…As lawyers hold nationwide protests
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Henry Ojelu, Festus Ahon, Chinonso Alozie, Chimaobi Nwaiwu
THE Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, yesterday assured that issues surrounding the implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary and legislature at the state level will be completed by May.
The assurance by the governors came just as lawyers in various states across the country staged peaceful protests yesterday to demand autonomy for the judiciary.
Chairman of the NGF, and governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, who led other governors and representatives of both the judiciary and legislature to a harmonisation meeting in the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said all parties had reached an agreement on the way forward.
The Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, had embarked on nationwide strike over inability of state governors to grant financial autonomy to the judiciary and legislature at the state levels.
The governors had earlier said that they are not against granting financial autonomy to the judiciary and legislature at the state level but noted that they had issues with the terms of implementation.
Fielding questions from State House correspondents after the meeting, Dr Fayemi said the meeting had reached conclusions agreeable to all the parties involved.
He said though the governors would not fix a time-frame for the implementation, it should be as soon as the document being put together had been finally and properly cleaned up, which he said should not be later than the end of May.
He said: “We are here for legislative and judicial autonomy and the governors, the speakers and the judges are on the same page, as far as this issue is concerned.
“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 and we are on all fours. An agreement has been reached.
“First, the issue is about implementation. There has been no objection from governors on judicial and legislative autonomy. 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.”
Asked when Nigerians should expect to see the implementation taking effect, he 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 time-frame in the air, but it will be implemented as soon as possible, definitely no later than the end of May 2021.”
Appealing to striking JUSUN and its members, Dr Fayemi said: “In the interest of the nation, we believe that the striking workers should return to their offices because as far as this has gone, we have met with all the parties concerned.
“The President, through the Chief of Staff, has been insisting on this matter and has been monitoring what has been happening and I think we are basically at a position where whether you speak to the Conference of Speakers’ chairperson or you speak to me or you speak to the representative of the judiciary or you speak to the Solicitor-General of the Federation, you will hear that we are speaking with one voice on the implementation and no later than May, you will start seeing the implementation of the agreement that we have reached.”
Other governors present at the meeting included Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (Sokoto), Simon Lalong (Plateau), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi) Chairman, Conference of Speakers of States Assembly, Abubakar Suleiman, Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Dayo Akpata and Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang.
Meanwhile, hours before the governors made their new position known, the Senate had asked them to implement full autonomy for the judiciary, saying it was non-negotiable.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Opeyemi Bamidele, in his appeal to the governors, said nobody will lose anything by granting independence to the judiciary at the state level since it had been done at the national level.
Earlier yesterday, lawyers across the country staged protests in their various states to demand financial autonomy for the judiciary.
The protests were in compliance with the directive by the President, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr Olumide Akpata that all NBA branches should demand financial autonomy from their state governors.
Our correspondents who monitored the protests in different states report that the protests were successful as lawyers came out in their numbers to demand autonomy of the judiciary.
Security agents lock NASS gate, deny lawyers entry
There was mild drama at the National Assembly complex in Abuja as security officials denied protesting members of NBA entrance into the complex. .
The protesting lawyers had earlier converged at the Court of Appeal gate before proceeding to the National Assembly in their numbers, to register their demands.
Security officials upon sighting the lawyers in their vehicles locked up the two gates to National Assembly.
“People like you can’t just be in the National Assembly…” one of the security officers told the lawyers.
Lawyers denied access to Govt House in Edo
In Benin City, Edo State, members of the state branches of NBA were barred from gaining entrance into Government House to submit their protest letter to Governor Godwin Obaseki.
The members led by Benin NBA branch chairman, Pius Oiwoh were drawn from Igarra, Auchi, Uromi and Ekpoma branches of the NBA, and after waiting for over one hour, retreated to the secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, where Oiwoh addressed journalists.
He said: “I do not want to believe that His Excellency directed what they did to us, however, after staying for over one hour, we decided to pull out of the place but a reassurance that by Monday next week, we will repeat the visit because that is the directive from the national leadership of the NBA that we continuously visit government house with this letter of appeal that the Constitution should be complied with.”
Delta AGF assures protesting lawyers
In Delta State, protesting NBA members were joined in the demand for financial autonomy for the judiciary by the state chapter of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria, PASAN, who are also asking for financial autonomy for the state legislature.
Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Dr. Peter Mrakpor (SAN), who addressed the protesters, assured that the state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, was favourably disposed to granting their request. Mrakpor said the demand for financial autonomy for the judiciary by JUSUN, supported by the NBA was constitutional and was truly not negotiable. He held that the role of the judiciary is key to the success of democracy in any part of the world.
NBA meeting with Uzodimma rescheduled
The meeting between the Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma and the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Owerri branch, was rescheduled yesterday.
A source privy to the meeting told our correspondent that the governor will most likely meet the protesting NBA members later this week. “You can see that the meeting did not work out today. We are likely to meet with the governor by the end of this week or latest Monday next week,” the source said.
Owerri NBA chairman, Jude Ogamba also confirmed the postponement of the meeting. “We are supposed to meet with the governor today, (Monday) but it could not hold,” he said.
Anambra lawyers to meet Obiano, AG
Lawyers in Anambra State complied with the directive from by the National President of NBA to lead a delegation to visit the Governor of the state.
Speaking with Vanguard yesterday, chairman of Ihiala Branch of NBA, and immediate past chairman of all the eight branches of the NBA in Anambra State, Mr Vitalis Ihedigbo, said the NBA in the state has scheduled appointment with the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the state.
“We already have a scheduled appointment with the Honourable Attorney General tomorrow at 10am (today).”