The news of President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the Constitution Fourth Alteration Bill has been greeted with accolades. Among other alterations, the financial autonomy and independence of the judiciary at the State level has been further guaranteed albeit years after the sacrifices made by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) which was followed by the decision of the Federal High Court in JUSUN v. FGN.
In the words of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang, “upon this signature, the amounts standing to the credit of the judiciary are to now be paid directly to the judiciary of those States and no more through the Governors and from the Governors… this grants full autonomy now to the Judiciary of the States”.
This writer posits that while there was nothing knotty about the meaning and interpretation of the prior section 121(3) of the Constitution as State Governors intentionally chose to hitherto neglect or refuse to give credence to the provisions of the section, the newly amended section 121(3) is welcome. It provides:
Any amount standing to the credit of the-
- House of Assembly of the State, and
in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively; in the case of judiciary, such amount shall be paid directly to the heads of the Courts concerned.
This brings to an end shameful episodes like those in Rivers State where the Judiciary was under lock and key for months with the wheels of justice brought to standstill because the Governor held the purse of the Judiciary and dictated the tune and the strike embarked upon by JUSUN on 5th January 2015 which was predicated on the difficulties encountered in making State Governors implement the Judgement of the Federal High Court which directed that section 121(3) of the Constitution among other things be complied with. While the Government at the Federal level have abided religiously by the provisions of section 81 (3) of the Constitution, State Governors have chosen to render section 121 (3) ineffective. They rather chose to make themselves lords and masters over the affairs and entitlements of their Judiciaries. They prefer to see their Chief Judges and other heads of Courts of their States plead for funds while enjoying the show of being credited for achievements in their Judiciaries.
It should be emphasized at this point that the continuous treatment of the Judiciary as the inferior arm amongst the three arms of government should also come to an end. The Constitution grants the Judiciary independence much as it does the other arms for it to play its role of impartial arbiter and interpreter of the Constitution and other legal matters without any hindrance. Thus, when all else fails, with the right tools to not only make the Judiciary independent but also be seen as being independent, the common man should have the Judiciary to cling on to as his last hope.
Adediji Mohammed is a student at the Nigerian Law School and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org