Two senior lawyers on Monday expressed support and solidarity for the industrial action embarked upon by the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria, (JUSUN).
JUSUN began a nationwide strike on Tuesday, April 6, when the union directed all its members across the federation to shut down all courts after the expiration of the 21-day ultimatum earlier given over the failure of the government to implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
“Absolutely, I support the agitation by JUSUN on the judiciary autonomy”, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Paul Erokoro, told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja.
“The 1999 Constitution is not working because the governors are just too powerful. The governors control everything in their states.
“There are no checks and balances. He who controls the money coming in can dictate all the actions in that states,” he said.
He said the judiciary should not be seen as another department of the government of the state.
“It is an independent arm of government and so is the state house of assembly,” he said.
The lawyer noted that presently, there was no state house of assembly that could disagree with its governor.
“And the governors tend to see the judges as their staff. If the judges do not dance to their tune, they starve the judiciary of funding. So we must put a stop to this.
“It is possible that constitution amendment will be required. I know Mr President tried to solve the problem via an Executive Order; whether that is constitutionally valid, this needs to be explored.
“Each time houses are built for judges, the governors boast as if they have done the judiciary a favour. We really need to change that,” he stressed.
On why the law has become difficult to be implemented despite the Executive Order 10 by President Muhammadu Buhari, the senior lawyer said: “The governors are very powerful people as I told you. They can frustrate anything. “
He attributed the development to the weakness of 1999 Constitution which, he said, placed all the executive powers in the governors.
He said: “If you compare this with the 1963 Constitution where the Provincial Commissioners were equivalent of today’s governors, it shared the executive powers with the District Officers or ‘Dos’ as they were called. Dos were very powerful people.
“So in the context of the present arrangement in the state, every governor would have shared executive powers with, maybe, eight other sub-governors so that no single person would have been as powerful as the governors are.”
Erokoro, who called on the appropriate agencies and departments of government to intervene in the matter, also urged all parties to embrace dialogue to end the strike.
On his part, Ahmed Raji, SAN, who said he was in support of the resolution to the crisis, urged federal and state governments to engage with the union.
“I will plead with them to embrace dialogue in the interest of the society so that we don’t give wrong signals to the international community because the court is a very important segment of the societal institutions which we cannot afford to close.
“I will plead with both of them, not apportioning blames to anybody. However, that is not to say that the claims or agitations of the union should not be looked into,” he said.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, on May 22, 2020, signed into law an Executive Order granting financial autonomy to the legislature and the judiciary across the 36 states of the federation.
The Executive Order No. 10 of 2020 made 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.