State judiciaries and houses of assembly are now truly financially independent. President Muhammadu Buhari, penultimate weekend, signed into law a bill passed by the two houses of the National Assembly. It is called the Constitution Fourth Alteration Bill. It grants “financial authonomy and independence to the Houses of Assembly and judiciaries of the respective states”.
Announcing the President’s assent to the bill afterwards, his senior special assistant on National Assembly matters, Mr. Ita Enang, said, “upon this signature, the amounts standing to the credit of the judiciary are now to be paid directly to the judiciary of those states, no more through the governors and no more from the governors and then the amounts standing to the credit of the Houses of Assembly of the respective states are now to be paid directly to the Houses of Assembly of that state for the benefit of the legislators and the management of the State Houses of Assembly. This grants full autonomy now to the judiciary at the state level and the Houses of Assembly at the state level.”
We, at Peoples Daily, welcome this development which has been long in coming. Until now, only the federal judiciary enjoyed this autonomy and independence. One Chief Justice of Nigeria after another, in the past, had made a strong case for financial autonomy and independence for state judiciaries to no avail. The opposition had come mainly from state governors who also are against autonomy for local governments.
The effect of lack of financial independence was that the chief judges of the states became beggars, taking the beggar’s bowl to their governors to receive miserly donations to pay judicial staff and buy operational vehicles and stationery. It also meant governors often decided who became a chief judge. This way, the legtimacy and credibility of the chief judicial was eroded. He dared not make a judicial decision that went against the government. Lack of funds hindered quick dispensation of justice too. Cases already in court went on interminably.
We recall a scandalous situation in Adamawa State few years ago where the governor kept reappointing the chief judge in acting capacity, after every three months until the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria intervened. The same thing happened in several other states. Recall also the problem Rotimi Amaechi, then as governor of River State, had with the National Judicial Council. He did not want the woman appointed by the NJC to be the CJ of the state and named his own. That matteŕ was not resolved until after he left office. Today Amaechi is a federal minister.
Hopefully, this new law will end interference by governors in the way and manner state judiciaries are run. It also means a heavier burden on the shoulders of state judicial staff led by the chief judge. The saying that to whom much is given from them much is expected is apt in this case.