The JUSUN Strike and a Case for Judicial Financial Autonomy

The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) is currently on a nationwide indefinite strike on the issue of financial autonomy of the judiciary. The strike means that all Federal courts as well as courts in the FCT and across all states of the Federation will be closed till further notice. The reason for the strike is the non-implementation of judicial financial autonomy at the state level which is contrary to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that any amount standing to the credit of the House of Assembly of a State and Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid to the said bodies respectively and in the case of the Judiciary shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.

The alteration of section 121 (3) of the Constitution was done via the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration, No. 4) Act signed by President Buhari in May 2018. Prior to this Constitutional alteration, section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution already provided for judicial financial autonomy. The effect of the 2018 Constitutional Alteration Act No. 4 was to extend the provision on financial autonomy to State Houses of Assembly.

More than 20 years after the enactment of the 1999 constitution, it is worrisome that the provision of the Constitution in section 121 (3) giving financial independence to state Judiciaries is yet to be implemented. Many state governments have failed to directly credit the state Judiciaries from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State but instead have released funds to the state Judiciaries on a piecemeal and arbitrary basis. In 2014 alone, there were three court judgements (FHC/ABJ/CS/667/13, FHC/ABJ/CS/63/2013 and NAD/56/2013) interpreting section 121 (3) of the 1999 Constitution and reiterating the need for the implementation of judicial financial independence. More recently, in 2020 President Buhari issued an Executive Order 10 on the issue of financial autonomy of the state Judiciary. The Executive Order laid out steps to be taken by state government that will lead to the actualization of financial autonomy for the Judiciary. All of these show efforts by the federal government aimed at ensuring judicial financial independence at the state government level.

One of the cardinal principles of democracy in a presidential system of government is the Separation of the three arms of government i.e. the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. This Separation is sustained by a system of checks and balances where each arm of government is expected to check the excesses of the other two arms of government. At the federal level in Nigeria, financial autonomy in the three arms of government has been achieved because of the adherence to the provisions of section 81 (3) of the 1999 Constitution. Why is it then so difficult to implement the financial independence of the judiciary at the state level despite Constitutional provisions to that effect? State Governors have not been able to give tangible reasons for the non-implementation of financial independence for state Judiciaries. At first, they said that the state Judiciary allocation would take a huge chunk of their budget which the state government could not afford.  In the face of the current JUSUN strike, they have now alleged that the delay in non-compliance was due to tidying out the modalities of implementation. It is submitted that it should not take more than two decades for state governments to implement financial autonomy for state Judiciaries. At this point, non-implementation is more likely a lack of political will than anything else.

The Judiciary is the last hope of the common man. A situation where the state Judiciary is not financially independent puts them at the mercy of the state Executive led by the Governor of that state. This lack of financial independence will impair the impartial delivery of justice as Judicial Officers in the state Judiciary will be beholden to the state Governor, the state government and its interests. Our system of democracy is upheld by an adherence to the rule of law and the Judiciary is expected to interprete our body of laws and give judgement without fear or favour. A Judiciary that is not financially independent cannot be said to be truly independent and everyone suffers for it.

In the event that this state of affairs persists even after clear Constitutional provisions, court judgements, an Executive Order by the President and strikes by JUSUN, it is recommended that the Federal Government initiate another amendment of the Constitution. This amendment will be in relation to section 162 (4) of the 1999 Constitution and will be to the effect that out of the federal allocation accruing to states, the state Judiciaries will be credited directly from the Federation Account and such money will not pass through the state governments. The financial independence of the Judiciary at all levels of government must be actualized.