Nullifying President Buhari’s Executive Order 10 initiated to grant financial autonomy to the states judiciary and legislature, the Supreme Court last week reminded us all that “this country is still a federation and the 1999 Constitution it operates is a federal one”. The constitution, it added, “provides a clear delineation of powers between the state and the federal government.” Signed on May 22, 2020 by the president, Executive Order 10 was to enforce the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as altered by the 4th Alteration Act, No.4 of 2017, which guarantees financial autonomy for the judiciary and the legislature at the state level.
The judiciary, it is said, exists to sustain a society governed by reason with ‘descent men far removed from the quarrelsome, competitive, selfish creatures’ of a perfect state of nature’. Federalism, which protects individuals and groups in deeply divided societies, is one social system through which model builders since the end of the Second World War agreed unity in diversity could be achieved.
Unfortunately the judiciary became not just the scourge of the nation but the greatest threat to our federal arrangement since 1962 when it decided to undermine our federal principles by playing the role of an accessory to crime against our nation by an unenlightened political class’ application of the rule of the jungle to manage our affairs.
First, the ruling coalition driven by political vendetta instituted a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the activities of the National Bank which was a regional issue over which the federal government had no power. In 1962, following the victory of the Western regional opposition party at the London Privy Council, the judiciary, against the spirit of our federal constitution aided the Balewa administration to take over the Western Region. It followed the take-over with a tragic-comedy, called a judicial trial which convicted and jailed the leader of opposition, Chief Obafemi Awolowo ‘for treasonable felony’ and a more comical offence, ‘conspiracy to commit an unlawful act’.
After demonstrating its bankruptcy through its ignoble role in the federal government contrived Coker Commission of Inquiry into Statutory Corporations in the Western Region and the prosecution and conviction of the opposition leader, Obafemi Awolowo for treasonable felony, the judiciary, casting itself in an image of anarchist, went on to give a perverse verdict over the 1963 census crisis between the north and east which it dismissed as a ‘political issue’.
In 1966, the judiciary was behind General Ironsi’s Decree 34 that temporarily turned a multi-ethnic Nigeria to a unitary state. In 1979, President Shehu Shagari secured his presidency courtesy of Richard Akinjide and the Supreme Court’s twelve two third pronouncement. Buhari’s retrogressive and draconian laws were crafted by the judiciary.
The Third Republic was also aborted by the judiciary as it became a willing tool in the hands of Babangida whose N40 billion eight years ‘transition without end’ finally collapsed partly on account of immoral and irresponsible midnight judgment of late Justice Ikpeme. Abacha secured legitimacy and ravaged our land through Onagoruwa and Nwabueze, two leading lights of the judiciary following the collapse of Babangida’s fraudulent interim contraption.
Abdul Salami Abubakar who came to stop the drift in 1988 was aided by the judiciary to foist on the nation the 1999 constitution which was more unitary than federal with its consolidation of an exclusive list with 68 items as against 45 of our independence federal constitution. The result is the current “duplication and multiplication of government departments in an effort to find job for the boys”.
Although last week’s annulled President Buhari’s Executive Order 10 was meant to allow the Supreme Court justices and other judicial officers to directly manage annual budget appropriations for the judiciary the same way the legislature has been doing in the last few years with dire consequences, the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Greek gift seems to have saved for the judiciary whatever credibility it has left. The novel idea of Supreme Court judges and other judicial officers awarding contracts for capital projects, fixing their own salaries and presiding over daily disbursement of funds will amount to unnecessary distraction for the judiciary.
The madness currently going in the legislature where unrestrained lawmakers cornered about 25% of our annual budget ought to have been sufficient disincentive for those pushing the idea. Unfortunately those running Ministry of Justice don’t seem to believe the judiciary exists to sustain a society governed by reason.
The Supreme Court ruling has also exposed both the federal and state governments as enemies of federalism. It is not difficult to see their hypocrisy. First the federal government has no objection to Section 81 of the 1999 constitution that places the responsibility of the payment of the salaries and emoluments of the judges of the three courts viz State High Courts, Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Court of Appeal precisely because that allows it to exert influence on the judicial officers of those federal institutions since it is generally agreed that he who pays the piper dictates the tunes. There is therefore less incentive acceding to the states demand for funding of capital projects and refunding of N66 billion being an amount the states claimed they had so far spent on capital projects for the three courts in their respective states.
On the other hand the 36 state governors that sought for an order of the apex court to compel the federal government to take up funding of capital projects for state High Courts, Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Court of Appeal want to eat their cake and have it. They exert their own influence on the judiciary through funding of capital projects and procurement of cars. But now they would rather have the federal government pay for them.
It is a known fact that it is rare for federal high courts to rule against the governors of the states where they operate. We could not have suddenly forgotten how a particular South-south governor built a structure and provided an accommodation for a federal judicial officer transferred to his state within two weeks. Justice Marcel Awokulehin did not waste time before dismissing the 170-count charge of corruption involving the laundering of millions of dollars brought against that governor by EFCC at Asaba Federal High court on December 17, 2009. The scandalous judgment confirmed once again the preference for the rule of the jungle to manage our affairs.
But in 2012, it took justice Nickolas Pitts London Southwark Crown court less than one hour to sentence the same governor to 13 years imprisonment in United Kingdom prison for eight of the 23 charges he had pleaded guilty to.
The presidential Executive Order 10 was ostensibly meant to facilitate the implementation of the constitutional provisions to aid the states legislature and judiciary in curing the constitutional wrong of their financial autonomy which the state have always denied. It was however commendable that “despite the pitiable eyesore that judicial officers and staff go through financially at the hands of state executives, who often flout constitutional and court orders to their whims and caprices”, the judiciary realized Buhari’s Executive Order 10 was nothing but a Greek gift, from a former military dictator who has for six years as a democratically elected leader tried without much success to prove he has faith in the rule of the law.