By Romanus Okoye, Lagos
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja Branch, on Monday, protested the non-implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary as enshrined in the constitution.
The protest followed a directive issued on Sunday by the President of Nigeria Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, to all state branches to stage a protest to support full implementation of financial autonomy. Akpata had directed the chairmen of all the branches of the NBA in the country “to effectively mobilise their members with effect from Monday, April 19, 2021, and on every Monday thereafter to visit the governor of their respective states at the Government House, until the governors comply with the demand for financial autonomy of the Judiciary.”
The protest was also to support the strike of the members of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) who have been on strike for two weeks demanding for full financial autonomy and independence for the judiciary.
In compliance with the directive of the NBA, the Ikeja Branch of the association, led by the chairman, Bartholomew Aguegbodo, yesterday took off from Ikeja Bar Centre and matched through Oba Akinjobi way, Oba Akran Avenue into Obafemi Awolowo Way and marched on Alausa secretariat to present their letter of demand to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
They had a brief stop at Allen/Obafemi Awolowo roundabout where the Ikeja NBA chairman, Aguegbodo took minutes, to educate the public that their action was to ensure a better judiciary for the people of the state. By the time the protesting lawyers got to Alausa Secretariat, the gate of the Government House was already shut against them by security agents who barricaded the road and prevented them from accessing the governor’s office.
There was about one-hour heated arguments between the NBA Ikeja leadership and three different Directors from the governor’s office who came at different times to convince the Ikeja NBA to hand over its letter to them for the attention of the governor. But the lawyers stood their ground that they will only deliver the letter of the Bar to the governor directly or an officer in his office. The lawyers were later prevailed upon to send their representatives to go into the government house to drop the letter.
A four-man team, including the chairman, Aguegbodo, two former chairmen, Monday Ubani and Adesina Ogunlana and Chibuzor Agwocha, were later agreed on and allowed to deliver their letter of demands. Upon their return, Agugbodo told journalists that the letter stating their demands was received and acknowledged by one Deji, the officer in-charge of administrative mails in the governor’s office.
The NBA Ikeja chairman described their protest to the governor’s office as “a re-sounding success. We would now wait and see if the Governor of Lagos State would adhere to the demand of JUSUN. If they don’t, on next Monday, we shall proceed again on another peaceful protest.”
Agugbodo disagreed with the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Kazeem Alogba who on Thursday said the judiciary in the state enjoys financial autonomy. He contended that what obtains in Lagos state is partial compliance with the provisions of the constitution.
“The issue that Lagos state Judiciary enjoys autonomy is not a full autonomy. We are saying the autonomy they enjoy is not in full compliance with the provisions of the constitution. What we are demanding, and that is a part of JUSUN’s demand, is that there must be total compliance with the constitution for full financial autonomy.
“It is not one whereby projects by the judiciary would require approval from the executive before it is done. The funds meant for the judiciary should be deducted from the federation account directly into the account of the Chief Judge, the head of the court.
“Where judiciary go cap in hand to get their projects done is not the way to go. That is why we must get them to implement full judicial independence and financial autonomy as provided for in the constitution and not in their own way. By so doing, we would have fearless judges who will give judgment without thinking that oh, if I give judgment against the state, I may not get any emolument increase or any promotion henceforth. That undermines the independence of the judiciary. If I know that every three years, the executive would change my jeep, and I have a matter against the state government, I may be very mindful how my judgment would go.”