Facts have emerged on the suit by 36 state governors before the Supreme Court, jointly challenging the contentious Executive Order 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, granting financial autonomy to state judiciaries and legislatures.
The original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in such suits is provided under Section 232 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 thus: “The Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute between the Federation and a state, or between states if, and in so far as that dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends.”
While signing the Order on May 22, President Buhari said he relied on sections 5 and 121(3) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999.
He added that the orders, which will be implemented across the states, would make them independent and more accountable in line with the report of the Presidential Implementation Committee set up to examine the implementation of financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciaries.
In the statement released by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) following the accent, the Order provides thus:
“That the Accountant-General of the Federation shall, by this Order and such other orders, regulations or guidelines as may be issued by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minster of Justice, authorise the deduction from source in the course of Federation Accounts Allocation from money allocated to any state of the Federation that fails to release allocation meant for the state legislature and judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by Section 121(3) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended),” the statement read.
The AGF further explains that Article 6(1) of the Order provides that “notwithstanding the provisions of this Executive Order in the first three years of its implementation, there shall be special extraordinary capital allocations for the judiciary to undertake capital development of state judiciary complexes, High Courts complexes, Sharia Court of Appeal, Customary Court of Appeal and court complexes of other courts befitting the status of courts.”
But in their originating summons before the Supreme Court, the 36 state governments averred that the Order violates the provisions of sections 6 and 81(3), and item 21(e) of the Third Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution, 1999, which they maintained obligated the Federal Government with the “responsibility for funding all capital and recurrent expenditures of the High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal and Customary Courts of Appeal of the states of the Federation of Nigeria, being courts created under Section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Section 81(3) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 states that, “Any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation shall be paid directly to the National Judicial Council for disbursement to the heads of the courts established for the Federation and the state under section 6 of this constitution.”
The suit was filed on behalf of the states at the apex court by their lawyer, Austin Alegeh (SAN), leading eight other SANs and lawyers.
In the affidavit deposed to by a lawyer in the legal team, Chinweoke Onumonu, she averred that each attorney-general of a state informed her that their state governments had expended total sums in funding capital and recurrent expenditure of the state High Court and Customary Court of Appeal from May 5, 1999 to January 31, 2020.
The states further contend that the Federal Government, which will be represented by the Attorney-General of the Federation, has the constitutional responsibility to fund the recurrent and capital expenditure of the High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal and Customary Courts of Appeal of the states.
The states also explained that apart from salaries of judicial officers in the states, which are currently paid by the Federal Government through the National Judicial Commission (NJC), they are saddled with the responsibility of capital and recurrent expenditure, which obligation they say “has tremendous impact on the finances of the plaintiff states (36 states) and currently accounts for a significant portion of the revenue accruing to the plaintiff states on a continuous basis.”
According to them, some of their capital expenditures include court rooms, residential quarters, furniture, vehicles, generators and others, while they continue to bear recurrent expenditures in the courts, except for the salaries of judicial officers.
“In the face of continuing and persistent refusal of the defendant (Federal Government) to fulfill its constitutional duty and obligation, the plaintiffs have invoked the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to resolve the dispute and determine the respective.