*Calls On Govt To Implement The Constitutional Provisions Ensuring Independence Of The Judiciary
* Adopts The Position Of NBA President

The Nigerian Bar Association [NBA] Makurdi branch has thrown its weight behind the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) for asking its members to embark on strike.

TheNigeriaLawyer, recalls that JUSUN on 1st April directed its staff in the 36 states to shut down offices and departments for a strike action pending when instructions are given to them to resume work.

In a statement signed by the Chairman of the NBA Makurdi branch, Justin A. Gbagir, Esq, and made available to TheNigerialawyer, he, however, noted that that the strike will have a devastating effect.

Read the full statement below

TEXT OF A SPEECH BY THE CHAIRMAN NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA), MAKURDI BRANCH ON THE OCCASION OF SOLIDARITY RALLY WITH JUDICIAL STAFF UNION OF NIGERIA (JUSUN) ON THE OCCASION OF STRIKE ACTION TO DEMAND FOR FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY

DATED 6TH APRIL, 2021

Protocols:

The National President of Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olumide Akpata yesterday 5th April, 2021 issued a statement regarding the strike action been embarked upon by JUSUN today. The Makurdi Branch of the Bar been an integral part of the National Bar with allegiance thereto, I most humbly adopt the statement of the National President and wish to reproduce the relevant part thereof here as follows:

“The NBA is deeply worried that despite the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered) which consecrate the autonomy of the Judiciary, the Executive arm of Government, particularly at the State level, has customarily refused to comply with the provisions of the Constitution, which are targeted at safeguarding the independence of the Judiciary.

The NBA is aware of the judgment of the Federal High Court of 13th January 2014 which unequivocally confirmed the autonomy of the Judiciary in line with the spirit and letters of the Constitution. While that judgment was followed by a Memorandum of Understanding between JUSUN and relevant stakeholders under which parties agreed to conscientiously give effect to the judgement of the Court, that has not been the case for seven years after the landmark judgment. This situation does not augur well for our constitutional democracy, as it suggests that members of the Executive arm of Government, who swore to uphold the principles of the Constitution, can flout it, with impunity.

The Judiciary is an equal arm of Government relative to the Executive and the Legislature, and its independence is fundamental to the effective discharge of its mandate under the Constitution. A situation where the Judiciary literally begs for its resources from the Executive arm, as is currently the case across several States, cannot guarantee its independence, and constitutes an affront to the Constitution and the Rule of Law.

The NBA is equally aware that the Executive Order No. 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, on the 20th of May 2020 which, to a large extent, sought to address this constitutional imbroglio by treating the funds due to the State Judiciaries as a first line charge, and requiring that the funds be paid directly to the Heads of Court concerned. However, information available to the NBA shows that the State Governors have challenged the Executive Order, citing constitutional infractions.

The NBA is of the considered view that the provisions of Section 121(3) of the Constitution on the financial autonomy of the State Judiciaries are clear and do not really need the instrument of an Executive Order to give effect to them. To the contrary, it is a simple matter of enforcement by the States as the Federal Government has admirably done in respect of the Judiciary at the Federal level.

However, as commendable and laudable as the proposed strike action may be, the NBA is concerned about its timing and the potentially devastating consequences it would pose for justice administration in the country, particularly coming on the heels of prolonged lull in judicial activities owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and the enforced lockdowns.

Across the country, the Courts are trying to play catch-up for lost time, and it would be catastrophic for the administration of justice for the Courts to be shut down again. This is not to mention the adverse economic consequences for families and lawyers alike, who earn a living in one way or the other, by providing various support services to the Court system.

For the avoidance of doubt, the NBA, as a leading stakeholder in the justice sector, and in keeping with its motto of Promoting the Rule of Law is in support of the demands of JUSUN, and has been a constant voice of advocacy towards enthroning judicial autonomy. But the timing of an action, is as good as the action itself.

Against the backdrop of the above, the NBA has reached out to, and is discussing with JUSUN on the prospects of reconsidering the strike action at this time, and will provide updates as discussions progress.”

As I stated recently during a Valedictory Court Session, the general welfare of judicial officers is in a humiliating state across the country. Despite that civil servants and political office holders have had their salaries and other welfare packages reviewed upward so many times, those of the judicial officers have remained frozen for several years, and for over a decade in the case of judges of the superior courts. There is need to take urgent steps to improve on the welfare of judicial officers in view of the critical role of the Judiciary in safeguarding the nation’s democracy. There is no gain-saying that judges do important and extremely sensitive work. Yet, there has been no corresponding improvement in the welfare of judicial officers as a result of none adherence to the constitutional provisions on the financial autonomy of the judiciary.

There is also poor state of infrastructure in the judicially. It need to be noted that the infrastructural deficit and lack of modern facilities to enhance the work of our judges makes it practically impossible for the court to function effectively. Observance and implementation of the constitutional provisions on the financial autonomy of the judiciary as a separate arm of government will enhance infrastructural development, provide for better administration of justice, reduce crime and ensure general peace and tranquillity in the nation.

In Benue State, there are three judicial entities that receive budgetary allocations from the state budget, namely;

  1. High Court of Justice
  2. Customary Court of Appeal, and
  3. Judicial Service Commission

In the last six years, from 2016 to 2021, allocations to the above state judicial entities is as shown below:

Table 1: High Court of Justice Budgetary Allocation from 2016 to 2021

YEAR PERSONNEL COST OVERHEAD COST TOTAL RECURRENT EXPENDITURE CAPITAL EXPENDITURE TOTAL ALLOCATION
2016 1,517,147,770 161,900,000 1,678,047,770 445,500,000 2,134,547,770
2017 1,718,736,577 152,152,200 1,870,888,577 214,000,000 2,084,888,577
2018 1,614,637,585 196,000,000 1,910,637,585 214,000,000 2,024,637,585
2019 1,924,835,023 438,400,000 2,363,235,023 523,800,000 2,887,035,023
2020 1,230,725,921 382,400,000 1,613,125,921 178,960,000 1,792,055,521
2021 1,360,705,586 196,860,065 1,557,555,651 325,870,000 1,883,435,651
Total 8,136,089,541 1,527,712,265 10,993,490,527 1,902,130,000 12,806,600,127

 

Table 2: Customary Court of Appeal Budgetary Allocation from 2016 to 2021

YEAR PERSONNEL COST OVERHEAD COST TOTAL RECURRENT EXPENDITURE CAPITAL EXPENDITURE TOTAL ALLOCATION
2016 165,000,000 63,550,000 228,550,000 35,000,000 263,550,000
2017 199,790,007 95,557,000 295,347,007 35,000,000 330,347,007
2018 199,790,007 104,902,000 304,692,007 35,000,000 339,692,007
2019 184,807,506 176,021,200 360,828,706 260,411,000 621,239,706
2020 121,957,554 75,519,000 197,476,554 117,880,000 315,356,554
2021 92,400,000 67,191,535 159,591,535 113,726,460 273,317,995
Total 963,745,074 582,740,735 1,546,485,809 597,017,460 2,143,503,269

 

Table 3: Judicial Service Commission Budgetary Allocation from 2016 to 2021

YEAR PERSONNEL COST OVERHEAD COST TOTAL RECURRENT EXPENDITURE CAPITAL EXPENDITURE TOTAL ALLOCATION
2016 84,769,460 15,677,500 100,446,960 60,000,000 160,446,960
2017 113,684,115 19,591,380 132,275,494 60,400,000 193,675,494
2018 80,000,000 19,591,380 99,591,380 145,000,000 244,591,380
2019 80,000,000 19,591,380 99,591,380 145,000,000 244,591,380
2020 78,070,000 18,001,140 96,071,140 40,000,000 136,071,140
2021 81,844,973 9,774,429 91,619,402 20,000,000 111,619,402
Total 518,368,548 102,227,209 619,595,756 470,400,000 1,091, 355,756

Sources:

https://www.mofep.be.gov.ng/viewyearlybudget/2017

https://www.mofep.be.gov.ng/viewyearlybudget/2018

https://www.mofep.be.gov.ng/viewyearlybudget/2019

https://www.mofep.be.gov.ng/viewyearlybudget/2020

https://www.mofep.be.gov.ng/viewyearlybudget/2021

Table 4: Summary of Allocation for the Judicial Entities from 2016 to 2021

STATE JUDICIAL ENTITIES TOTAL RECURRENT EXPENDITURE

2016-2021

CAPITAL EXPENDITURE

2016-2021

TOTAL ALLOCATION

2016-2021

High Court of Justice 10,993,490,527 1,902,130,000 12,806,600,127
Customary Court of Appeal 1,546,485,809 597,017,460 2,143,503,269
Judicial Service Commission 619,595,756 470,400,000 1,091, 355,756
Total 13,159,572,092 2,546,187,460 16,041,459,152

As can been seen in Table 4 above, the total budgetary allocation to the three judicial entities making up the judicial arm of government in the last six years, from 2016 to 2021 is Sixteen Billion, Forty One Million, Four Hundred and Fifty-Nine Thousand, One Hundred and Fifty Two Naira (N16,041,459,152). It is pertinent to note that the above figure is the budgetary allocation. It is possible that the chunk of the allocation, especially the Capital Expenditure Allocation has not been released.

From the Summary of Allocation above, the Total Capital Expenditure for the Judicial Arm of Government in the last Six Years is only Two Billion, Five Hundred and Forty-Six Million, One Hundred and Eighty-Seven Thousand, Four Hundred and Sixty Naira (N2,546,187,460). This by average is 424 Million Capital Allocation for the whole judicial arm of government per annum.

As stated by the NBA President in the statement reproduced above, “the Judiciary is an equal arm of Government relative to the Executive and the Legislature, and its independence is fundamental to the effective discharge of its mandate under the Constitution. A situation where the Judiciary literally begs for its resources from the Executive arm, as is currently the case across several States, cannot guarantee its independence, and constitutes an affront to the Constitution and the Rule of Law”.

It is against this background that the NBA Makurdi Branch identify and support JUSUN for embarking on this strike which seems to be the only language that our democratic governments hears and understand.

However, we also adopt the position of our National President that the NBA has reached out to, and is discussing with JUSUN on the prospects of reconsidering the strike action at this time”.

It is our hope that the National leadership of JUSUN will give our National President an opportunity for constructive engagement so that the lingering issue of the Independence of the Judiciary will be resolved once and for all in our dear country.

We also call on the federal government and all the States in the federation to observe and implement the constitutional provisions ensuring the independence of the judiciary without further delay and in the interest of the Nigerian State.

We conclude that a protracted strike by JUSUN will be devastating. The plight of accused persons and congested police cells, plights of inmates awaiting trial in prisons across the nation, and the frustration of litigants will be better imagined.

It is our belief that His Excellency, Dr Samuel Ortom, the Executive Governor of Benue State who is a listening and progressive Governor will again take the bold step to be the first among his equals to observe and implement the constitutional provisions ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and we so urge.

Thank you all and God bless.

Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria,

Long Live the Government of Benue State

Long Live the Nigerian Bar Association

Long Live Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria.

Justin A. Gbagir, Esq.

      Chairman

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