Law News
Unending battle for judiciary’s financial autonomy
Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Jonah Otunla

The long-drawn battle for a financially-independent Judiciary is being protracted by the failure of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Mr. Jonah Otunla, to honour the agreement reached with the striking Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria on November 27, 2014, ADE ADESOMOJU writes

Just about a month after the agreement on the implementation of the financial autonomy for the nation’s judiciary was reached on November 27, 2014, the enthusiasm accompanying it had disappeared and parties had started singing the war-war song.

The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, the umbrella body of judiciary workers, who has been leading the battle for the financial autonomy of the judiciary at all levels, is currently on strike to ensure compliance with the agreement.

JUSUN had issued fresh directive to its members to proceed on a nationwide strike when the MoU was not complied with. The strike began on January 5, 2015.

Efforts by the Supervising Minister of Labour and Productivity, Kabir Turaki, to address the impasse did not yield the desired result.

At a meeting summoned by the minister on January 7, 2015, the Accountant-General of the Federation, Mr. Jonah Otunla, was said to have given unsatisfactory explanation on why he could not commence the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding reached with the union. The MoU was signed by parties on November 27, 2014, to avert a strike by JUSUN.

On November 27, stakeholders met with the leadership of JUSUN giving an assurance of prompt implementation of a judgment delivered by a Federal High Court in Abuja affirming the financial autonomy status of the judiciary.

In the MoU signed by parties, it was agreed that as from the next Federal Accounts Allocation Committee meeting, in line with the judgment, the Accountant-General of the Federation would make deductions of the amount standing to the credit of states’ judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund and remit it to the National Judicial Councils, which will then disburse same to the various heads of court.

The meeting which held at the instance of Turaki was attended by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, O.C. Illoh, Otunla, representatives of the National Judicial Council, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the Federal Ministry of Finance.

The MoU issued at the end of the meeting was signed by a representative of the Accountant-General of the Federation; Illoh; the Director (Home Finance) of the Federal Ministry of Finance, K. Zaji; NJC’s Acting Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye and Head of Administration of FJSC, Akinwumi Aina.

The document was also signed by the president of JUSUN and General Secretary, Marwan Adamu, and I.M. Adetola, respectively.

It read in part, “The issue of concern to the members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria remains the implementation of the subsisting judgment of the Federal High Court delivered on January 13, 2014 regarding sections 81(3), 1(3) and 162(9)of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

“On November 27, 2014, a follow-up meeting was held by the Honourable Supervising Minister of Labour and Productivity, Alhaji Kabiru Taminu Turaki (SAN, FCIArb) with the leadership of JUSUN and other relevant stakeholders to discuss the outcome of the last meeting held on November 19, 2014.

“In that regard, the meeting noted that: The assignment given to the Director, Home Finance, at the meeting of November 19, 2014 had been executed.

“The figures submitted by JSUN had been reconciled with the budgeted estimates by the states Accountants-General.

“Based on the above, it was concluded that the Accountant-General of the Federation will make deductions during the next FAAC meeting to the NJC in line with the court judgment on the actual funds released that can be defended by the respective states and concurred by JUSUN.”

At the meeting of January 7, 2015, summoned to address the ongoing strike, the minister was said to be furious with the AGF on the non-implementation of the MoU in December 2014 as agreed among stakeholders at the previous meeting held on November 27, 2014.

One of the stakeholders, who spoke with our correspondent after the meeting said, “The Accountant-General of the Federation’s excuse for non-implementation of the agreement was that states’ Accountants-General did not agree with him.

“But the minister queried why he found it easier to listen to the states’ Accountants-General than to obey the terms of the MoU and the court judgment.

“He (the AGF) was saying that it was part of their rules that members of the Accountants-General forum must agree before any action is taken.”

It was learnt that JUSUN insisted at the meeting that the implementation of the MoU was the only condition for calling off the nationwide strike which started on January 5.

The union resolved that the strike which has paralysed courts at all levels and other judiciary institutions nationwide was to continue till the agreement is honoured.

It was gathered that the AGF was made to undertake that he would write the various state Accountants-General on his resolve to start implementing the MoU at the next FAAC meeting, which is to hold sometimes on January 14 or 15.

The JUSUN’s NEC will then deliberate on the FAAC meeting afterwards – January 16 or 17.

Our correspondent also gathered that the National Executive Committee of JUSUN is to meet between January 16 and 17 to decide on whether or not to suspend the industrial action depending on the outcome of the Federation Account Allocation Committee meeting which is to hold earlier.

When contacted, JUSUN President, Mr. Marwan Adamu, confirmed the development.

“Progress has been made. But the strike continues till when we meet,” Adamu said.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, has said the strike embarked upon by the judiciary workers is in order.

He described as disturbing “listening to and reading comments by legal practitioners, denouncing the strike action”.

He rejected the call by the Nigerian Bar Association on JUSUN to suspend the strike and explore other options.

He said, “First, section 39 of the 1999 Constitution grants the freedom of expression to every citizen and that freedom can be exercised through protests, strike actions, or other legitimate methods of civil protests. To that extent, the JUSUN strike is valid in law and supported by the Constitution.”

Lamenting the depravity being suffered by the Judiciary, he said since independence, the Judiciary had become “a whipping organ” of other arms of government.

He said, “Since independence, the Judiciary has become the whipping organ of the other arms of government, totally starved of funds, controlled at will by the Executive and reduced to mere rubber stamps, by the Legislature, through ouster clauses and obnoxious laws.

“Thus, any action taken to wean the Judiciary from oppression and bondage, whether by way of strike, court action or otherwise, should be supported by all democrats and indeed all lawyers. This should have been a cause championed by the NBA and indeed all lawyers and now that JUSUN has risen to the occasion, what they deserve is our collective solidarity, not condemnation, which may tend to discourage or distract their struggle.”

The judgment delivered by Justice Ademola on January 13, 2014, declared that the piecemeal funding of the judiciary by the various state governments constituted a violation of 81(3) and 121(3) of the Constitution.

The court had among others, ordered that the Accountant-General of the Federation and Auditor of the Federation, their counterparts across the various states, the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, to be served with and comply with the judgment.

Further affirming the independent financial status of the Judiciary was a judgment delivered by Justice Ahmed Mohammed of a Federal High Court in Abuja on May 26, 2014.

The suit in which the judgment was delivered was instituted by a former President of the NBA, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).

The Attorney-General of the Federation, the NJC and the National Assembly were the defendants in the suit.

The court ordered in the said judgment, that the NJC should stop sending its annual budget estimate to the Budget Office of the executive arm of government or any other executive authority as it was being done.

Justice Mohammed held that just as the legislative houses were never required to send their budget estimates to any executive authority, there was no legal basis for the judiciary, which is equally an independent arm of government, to send its own to the executive arm.

The court in granting all the seven prayers of the plaintiff made “a perpetual injunction against the defendants from all practices on judiciary funding which run contrary to Sections 81 (2) (3) and 84(2) (7) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, to wit, submitting the judiciary’s budget estimates to the executive instead of directly to the 3rd defendant (National Assembly) and release of the judiciary’s fund in warrants by the executive instead of directly to the 3rd defendant for disbursement.”

The outcome of the FAAC meeting scheduled to hold later this month will determine the line of action which JUSUN will take in prosecuting its battle for a financially-independent judiciary.

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