The court ordered the 36 state governors and the minister of the Federal Capital Territory to comply with constitutional provisions on financial autonomy of the judiciary.
The court order was a consequence of a suit filed by the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria to challenge what they described as ‘piecemeal’ release of funds to the judiciary from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, contrary to the provisions of sections 81(3), 121(3) and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution.
The union had in the suit filed in 2012, asked the court to declare that the piecemeal payment/allocation of funds through the states’ ministries of finance to the states’ judiciary at the governors’ pleasure was unconstitutional, un-procedural, cumbersome, null and void, and should be stopped immediately. Delivering judgement in the matter on Monday, Justice Ademola agreed with the plaintiffs and held that the action of the state governments was unconstitutional. He ordered them to discontinue such immediately.
The judge also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the governors from further releasing the funds piecemeal. Also, the court ordered the defendants to henceforth ensure transparency in the way and manner of disbursing funds accruing to the states’ judiciary. The state governors were also ordered to henceforth, comply with the provisions of sections 81(3), 121(3) and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution in the disbursement of funds to the heads of courts by releasing the allocations directly.
We see the judgement as a landmark pronouncement on what the relationship between the judiciary and the other arms of government should be in a democratic setting. As ably argued by Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), it will promote the independence of the judiciary.
When the judiciary has its funds directly, without being withheld by any other arm of government, it will have greater independence and by that, it will be in the capacity to apply the rule of law in any situation without fear or favour. The era of state executives deliberately starving the state judiciaries of funds in order to get positive judgments from the judiciary is gone, hopefully forever.
Consequently, all Nigerian patriots are expected to support this judgement because it is at the heart of our democratic system. This judgement is in fact a baptism of the principle of separation of powers as spelt out in the Constitution.
Even though those opposed to this judgement have the constitutional right of appeal, we warn them that an attempt to appeal the verdict or delay its implementation would imply that the government is not interested in the independence and financial autonomy of the judiciary.