From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Governors of the 36 State of the federation on the platform of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), will on Thursday meet with the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) over the ongoing strike which had paralysed activities in courts across the country.
The union had on April 6 embarked on a nationwide strike to protest the non-implementation of the financial autonomy of the nation’s judiciary.
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.
The governors were accused of frustrating the implementation of the financial autonomy for the judiciary, they are accused of seeing the judges as their staff and that they starve the judiciary of funding if they don’t dance to their tune.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last year signed into law, Executive Order No 10 of 2020 cited as “the implementation of financial autonomy for state legislature and judiciary Order, 2020”.
A key provision of the said Executive Order which seeks to enforce financial autonomy of the legislature and judiciary of the states, is the power given to the Accountant-General of the Federation to deduct from the allocations due to a state from the Federation Account, any sums appropriated for the legislature or judiciary of that state which the state fails to release to its legislature or judiciary as the case may be and to pay the funds directly to the state’s legislature or judiciary concerned.
Speaking to journalists at the NGF Secretariat in Abuja, the Governor of Plateau, Simon Lalong, said the meeting is aimed at prevailing on the judicial workers to end their strike.
He explained that there is a difference between Executive Order 10 and implementation of the financial autonomy law, assuring that governors were committed to to implementing financial autonomy which is constitutionally backed and that they do not need the executive to arm-twist them on what to do.
Lalong dismissed report alleging that the Governors are opposed to financial autonomy of the judiciary.
While responding to questions on the public outcry on ongoing strike allegedly caused by the State Governors and the non-implementation of Executive Order 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, he said: “The Court did not make any pronouncement on Order 10. The court said, there is a law on financial, so Order 10 and financial autonomy is different, so Order 10 is not law, financial autonomy is law.
“Now, the implementation of your financial autonomy was what according to them, led to the enactment of Order 10. So people don’t understand what is Order 10; Order 10 is talking about implementation.
“But for us Governors, we are saying no; we are going to do implementation, we don’t need any Order 10 to force us to do implementation. So we don’t need Order 10. We are only working on the law of implementation because Federal Government cannot tell us how to implement.
“We are doing the implementation. So for the judiciary, I’ve explained, I said it’s perhaps people don’t understand people have not even read what is Order 10 and the difference between Order 10 and the financial autonomy, when we are having a meeting which we are going to conclude tomorrow, is about financial autonomy.
“It’s not about order 10. Order 10 of course is subjudice now; it’s in Court, we are not bothered about order 10, we are talking about the implementation of the financial autonomy law.
“I was a Speaker, we started it in 1999; today I’m a Governor, and I knew how the Governors agreed, and brought in financial autonomy. It was a law, agreed by the governors and the Governors said go and pass it.
“Otherwise, how many times were brought it every year, and then it was failing and at the time that we were there, we all agreed as governors and said, let’s go and pass and implement it in our States and we pass it.
“So who is the one that is even crying more than the bereaved? We are the ones, all these things affect us. And, of course, talking today, I’m a lawyer and I would want the judiciary to be autonomous.
“I’ve been a legislator, I was the Speaker, Chairman of former Speakers conference up till today. So, I will say that I will want autonomy for them, and I’m a member of the executive today, so combined.
“It is strengthening the institution, because people are thinking that is about money, it’s not about money. We want all the institutions strengthened; both the judiciary and the legislature.”
Asked why the Governors are foot-dragging, Lalong who doubles as Chairman, Northern Governors’ Forum disagreed, saying: “No governor is foot-dragging. Who’s foot-dragging?
“We were not consulted when we saw a law passed and Order came. So when you are talking about implementation, you’re talking about policy, you don’t wake up because law is passed and you said you are doing it, how? There must be processes. For instance, as a one time speaker, I will tell you that you cannot do financial autonomy, until you have a service commission in place. You must establish a service commission, you must establish a state Allocation Committee, and all these are steps toward autonomy.
“You don’t achieve autonomy in a day; we did it for National Assembly, and there was no Order 10 for implementation. It was done in stages. The federal government is aware, some members of National Assembly are today Governors, how can they say they don’t want autonomy? We have seven Governors who are members of the National Assembly, who fought for autonomy and got it for National Assembly. So we are saying it’s a process but someone will just come and say Order 10 I’m doing it today, no!”
When asked the extent of engagement on the financial autonomy, he said: “We’ve had very useful dialogue with both the representatives of the judiciary and the State Speakers.
“Yesterday (Monday) they were in my State and we all agreed that by tomorrow (Wednesday) we will round it up with all the Governors; with their team – Judiciary and PASAN, to explain to them that sometimes people don’t know what they are fighting for.”
Governor Lalong maintained that in any democratic environment, certain things would have to be done through dialogue.