An Independent Judiciary Crucial for 2015 Elections

I am concerned about the political condition of the country going into 2015 elections. With the glaring desperation of politicians across parties; I fear the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be overstretched and the Judiciary will yet again be the only hope in ensuring stability of the country pre and post 2015. The Judiciary very likely will be called upon to decide with finality the eligibility of the President to contest the 2015 elections and several other pre and post election issues that will arise. To effectively do that the Judiciary must have political and financial capacity.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) will be retiring this year. The CJN presides over the most important court in the country, the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is also a final court on election disputes.  I admonish all and sundry to follow with interest the selection process to this judicial office later in the year. The character of the occupant will be very decisive for the 2015 elections. I also admonish the chain of public institutions involved in the appointment (the National Judicial Council, the Presidency and Senate) to discountenance politics and do the right thing.

But more importantly, I want to commend the recent decision of Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court Abuja ordering the Federal Government and 36 state governments to comply with sections 81(3), 121(3) and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution that guarantee financial autonomy of the Judiciary. The Sections provide that any amount standing to the credit of the Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation/State shall be paid directly to the heads of courts concerned for disbursement.  Previously, rather than implement these Constitutional provisions that guarantee financial autonomy for the Judiciary, Federal and State governments were in joint continuing breach appropriating monies for the Judiciary as if it’s a ministry or agency under the executive; thereby undermining the Judiciary’s independence.

Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN has also approached the court on this matter in SUIT NO. FHC/ABJ/CS/63/2013 – OLISA AGBAKOBA vs. AGF & 3 ORS and SUIT NO. HAD 56/2013 - OLISA AGBAKOBA Vs. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF EKITI STATE & 3 ORS. His position is that the proper way to fund the Judiciary is that the heads of Courts (NJC or Chief Judge) prepares annual estimates for his Court consisting of Capital and recurrent expenditure. The total estimate, say XXX billion Naira, is then charged on the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation/State and paid in full, to the heads of court; without interference by the Federal /State Executive and Legislature.

I am in complete agreement with Dr. Agbakoba’s position not just because it is line with the doctrine of Separation of powers but also because it should be the proper interpretation of the Constitution.  The National Assembly applying the same doctrine of Separation of Powers in exercise of its legislative powers in 2010 altered the Constitution to ‘take care of itself’ financially by charging their budget to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The Judiciary in my view in exercise of its judicial powers needs to urgently and emphatically with these cases assert itself on the issue of its financial Independence. I pray they find the courage.

Collins Okeke

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