The 36 states of the federation filed a lawsuit against the Buhari administration on Monday, seeking to halt a new executive order that strips the federal government of the responsibility of funding courts.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in May signed an Executive Order No. 00-10 of 2020 to enforce the financial autonomy of the legislature and the judiciary at the state level.
But the states said in the lawsuit that the federal government is forcing its responsibility of funding both the capital and recurrent expenditures of the state high courts, Sharia Court of Appeal, and the Customary Court of Appeal, on the state governments.
The lawsuit, filed at the Supreme Court, Abuja, takes aim at what nine Senior Advocates of Nigeria and six lawyers, led by a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Augustine Alegeh, called the federal government’s unlawful action to escape being responsible for funding the courts.
This, they argued, is a clear violation of Sections 6 and 8(3) of 1999 Constitution, which make funding of the listed courts a responsibility of the federal government.
However, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, backing the president, had earlier said the order was constitutional.
“It is based on the power vested in him as the president under “Section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended), which extends to the execution and maintenance of the Constitution, laws made by the National Assembly (including but not limited to Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), which guarantee financial autonomy of the State,” Mr Malami said.
According to the AGF, the order provides that: “The Accountant-General of the Federation shall by this Order and such any other Orders, Regulations or Guidelines as may be issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, authorise the deduction from the source in the course of Federation Accounts Allocation from the money allocated to any State of the Federation that fails to release allocation meant for the state legislature and state judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended).”
But the attorneys behind the suit are seeking an injunction that will block the order from being effected.
The sole respondent in the suit is the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Malami.
In another prayer, the 36 states, which said they had been funding capital projects in the listed courts since 2009, want the Supreme Court to order the federal government to make a refund to them.
“Since the 5th of May 2009, the defendant had not funded the capital and recurrent expenditures of the state high courts, Sharia Court of Appeal and the Customary Court of Appeal of the plaintiffs’ states, apart from paying only the salaries of the judicial officers of the said courts.
“The plaintiffs’ states have been solely responsible for funding the capital and recurrent expenditures of the state high courts, Sharia Court of Appeal and the Customary Court of Appeal of the plaintiffs’ states, which the defendant has failed and/or refused to fund,” they said.