By Ononye VC
Lawyers under the umbrella of Catholic Lawyers Association, Archdiocese of Onitsha have blamed governors across Nigeria for most of the political and economic rot in the country.
President of the Association in Archdiocese of Onitsha, Barr Azubike Anazor who was reacting to the lingering nationwide strike action by judiciary workers and protest by lawyers across the country,said in Onitsha during the week that greed,avarice,insensitivity and lack of fear of God propel governors who have been sitting on and frustrating the autonomy and funds of the judiciary, local governments and the States Houses of Assembly.
Barr Anazor said without prejudice to the collective efforts of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and the Judiciary Workers Union of Nigeria(JUSUN) to reverse the ugly trend,the continued closure of courts across the country for over one week while the executive arm under the governors operating at their “Comfort Zones”, the state of Nigeria’s wave of insecurity has been further compounded with anarchy and Jungle Justice reigning supreme.
Recalling past attempts at gaining independence of the judiciary, Barr Anazor said that demanding independence for the judiciary was in 2014 when the court upheld the constitutional provision on financial autonomy of not just the judiciary but also for the legislature.
” The state governments must be blamed for their unwillingness to abide by the constitutional provision on financial autonomy and extant judicial pronouncements in that connection,” Anazor pointed out.
According to him,”the long hijack of judiciary funds by the state governors has left these governors with excess liquidity with which to manipulate the electoral process and smother opposition to their misgovernance.”
Barr Anazor called for an audit of all funds of the state judiciaries and state Assemblies siphoned away by state administrations as well as for local governments which have suffered the same fate of egregious hijack.
He further lamented saying,”for our courts to remain closed for weeks now is deleterious to speedy dispensation of Justice,as our Correctional Centres and police Guardrooms are now over congested with “awaiting trial” cases.Also civil disputes remaining unattended to by our courts could lead to a regime of self-help and rule of the jungle”.
Meanwhile,the Committee of Chairmen of chapters of NBA in Anambra State comprising Aguata led by Jim Abel Ofoma, Awka led by Ekene Okonkwo,Otuocha led by Anthony Uche Okafor,Anaocha led by Kaine Ananwune,B E Ewulum,Idemili branch,Steve Onyechi Ononye,Onitsha branch and Chairman of committee of Chairmen(Nnewi branch) Barr Kingsley Awuka,has condemned the action of the various state governors who refused to implement court judgements on independence of the judiciary.
In a three page communique issued during the week, they threatened to mobilise Civil Society organizations to join forces with JUSUN to press home their demands.
Meanwhile,the Nigerian Senate last Monday declared that judicial autonomy remained non-negotiable.
Accordingly, the upper legislative body asked the
Governors of the 36 states of Nigeria to grant full Independence to the judicial arm of government in order to save the nation’s democracy from collapsing.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, stated this while reacting to the protest staged at the National Assembly by the Nigerian Bar Association on the issue.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last year, signed into law, the Executive Order No 10 of 2020 cited as “the implementation of financial autonomy for state legislature and judiciary Order, 2020”.
The Order granted powers to the Accountant-General of the Federation to deduct from the allocations due to a state from the Federation Account, any sums appropriated for the legislature or judiciary of that state which the state fails to release to its legislature or judiciary as the case may be, and to pay the funds directly to the state’s legislature or judiciary concerned.
Speaking with journalists, Bamidele said judicial autonomy was non-negotiable and that state governors should emulate the Federal Government by granting independence to the arm of government.
He said, “It is laughable 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 at the local government levels.
“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 (National Assembly) are supposed to do.
“What is next is for the state Houses of Assembly to do what they are supposed to do.
“As a principle, and as a policy, members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, have tried not to call on those who are protesting to stop such protests.
“We do not want protests but definitely, we would rather talk more to state governors houses of Assembly and other stakeholders to do the needful in the overriding public interest.
“We cannot continue to call on the judiciary to give peace a chance when we know the conditions under which they work cannot guarantee a passionate and enhanced delivery of justice.
“We are talking about judicial reforms, we are talking about the need for justice sector reforms.
“This is central and crucial to the independence of the judiciary in this country. We must not be left behind by the rest of the civilized world.
“Nobody stands to lose anything by granting independence to judiciary at the state level since it has been done at the national level.
“The fact that workers and staff of federal judiciary are joining the protest is only in solidarity with their colleagues at the state levels.
“It is a union matter and we do not have control over it. We are hereby calling on the state governors to do the needful because the independence of the judiciary is non-negotiable.
“No democracy can survive without being founded on the rule of law and independent judiciary.”
NGF Sets Date To Implement Financial Autonomy For Judiciary
The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) has said it will ensure the implementation of financial autonomy for state legislative and judiciary institutions by May 2021.
Chairman of the NGF, Dr Kayode Fayemi gave the assurance after a meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari at the Statehouse.
He maintained that the Governors forum has never been opposed to the issue of financial autonomy and that the governors, the speakers, and judges are on the same page.
He further disclosed that upon emerging from a meeting with the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the representatives of the judiciary, the representatives of the Conference of Speakers, and House of Representatives today, an agreement has been reached, thus reiterating that Nigerians can expect implementation of the agreement no later than May.
The NGF’s comments regarding the matter come few hours after members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) staged a peaceful march at the National Assembly in solidarity with judiciary workers who are protesting in favour of financial autonomy in the country.
The lawyers who had earlier converged at the Court of Appeal gate before proceeding to the Parliament’s complex in their numbers were stopped from entering the Assembly by security operatives.
Leadership of the NBA had earlier 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 the 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.
JUSUN since April 6, 2021, left the courts in Nigeria under lock and key because of the non-implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary as the third arm of government. They commenced a nationwide strike on April 19, 2021.