Senior Lecturer in Public Financial Management at the School, Andrew Wynne, considers the explicitly contested – and implicitly concealed – issue of good governance in Nigeria
There have been numerous calls for a more independent judiciary within Nigeria. While the constitution allows for such autonomy, Nigeria’s judiciary has been notoriously susceptible to external pressure, particularly at the state and local levels. In 2009, prominent Supreme Court Judges raised the stakes by publicly demanding a more independent judiciary. An ongoing judiciary worker strike further heightens this demand and, given how many donors and international financial institutions are keen for developing countries to adopt good governance, it is surprising how, at present, few appear to be supporting these actions. Let us consider some facts.
Workers in each of Nigeria’s 36 states were on strike in July last year and again from the beginning of January this year. Specifically, the strike concerns the independence of the judiciary and the implementation of the 1999 Constitution that requires it to receive its funding direct from the Federation Account (where all the oil money should be collected). In January 2014, the Federal High Court ordered the Accountant General of the Federation to deduct monies intended for the judiciary from the Federation Account and to pay such sums to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for onward transmission to the Chief Judge in each state. Since then, judiciary workers at the Federal and state levels have been struggling for this judgement to be implemented. Agreements have been made at the Federal level and within a number of states but in several states the strikes continue.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola described the disbursement of funds for the judiciary by the executive as unconstitutional, a threat to the independence of the judiciary. He said the provisions of sections 81(3), 121(3) and 162(9) of the Federal Constitution of Nigeria were clear and straightforward and should therefore be complied with. According to the Judge, the judiciary should no longer have to beg the executive for funds. The Judge noted that both the National Assembly and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) enjoyed independence of funding so the same should apply to the judiciary in accordance with the constitution.
National President of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Marwan Mustapha Adamu said: “remember that this judgment was delivered in January 2014, since then, government has engaged us in discussion about 20 times”. The Federation Account Allocation Committee (FACC) of the Federal and state Accountants General agreed to set up a technical implementation committee at their meeting in June 2014, but this has not been implemented. Marwan lamented that, despite the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which was signed to ensure the suspension of the judiciary workers strike in July last year, the Accountants General of the states are insisting that they cannot meet the union’s demands, due to declining oil revenues. “So what is difficult, when the figure is there for everybody to see how much is budgeted?” Marwan queried. He alleged that since the MoU was signed the union has not been invited to any meeting to discuss how to implement the court order.
The judiciary workers and their union, JUSUN, finally lost patience and re-commenced their strike from the beginning of 2015. The Federal Government has now agreed with JUSUN, as have around a third of the 36 states. However, the strike continues in the other states that are yet to adopt the constitutional good governance demanded by the trade union. In Edo State, for example, the judiciary workers held a protest in mid-March and marched through the centre of Benin City to demonstrate their determination to continue their strike. The previous day the local JUSUN president, Uyi Ogieriakhi, had met with the governor of the state. However, the governor had expressed his opposition to the strike and his determination not to provide greater independence for the state judiciary (personal interview with JUSUN President, Edo State). Earlier this month (June), the State Governor said he would recruit new workers to replace the striking workers, but when potential applicants arrived at the High Court they were turned away by striking workers.
The judiciary workers are determined to continue their fight for good governance and the independence of the courts. In an exclusive interview with me, Uyi said that their demands were “sacrosanct in terms of good governance”. At the protest in March he said the strike would continue, even for two years, and was loudly cheered by his members. When I asked their local president, Uyi Ogieriakhi, whether they had received any support from the donor community, his response was, “Erm, erm, I do not think that is the case now”.
Why aren’t donors and financial institutions supporting the striking JUSUN workers in their struggle to gain proper independence for the courts in Nigeria?