Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF)

Nigerian governors on Thursday said they will start implementing financial autonomy for the judiciary latest by May ending, a pledge that indicates that an end to the ongoing strike that has crippled the nation’s judiciary may be in sight.

The governors also called on striking members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to call off their two weeks old strike.

The chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, gave this assurance in an interview with journalists after meeting with ‘stakeholders’ from the state judiciary and legislature at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

Courts across the country have been grounded for two weeks by JUSUN members who downed tools since April 6 in protest against the non-implementation of the judiciary’s financial autonomy particularly at the state level.

Addressing State House correspondents over the matter on Thursday, Fayemi said the governors were not against the financial autonomy of both the legislature and the judiciary, “but had only been spending time on ensuring its full implementation”.

He said the modalities for the implementation were worked out at the meeting held at the Presidential Villa.

According to him, the meeting, chaired by the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Gambari, was attended by the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the representatives of the judiciary, the representatives of the Conference of Speakers, and House of Representatives.

The governor said, “we are on all fours,” adding that “an agreement has been reached”.

He added, “first, the issue is about implementation. There has been no objection from governors on judicial and legislative autonomies, as a matter of fact, it would not have passed if governors were not in support, in the first instance, in the state assemblies.

“The issue has been fully and holistically addressed, but we don’t just want to agree to something on paper without working out the modalities for implementation. Thankfully, the meeting we have just emerged from, with the Chief of Staff to the President chairing, has worked out the modalities to the satisfaction of all parties.”

When asked, Fayemi the implementation would not start latest by May ending.

“As soon as the final document that is cleaned up emerges, that is preparatory to implementation. We’re not going to put a timeframe in the air, but it will be implemented as soon as possible, definitely no later than the end of May 2021,” he said.

On why the NGF had yet to issue a statement on the progress so far recorded in arriving at the agreement, Fayemi said, “it’s because for us, this is not an issue that requires a statement from the governors. The Honourable Minister of Finance has dealt with it and the issue is out there for you to deal with.”

“But for us, we’re here for legislative and judicial autonomy and the governors, the speakers and the judge are on the same page, as far as this issue is concerned,” he added.

Fayemi urged the striking workers to return to work as he maintained the implementation of the financial autonomy of the judiciary would commence in May.

“In the interest of the nation, we believe that the striking workers should return to their offices because as far as this has gone, we have met with all the parties concerned, the President, through the Chief of Staff, has also been ‘seized’ of this matter and has been monitoring what has been happening.

“I think we’re basically at a position where whether you speak to the Conference of Speakers’ chairperson or you speak to me or you speak to the representative of the judiciary or you speak to the Solicitor-General of the Federation, you will hear that we’re speaking with one voice on the implementation and no later than May, you will start seeing the implementation of the agreement that we’ve reached,” he said.

Meanwhile, members of JUSUN and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Monday held protests in Abuja and different parts of the country to further press for the demand for the financial autonomy of the judiciary.

Both organisations had issued separate directives to their members to embark on the protests across the country following the abrupt cancellations of meetings which governors and federal government representatives were scheduled to have with them (JUSUN and NBA) and others on Wednesday and Thursday last week.

Newsmen earlier reported that the labour minister, Chris Ngige, has scheduled the meeting to hold at 3p.m. in Abuja on Tuesday.

Nigerian governors are largely believed to be against the autonomy of the judiciary and the legislature at the state level.

They had displayed opposition by rushing to court to challenge the executive order issued in May 2020 by President Muhammadu Buhari for the enforcement of the relevant constitutional provisional provision on the financial independence of the two arms of government.

Judiciary workers embarked on strike on April 6 demanding the implementation of section 121(3) of the Nigerian constitution which is being flouted by the governors.

The section provides that funds meant for the judiciary be released to the heads of court in various states directly from the consolidated revenue account.

A judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja delivered in January 2014 had affirmed the constitutional provision, yet the governors have refused to comply.

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