By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
The striking Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has rejected the 36 state governors’ proposed template for the implementation of judiciary’s financial autonomy being demanded by the workers.
The governors, in their proposal, seek the creation of a State Account Allocation Committee (SAAC) to oversee the distribution of funds to the three arms of government at the state level.
But in a communique the union issued after a May 8 meeting of its National Working Committee (NWC), the union insisted on its demand that funds meant for the state judiciaries must be deducted directly from the federation account and paid to the heads of courts through the National Judicial Council (NJC) .
It maintained that the provisions of the constitution “cannot be negotiated, doctored, manipulated and therefore must be obeyed”.
As a condition to end its ongoing strike, the union insisted that all the state judiciaries’ funds for October 2020 till May 2021 must be deducted directly from source, the federation account, and paid to the heads of courts through the NJC as prescribed by the constitution.
JUSUN members embarked on the nationwide ongoing strike on April 6 in agitation for the judiciary’s financial freedom from the executive, particularly at the state level, where the state governors only fund the two other arms of government as they please.
The union of parliamentary workers are also said to have downed tools in some states.
The judiciary workers’ strike has now crippled Nigeria’s judiciary at both the state and federal levels for over six weeks.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, the Federal Government’s negotiation team led by the labour minister, Chris Ngige, and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), have held series of meetings with JUSUN leaders over the crisis.
The union insists that it will not call off the strike until its demand is met.
The chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, and other stakeholders, in April, promised that the state governments would start implementing the union’s demand as from end of May.
PREMIUM TIMES on Friday, obtained a copy of the NGF’s proposal on how to implement the union’s demand.
The document stated that the proposal followed a meeting held with JUSUN, the Parliamentary Staff Union of Nigeria (PASAN), the NGF, Conference of State Legislators of Nigeria (COSLON) and other relevant ‘stakeholders’ at the labour minister’s conference room on May 6, 2021.
It also said the NGF had also held a series of meetings with the Presidential Implementation Committee and the NJC on the matter.
The proposal made available to PREMIUM TIMES by JUSUN officers, stated that the proposed template is based on existing arrangement being operated by NJC and the provisions of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Order 10 as well as the Fund Management Laws across the states.
Major highlights of the proposal include the establishment of the State Accounts Allocation Committee (SAAC) and the enactment of Funds Management Laws for the state judiciary and state legislature.
The said law according to the proposal will grant each arm “the power to manage its capital and recurrent expenditure in accordance with the provisions of Sections 6(5)(a) – (i), 81(3), 121(3) & Item 21(e) of the Third Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) and other relevant laws.”
The document defines “capital expenditure” to mean “running costs, renovations, repairs, maintenance, training (local and foreign) and other incidentals”.
It said the NGF would ensure that the states “pass and assent to the Funds Management Law as well as put in place implementation structures within a time frame not exceeding 45 days from the date of signing this document.”
Establishment of SAAC
A key component of the proposal which appears to be the anchor of JUSUN’s objection to the proposal is the establishment of SAAC ”to oversee the distribution of available resources to the arms of government”.
The SAAC is apparently an adaptation of the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), that distributes funds to the three tiers of government from the federal down to the state and the local government levels.
The body is to be established by state governments with the backing of the laws to be enacted by their Houses of Assembly.
It will oversee the distribution of funds to the three arms of government in each state based on the percentage of the appropriated capital or adoption of an irreducible minimum amount.
The choice of either the percentage-based distribution or irreducible minimum plan for the purpose of meeting costs will be based on which will yield higher funds for each arm of government on a monthly basis.
“There shall be established in the State a State Account Allocation Committee (SAAC) to be given legislative backing in the various Fund Management Laws and charged with the responsibility to oversee the distribution of available resources to the arms of Government.
“Every State Commissioner of Finance and State Accountant General shall on a monthly basis furnish the Committee with the revenue profile of the State within a stipulated timeline not exceeding seven days after each FAAC meeting,” the document read in part.
It added that “based on the revenue evaluations and the needs of each arm, the committee shall work out an appropriate budget ceiling/envelope/estimates for each arm of government;
“Upon the determination of budget ceilings or envelopes as stated above, each arm of government, acting through its own Budget or Funds Management Committee, shall prepare its budget estimates/details and submit same to the State House of Assembly.”
It added, “the various Fund Management Laws should mandate the State Accountants General to release appropriated funds directly as a first line charge to each arm.”
JUSUN’s rejects proposal, offers conditions
But in a communique issued at the end of its meeting to review the governors’ proposal, JUSUN’s NWC said it “frowned on the document that emanated from the Nigeria Governors’ Forum”.
The union in the communique signed by the Deputy President of the union, Emmanuel Abioye, and its General Secretary, Isiah Adetola, expressed support for the proposed enactment of financial management laws affirming the financial autonomy of the judiciary and the legislature.
Although silent on the proposed establishment of the SAAC, a pivotal component of the governors’ proposal, the union said the governors’ template ”violates the Nigerian constitution and is inconsistent with the resolution reached at a meeting with President Buhari’s Chief of Staff”.
It feared that “there is possibility of the commissioners of finance to under-declare the revenue of the states” if the distribution of fends is left to the state government to handle.
But it agreed with the aspect of the proposal for the establishment of the funds management law which it said “must be put in place by the 36 state governments of the federation within the shortest possible time.”
It added that “the fund management laws should be uniform across the states of the federation.”
As safeguards for the enforcement of the proposed laws, the union proposed the laws must make provision “for a penalty in case a state commissioner of finance refuses to declare the total revenue of the state.
It added that the law should also make provision “for a penalty upon the accountant general’s failure to pay to the different arms of government what is due and payable to them within seven days of getting the federal allocation.”
Condition for calling off of strike
The union also stated in the communique that for it to consider calling off its strike, the funds meant for the judiciary for the period of October 2020 to May 2021 ”must be deducted from the federation account and paid to the NJC for onward transmission to the various heads of court”.
“NWC-in-session agreed that the Accountant General of the Federation shall deduct from source from the federation account, the budgetary allocation submitted to him by the 36 States judiciaries in October 2020 and pay some directly to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for which the Heads of Courts of the 36 states will be paid, failure therefore the strike continues.
“NWC-in-session further agreed that the deduction be effected in May 2021 FAAC and with arrears from October 2020 inclusive.
“NWC-in-session also agreed that if all the above demands are met, it will be a way of showing good faith, failure which the ongoing industrial action continues,” the communique read.
‘Our demand must be met’
Meanwhile, featuring on a morning programme of the Africa Independent Television (AIT) on Friday, Jimoh Musa, National Treasurer of JUSUN, vowed that the strike action would continue until the state governors effect the direct deductions from the federation account to the heads of court beginning from May this year.
Mr Musa who featured on the television programme alongside John Aikpokpo-Martins, 1st Vice President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), lamented the stranglehold the governors have on their states judiciary.