Judicial fiscal independence is non-negotiable

The Judiciary as an independent arm of government in Nigeria is critical to the survival of our democracy and must be allowed to enjoy its constitutional autonomy including fiscal independence. It does not need workers’ strike to drum this fact into the ears of the executive and legislative arms of government.

It is only through the responsible exercise of an unhampered authority to manage their own fiscal affairs can the courts successfully keep pace with the expanding demands for effective judicial services in our modern society. Within the limits set by the funds made generally available by law, courts should have full responsibility for supervising the employees upon whom they must rely to administer the business of the courts.

Thus, the independent authority of courts to hire and fire their employees, to fix and adjust their salaries, and to assign them duties should not be subject to the approval or control of any non-judicial agency. The executive has in the past induced the courts to exercise their inherent power to compel those recalcitrant branches to allocate the funds required for needed court services.

We condemn the refusal of state governors to allow the courts enjoy their inalienable rights resulting in the ongoing industrial action embarked upon by Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), on April 6, 2021, which has crippled both court proceedings and commercial activities within the courts’ premises

We recall that President Muhammed Buhari on 20th May 2020, signed an executive order on “Implementation of Financial Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary” (the “Order”) relying on Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), making it mandatory for all states to include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.

The order also mandates the accountant-general of the federation to deduct from source, amount due to the state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state, for states that refuse to grant such autonomy. But Nigerian governors, who are largely reluctant to grant the two other arms of government their full financial autonomy status, had approached the court to challenge the Executive Order.

Following the suit, a Federal High Court in Abuja, held that financial autonomy for the judiciary is a constitutional provision that must be complied with by the executive branch of government.

That the matter has continued to linger giving rise to the ongoing industrial action by JUSUN is very unfortunate. The need for centralized judicial administration has been widely recognized and the practice adopted by almost every civilized nation. Occasionally those who call for judicial unity appear to be less concerned with efficient administration and economy than with effective bargaining position.

Judicial fiscal independence does not inadvertently mean violating the separation of powers doctrine; rather, it is necessary for the preservation of that doctrine. Placing the preservation and improvement of the judicial system beyond the reach of political considerations may do more to promote the public will as it is reflected in the constitution than would leaving control entirely in executive hands.

It is very unfortunate that the court system in Nigeria has to be shut down even for a day. The court system is what keeps the society in shape; what makes transgressors to be stopped and what gives victims of transgression a relief.

It is regrettable that the elected officials in Nigeria use the constitution to get to power only to destroy and discard same document when they are called upon to uphold its provisions. In the present case, the Nigerian constitution is being thrown into the dustbin resulting in the JUSUN strike.

The independence of the judiciary which encompasses financial autonomy is provided in the constitution. However, it is unfortunate that we now have a situation where judiciary workers are the ones calling on elected state governors to obey the constitution. Obedience to the constitution should be the primary duty of the governors and indeed, every Nigerian.

Statistics from the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) shows that there are over 47,416 inmates awaiting trial in its facilities nationwide. The current closure of courts across the country has affected the trial of these prison inmates some of whom may have possibly gained freedom if the cases went in their favour.

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