Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, says the Federal Government must stop using security agencies to intimidate and influence judges if it truly believes in the independence of the judiciary.
The governor accused the All Progressives Congress (APC) led Federal Government of using the issue of financial autonomy to ingratiate themselves with the judiciary after years of the obvious frosty relationship between them.
Governor Wike stated this in his remarks at the Nigerian Bar Association President’s Dinner in honour of delegates to the 61st annual conference of the NBA in Port Harcourt on Tuesday night.
The Rivers State governor reiterated his disagreement with the stance of the Federal government and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum on the issue of financial autonomy for the judiciary. According to him, confining autonomy for the judiciary to finance alone, is antithetical to the concept of independence of the judiciary.
He contended that it is disingenuous for the Federal Government that use security agencies to bully judges, to direct States to implement financial autonomy for the judiciary.
“Autonomy is also allowing them (judges) to do what they are supposed to do without you intimidating them. Autonomy is not, give money. Autonomy is, stop using the security agencies to influence them on what to do. We have restricted autonomy to mean where you can award contracts. No, that is not autonomy alone.
“Allow them to perform. Allow them to work according to the law and not to tell DSS to come and meet a judge and say look, we hear this is what you people want to give as a judgement on this matter. We heard that you have N2.5 million in your account. And then the judge says, well, I don’t want to be embarrassed, let me just do it the way you people want it.”
Governor Wike stressed that legislation on financial autonomy for the judiciary is unnecessary because the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria clearly spells out the autonomy of the three arms of government.
Ekiti State Governor and Chairman, Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, observed that some Nigerians have erroneously assumed that governors are opposed to legislative and judicial autonomy.
“There is a certain notion out there that Governors are opposed to judicial and legislative autonomy. It’s a false notion. We are not opposed to it, we have done everything to support it. Many of our states have even started implementing it long before Executive Order 10 came to the fore.
“And the position we’ve consistently taken is not so much opposition to judicial and legislative autonomy, but oppose to Executive Order 10 as a vehicle for achieving judicial and legislative autonomy. That has been the bone of contention, and a lot of that has also revolved around the modalities for implementing judicial autonomy.”
He said almost all the States of the federation have enacted legislation on financial autonomy for the judiciary, and implementation have started in some of the States.
Governor Fayemi noted that the issue of financial autonomy has been controversial in regards to who is responsible for capital funding and expenditure of the courts. According to him, the NGF is already seeking legal clarification on the matter.
Speaking on security, Fayemi said though States have been at the forefront of supporting the law enforcement institutions, they insist on the need for multi-level policing that should keep the federal police, but should also allow in the Constitution, State police.
Governor Fayemi explained that in June 2020, the NGF declared a state of emergency on gender-based violence. And since then, 30 states have enacted legislation on the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, while the remaining 6 states are in the process of finalising their own legislation.
He commended Governor Wike, who he described as an enigma, defender of the defenceless, for sponsoring and hosting the 61st annual conference of the NBA.
On his part, the Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde said lawyers are a solid pillar for development in the country.
He noted that as the country moves towards the 2023 electioneering period, a lot will be happening and lawyers have a major role to play.
“Just as you have elected this president, against old tradition, against the old generation. And I can see that you are reaping the benefit of the revolution within the NBA. So I want to beg of you, please let the same thing happen in Nigeria and we shall all reap the benefit of that.”
The NBA President, Olumide A. Akpata, SAN, observed that Nigeria is passing through a difficult period in its history, and that is why the Bar decided to devote the entire week to seek possible solutions to some of these challenges.