The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Kayode Fayemi, on Monday said the state governors and other stakeholders had reached an agreement on the implementation of financial autonomy for state legislature and judiciary.
Although he did not disclose the details of the agreement reached, he assured the nation that the implementation would start in May.
Fayemi, who is also the governor of Ekiti State, disclosed this in an interview with State House correspondents after a meeting of the technical committee on the matter chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The governor said, “We just emerged from a meeting with the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the representatives of the judiciary, the representatives of the Conference of Speakers, and House of Representatives. An agreement has been reached.
“First, the issue is about implementation. There has been no objection from governors on judicial and legislative autonomies. As a matter of fact, it would not have passed if governors were not in support in the first instance, in the state Assemblies.
“So, that issue has been fully and holistically addressed, but we don’t just want to agree to something on paper without working out the modalities for implementation.
“Thankfully, the meeting we have just emerged from, with the Chief of Staff to the President chairing, has worked out the modalities to the satisfaction of all parties.”
On when the implementation will begin, Fayemi said, “As soon as the final document that is being cleaned up emerges, that is preparatory to implementation.
“We are not going to put a timeframe in the air, but it will be implemented as soon as possible, definitely not later than the end of May 2021.”
The governor then appealed to the striking judiciary workers to return to work in the interest of the nation.
He said calling off their action was important because “as far as this has gone, we have met with all the parties concerned, the President, through the Chief of Staff, has also been seized of this matter and has been monitoring what has been happening.”
When asked for the position of the NGF on the controversy generated by the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, that the Central Bank of Nigeria printed N60bn to augment March allocation for states, Fayemi said the NGF refused to make a statement on the matter “because for us, this is not an issue that requires a statement from the governors.
However, the National Treasurer of JUSUN, Jimoh Musa said the union had not met with the governors.
He said, “I know they invited some Chief Judges and met with them, but they have not come to table to discuss with us.
“We have never met with them, we don’t know their faces. So are mischievous and I am surprised that leaders that we are supposed to emulate will come, saying things that are not right.
We are re meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) with the Minister of Labour and I have been told that they are sending a representative, may be the DG of Nigerian Governors Forum.
But until this moment, we have not met with them, even for one day. They have never called us as JUSUN to discuss with us.
“Let’s us sit down and discuss this thing, it is a constitutional matter and we can resolve this thing.”
NBA backs JUSUN, vows to force govs’ compliance
Meanwhile, members of the Nigerian Bar Association on Monday marched to the main gate of the National Assembly, Abuja, to demand autonomy for the judiciary at all levels.
The NBA’s action is nationwide as different state branches of the association showed support for the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria whose members have been on indefinite nationwide strike over judicial autonomy.
The industrial action has forced courts to shut down.
In Abuja, the lawyers were, however, blocked by security operatives manning the main entrance to the complex.
The First Vice-President of the NBA, John Aikpokpo-Martin, who led the protest, was accompanied by Chairman, NBA, Abuja branch, Hauwa Shekarau; Chairman, Bwari branch, Clement Ugo; and Chairman, Gwagwalada branch, Isah Aliyu.
Earlier, a senior police officer approached the protesters, asking if they had notified the leadership of the National Assembly of their coming.
The NBA VP, however, told the police officer that they were not at the National Assembly for an official visit.
Aikpokpo-Martin said, “This is not an ordinary visit; it is not a courtesy visit. Around the country as we speak, all the (state) branches of the Nigerian Bar Association are meeting with the governors. It is a synchronised and symbolic visitation.
“In the states, the demand that our members are taking to the state governors is that they must comply with Section 121 of the Constitution. At the National Assembly, we are not coming to ask them to comply (with it) because the Federal Government has complied; we are asking them to put their weight behind the demand.”
Later while addressing journalists, Aikpokpo-Martin said, “We are on this mission because it tallies with our motto, ‘Promoting the Rule of Law.’ And one of the main objectives of the Nigerian Bar Association is protecting the independence of the judiciary.
“The governors have refused, despite all entreaties, to obey the provisions of the Constitution, i.e. Section 121(3) to ensure that they pass the money meant for the state judiciaries to the heads of courts. All attempts to make them to see reason have failed.
“Today is to let the governors know that they cannot have their way all the time; that we have men who are trained in law and we are going to ensure that we protect the provisions of the Constitution and ensure that they comply willy-nilly this time around.”
State lawyers protest, back JUSUN
Similarly in Ondo State chapter of the NBA on Monday staged a peaceful protest in Akure the state capital.
The lawyers from five branches in the state converged on Akure High Court complex from where they moved round the state capital and ended at the governor’s office in Alagbaka.
The state acting governor, Mr Lucky Aiyedatiwa, said Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, as a legal practitioner and former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, would not oppose judicial autonomy.”
Similarly, lawyers in Ekiti State on Monday urged the state governor and chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, to impress on governors to allow financial autonomy to judiciary.
The state NBA members from Ado Ekiti, Ikole and Ikere branches, urged government to intervene in the two-week old strike of JUSUN which had paralysed the courts.
Also, the NBA members in Edo State were prevented from entering Edo State Government House by security operatives.
The members, led by the Chairman Benin branch of NBA, Pius Oiwoh were drawn from Igarra, Auchi, Uromi and Ekpoma branches of the NMA.
Similarly in Delta State, the NBA members marched through the streets of Asaba to Government House in support of JUSUN and later barricaded the Government House gate.
The State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Dr. Peter Mrakpor (SAN), assured the lawyers that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, was favourably disposed to granting JUSUN’s request.
Likewise, members of the NBA, Ikeja branch, on Monday marched to the gate of the Governor Office.
However, the gate was shut against the protesters, led by the chairman of the branch, Bartholomew Aguegbodo.
The lawyers later sent their representatives to go into the Government House to drop the letter, comprising the chairman, two former chairmen, Monday Ubani and Adesina Ogunlana and a lawyer, Chibuzor Agwocha.
JUSUN members protest
In the same vein, JUSUN members continued its protest against the failure of the governor to allow financial autonomy in states.
The members in Abia State on Monday took to major streets in Aba and Umuahia to insist on the demanded their full financial autonomy from the Executive arm of government.
Those in Kwara State also marched to the Government House on Ahmadu Bello way within Ilorin metropolis.
The state chairman and secretary, Ibrahim Sambo and Ahmed Taofeeq, respectively, led the protest.
The Union leaders vowed to continue with the peaceful protest until government did the needful.
Also, JUSUN members in Bayelsa State joined the protest.
They were received by Governor Douye Diri who promised to look into the issues raised by the JUSUN.
The state JUSUN chairperson, Koin Selepreye, said, “I didn’t expect anything much from him (Diri). We know that in governance you need to do some consultations. It’s not just him, it’s the Nigerian Governor’s Forum.
Likewise, Katsina State executive of JUSUN met on Monday on the demand by judiciary workers.
The state JUSUN chairman, Mallam Saidu Magaji-Adamu, said although the state did not observe the protest, the meeting was about charting ways forward for the union.
Implement judicial autonomy, says Senate
Also, the Senate on Monday appealed to governors across the 36 states of Nigeria to save the nation’s democracy from collapsing by granting full independence to the judicial arm of government.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, stated this while reacting to the protest staged at the National Assembly by the Nigerian Bar Association on the issue.
Bamidele said judicial autonomy was non-negotiable and that state governors should emulate the Federal Government by granting independence to the arm of government.
He said, “We do not want protests but definitely, we would rather talk more to state governors houses of Assembly and other stakeholders to do the needful in the overriding public interest.
“We cannot continue to call on the judiciary to give peace a chance when we know the conditions under which they work cannot guarantee a passionate and enhanced delivery of justice.”