federal government officials, the NJC, and body of state Chief Judges on April 12.
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).
‘More decisive steps needed’
He said these developments and certain comments by state government officials showed that the governors were not ready to implement judiciary’s financial autonomy being demanded by the striking workers, hence, the need for the NBA to more “decisive steps”.
“With these developments and the recent actions and utterances of officials of some of the gtate 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.
Mr Akpata, in 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.”
Although both the federal and state courts have been shut down in the ongoing strike, the grouse of the workers is principally against the state governors who have failed to comply with constitutional provisions granting financial autonomy to the judiciary.
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 please.
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.
Shortly after the executive order was issued, the governors rushed to court to challenge it for being “unconstitutional” as they claimed “it was against the spirit of Nigeria’s federal structure.”
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