Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State on Tuesday said that the state has substantially complied with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, on the financial autonomy and independence of the judiciary.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch however disagreed with the governor, saying that what Lagos has is at best, partial compliance. The branch warned that Lagosians have started questioning justice delivery in the state.
Sanwo-Olu made this declaration in a meeting he held at the Government House, Marina with members of the NBA from four out of the five judicial divisions in Lagos State including Epe, Lagos, Ikorodu and Badagry led by their chairmen, Ademola Koko, Yemi Akangbe, Abimbola Ojedokun and M.A. Sodipo respectively.
Instructively, Ikeja branch was not part of Tuesday’s meeting as the branch held her own march yesterday (Monday) to Alausa, Ikeja, the seat of government in full compliance with the directive of the NBA President, Olumide Akpata.
Beside the governor, others on Lagos government side in Tuesday’s meeting included the Deputy Governor, Dr Femi Hamzat, the Head of Service, Hakeem Muri-Okunola, the Attorney General, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) and Special Adviser on Housing, Mrs Toke Benson.
The lawyers arrived Lagos Government House, Marina as early as 10.00 am with their banners demanding for financial independence for the judiciary. Some of inscriptions on the banners stated: “Judiciary Independence Strengthens Our Democracy; Mr Governor, Please Respect the Constitution and Grant Autonomy to Judiciary; Financial Independence for Judiciary is not Negotiable and Enough is Enough, Judiciary Needs its Independence” amongst others.
Security agents at the Government House however intervened in the planned protest of the bar leaders and prevailed on them not to display their banners in order not “to embarrass the governor”.
Although the meeting was planned to host three members each from the for branches of the NBA, Governor Sanwo-Olu resolved what could have become a heated arguments between the security agents and the lawyers when he directed that everyone should be allowed inside.
Sources close to the meeting said the governor rehashed what the Chief Justice of the state, Justice Kazeem Alogba said during a meeting with the leadership of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) last Thursday that Lagos has met the required 100 per cent in recurrent expenditure and 75 per cent in capital expenditure and of his readiness to do more for the judiciary in the state.
The governor, it was said explained that while there is no issue on recurrent expenditure for the judiciary, the capital expenditure for the judiciary “is a function of budgeting based on projections and estimates.”
Sanwo-Olu, it was also gathered, assured the NBA of his continued belief in the rule of law and that his administration “will continue what they have been doing to ensure that there is 100 percent compliance across board on judicial autonomy at the end of the day.”
But speaking with journalists on Monday at the governor’s office, the Chairman of Ikeja branch, Mr Bartholomew Agugbodo disagreed both with the governor, and 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. “What Lagos State Judiciary enjoys is not 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.”
The NBA Ikeja Chairman regretted that the public have started questioning justice delivery in Lagos state;
So financial autonomy is a sine qua non for a true democracy and that is why we are protesting”, he said.
However, the Chairman Epe Branch, Ademola Koko in a chat with journalists after the meeting with the governor, said they submitted a joint written demand of the four NBA branches including Epe, Ikorodu, Lagos and Badagry.
Koko said the governor assured them that he would do everything to maintain independence and financial autonomy for the judiciary in the state in accordance with the provisions of Section 81(3) and121(3) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which he said supports the strike of JUSUN.
He described the judiciary as the most important in a democracy saying, “We have three arms of government, the executive, legislature, judiciary.
“ The judiciary is the one holding both the executive and the legislature. If there is any problem during and after the election, you run to the judiciary. If there is any problem during administration of a government, you run to the judiciary.
“Our own take is that the judiciary must be put in its proper place as stipulated by the constitution. That is the reason we are supporting JUSUN. As branches, we are going to meet with JUSUN and the Chief Judge on the matter to chart a way forward.
“We are critical stakeholders in the administration of justice. For over two weeks, the courts have been locked and we have not been able to go to court, bearing in mind that a lot of people have not been able to enjoy their fundamental rights.
“I agreed with our national President on full compliance with the constitution but we must set parameters for implementing full compliance with the constitution to ensure direct funding from the federation account and that is why I said we are going to meet again with JUSUN to sort all these things out.
“What we have done today is just the first step. The second step is to meet with the CJ and we are doing that this week”, he said.
Chairman, Lagos Branch, Yemi Akangbe said the judiciary is a major stakeholder in the administration of justice in Nigeria and is the body charged with and has the mandate to ensure rule of law.
Akangbe said , “Given the role we play, we feel that it is important for us to lend our voice to the ongoing strike of JUSUN. So, we have come to inform Mr Governor that the NBA believes that the demand of JUSUN for financial autonomy for the judiciary is in line with constitutional provisions and the government in Lagos will do well by upholding the constitutional provisions on the issue.
“We are pleased with what they said and we know most of us and as far as Lagos is concerned, it appears the strike is a sympathy one with the other states and we also made it clear to the Governor that we would be very happy if he, at the governors forum, can push for total compliance across board amongst them.”
He said the expectation of NBA branches in Lagos is that “we want normalcy to return to the courts as soon as possible so that administration of justice will not grind to a halt.
“We sat down and discussed and agreed on the independence of the judiciary, that is where we can talk about the rule of law and that the constitution will be complied with. We agreed that the constitution should be sacrosanct because it is the very essence of our existence and should not be treated with levity.”
Akangbe added: “We planned to sit down with the trade unions, the JUSUN and reach a common ground. That is where we stand. We want things to go back to normal and whatever we have to do to get to that point, we must do it. We urge the state governor and other state governors to do what must be done to get to that point.”