Governors of the 36 states of the federation are awaiting the return of President Muhammadu Buhari to resolve the logjam over the implementation of financial autonomy for state judiciaries, THISDAY learnt on Tuesday.
A source confided in THISDAY that while the governors were eager to resolve the impasse, which triggered the ongoing strike by judicial workers, they had decided to defer to the president by waiting for him to return from his medical trip to Britain before taking further action on the matter.
The federal government and states have been locked in a war of attrition over the implementation of financial autonomy for state judiciaries.
Although Section 81 (3) and Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), grant financial autonomy to federal and state judiciaries, governors have largely ignored the provision.
This has elicited a campaign to free the judiciary in each state from governors’ control, prompting Buhari to go the extra mile by signing Executive Order 10, which mandates governors to put the judiciary and the legislature on the first line charge.
However, the governors, who described the executive order as full of inconsistencies and unconstitutional, impressed it on the president to defer it’s gazetting to allow for talks to resolve the knotty issues on granting financial autonomy to state judiciaries and legislatures.
In another bid to push the enforcement of the financial autonomy policy, the judicial workers and a former President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr Olisa Agbakoba, had filed suits in court to challenge the governors’ reluctance to implement the policy.
The courts, in the cases of Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria Vs National Judicial Council (NJC) and Governors of the 36 states in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/667/13; Olisa Agbakoba Vs Federal Government of Nigeria, NJC and the National Assembly in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/63/2013; and Olisa Agbakoba Vs Attorney General of Ekiti State and two Others in Suit No. NAD/56/2013, upheld the arguments for financial autonomy for state judiciaries.
But following the failure of the states to implement the financial autonomy, the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has since shut down the courts and embarked on a strike.
The source said the governors were still trying to reach a consensus over the enforcement of the order.
He said the governors had planned to approach the Supreme Court to interpret certain provisions of the order but later shelved the plan in order not to embarrass the federal government.
According to him, a technical report containing the position of the governors has been submitted to the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, while they await the return of the president from the foreign medical trip for a final resolution of the issue.
He confirmed that the governors will meet today with the striking judicial workers to find a way of ending the strike.
He said the governors would want a consensus approach to the implementation of the executive order to avoid embarrassing the government.
According to him, the governors decided to adopt the approach of negotiation with the federal government so as not to embarrass the federal government at the Supreme Court, adding that certain provisions of the executive order were unconstitutional and inconsistent.
“The Executive Order 10 is full of inconsistencies, contradictions and unconstitutional in nature. We set up a committee. The committee is headed by the Solicitor-General of the Federation. The minister of finance is a member with some governors as members.
“We are almost reaching a consensus on the implementation. We don’t want to embarrass the federal government because of the unconstitutional nature of some of the clauses of Executive Order 10,” the source said.
Highlighting the unconstitutionality of the Executive Order 10, the source said: “For instance, the order mandated the Attorney-General of the Federation to deduct the money from the source, but the Attorney-General has no such powers bestowed on him by the constitution. The powers to make such deductions are vested in the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.
“So, under the circumstances, there are some issues that have to be sorted out before a total compliance and implementation,” the source added.
He explained that the governors, operating under the umbrella of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), decided not to challenge the order in the court so as not to overheat the polity.
Speaking with journalists at the instance of the Chairman of the NGF and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Governor of Plateau State, Mr Simon Lalong, said yesterday that the governors would meet today with all the speakers of state Houses of Assembly, leaders of judicial workers and other stakeholders on how to end the week-long strike.
The meeting is expected to take place in Abuja.
Lalong said in Abuja that the stance of the governors was that the federal government was not in a position to dictate ways of implementing the executive order to any state.
Lalong stated: “The court did not make any pronouncement on Order 10. The court said there is a law on financial autonomy and Order 10 and financial autonomy law is different because Order 10 is not law but financial autonomy is the law.
“Now, the implementation of the financial autonomy was what, according to them, led to the enactment of Order 10.
“So people don’t understand what Order 10 is. It is talking about implementation, but for us governors, we are saying ‘no,’ we are going to do implementation; we don’t need any proposals to do the implementation.
“So, we are only working on the law of implementation because we don’t need any Order 10 to force us to do the implementation and the federal government cannot force us to implement.
“People don’t understand; people have not even read what Order 10 is all about; people don’t know the difference between Order 10 and the law on financial autonomy. When we are having a meeting, what we are going to conclude tomorrow is about financial autonomy. It’s not about Order 10.
“Order 10, of course, the subject is now in court, but we are not bothered about that. Instead, we are talking about the implementation of financial autonomy. I was a speaker. I started today and as a governor, and I knew how the governors agreed and brought in financial autonomy.
“It was a law, agreed by the governors and governors said go and pass it.”
Lalong added that he would want the judiciary to be autonomous for the purpose of strengthening the institution.
According to him, people are thinking about money, but the issue is not about money, but for the institutions to be strengthened.
He defended the governors, saying that no governor is dragging his foot.
“We were not consulted when we saw a law passed and the order came. So, when you are talking about implementation; you are talking about processes, you don’t wake up because a law is passed,” he stated.
He stated that there would be processes and procedures before the financial autonomy policy would be implemented.
He explained: “There must be processes. For instance, as a speaker, I will tell you that you cannot do financial autonomy until you have a service commission. You must have a service commission.
“You must establish a service commission, you must establish a state allocation committee and all these aspects towards autonomy and we did it for the National Assembly, and there was no other time for implementation.
“It took them stages. The federal government is aware, members of the National Assembly – there are governors among them today. I can just say that we have two people on the last seven governors who are members of the National Assembly, who fought for autonomy and got it for National Assembly.”
According to him, the governors and other stakeholders are on the same page on how to ensure financial autonomy.
Chuks Okocha in Abuja