It is no pretext that one of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration’s legacies after office is to leave behind a corruptionfree and independent judiciary. Even before he came into office as Nigeria’s president, Buhari had desired a strong and corruptionfree judiciary. So, the President signed an executive order into law to demonstrate his readiness to restore the lost glory of the judiciary.
This is, however, reflected in the Presidential Executive Order No. 10 he signed into law on 22nd May, 2020 which among others granted financial autonomy to states’ legislature and the judiciary. Although financial autonomy for the judiciary has already been provided for in the Constitution, the principle behind the Executive Order is to provide financial independence for the Judiciary and the Legislature of the 36 states of the federation. Unfortunately, both the Federal and the State Executives are breaching it and the judiciary having no control over funds automatically becomes the most vulnerable and the biggest victim at both the federal and state levels. An examination of Part E of the 1999 Constitution relating to powers and control over public funds, will show the constitutional effort to guarantee and secure independent funding of the judiciary, free from executive interference and control.
Sections 80, 81, and 84 of the Constitution, in particular, give the judiciary power and control over its own funds. While Section 80 of the Constitution establishes the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation as a pool of national income, Section 80(2) stipulates how monies are withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
Section 80 of the Constitution says “no money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the fund by this Constitution or where the issue of those money has been authorised by an Appropriation Act, Supplementary Appropriation Act or an Act passed in pursuance of Section 81 of this Constitution.” Also, Section 80(2) approves only two ways money can lawfully be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. They are by direct charge upon the fund, and by appropriation. Part of expenditure charged upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation is relating to the Judiciary.
This is seen in Section 84(4) of the Constitution, which described judicial officers as including Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justices of the Supreme Court, President and Justices of the Court of Appeal.” Notwithstanding the intention of the Presidential Executive Order, there was an uproar against the order as it was believed that President Buhari lacked the requisite powers to execute an order in respect of state courts and legislature, especially when it is still within the purview of state governors.
Presently, with allegations of bribery and corruption dogging it, the nation’s judiciary needs a kind of independence that will indeed guarantee financial autonomy which would rid it of untoward malfunction and restore its lost glory as one of the best among commonwealth nations. And for the Presidential Executive Order to be implemented, notwithstanding economic challenges bedevilling states in Nigeria in the face of fresh recession, governors of the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) must key into President Buhari’s vision of a virile judiciary and not opposition by some governors.
For whatever reason a few governors protested plans by the Federal Government to deduct states’ funds at source for states’ judiciary under the Executive Order 10, judiciary must enjoy full independence as it is obvious that an independent judiciary, devoid of individual, government or political influence, would sustain the fight against corruption and other vices dogging it and also add value and integrity to the nation’s democracy.
Financial autonomy for judiciary which would enhance President Buhari’s anti-corruption war, which is gradually extending to every sector of the economy, is no doubt enough reason to strengthen our judicial system. The judiciary needs to be properly funded and given adequate manpower and an environment conducive to effectively discharge its functions and perform optimally as this is very essential and critical in moving the nation forward politically and economically.
We must applaud Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State during his interaction with the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association who captured the President Buhari’s vision for a strong and independent judiciary thus: “All the 36 governors in Nigeria were in support of judicial autonomy or independence.”
Fayemi, who is the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), said judicial reform remained the engine room of any democracy. We hope other governors, who are kicking against Presidential Executive Order 10 will support Fayemi and the agenda for the judiciary as being pushed by President Buhari rather than planning to challenge what they perceived as illegality of the President’s power to fast track independence of the judiciary. For instance, it is immoral and illogical for some governors who underfund the judiciary to now stall effort by the President to ensure the financial autonomy and the independence of the judiciary.
Again, the governors who have described the decision of the Federal Government to deduct states’ funds at source for states’ judiciary under the Executive Order 10 as illegal and ill-advised should cooperate with the central government for the smooth implementation of the financial autonomy and the independence of the judiciary as guaranteed under the Presidential Executive Order.