Strike: Governors, JUSUN, PASAN agree to begin financial autonomy implementation, says labour minister

Nigerian state governors have reached an agreement with the striking judiciary and parliamentary workers on the autonomy of the arms of government, according to a statement by the federal ministry of labour, Friday.

The resolution followed a “stormy” conciliatory meeting with the leaderships of the workers’ unions on Thursday, the statement said.

The statement signed by Charles Akpan, the Deputy Director Press and Public Relations of the ministry, quoted the labour minister, Chris Ngige, as saying the implementation of the newly signed agreement would begin next week.

Mr Ngige said the workers would call off their strike as soon as the implementation begins.

Members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria have been on strike since April 6, shutting down all courts across the country in agitation for the financial autonomy of the judiciary, particularly at the state level.

Likewise, Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), members are also said to be on strike in some states over the denial of state Houses of Assembly their financial independence.

Mr Ngige presided over the meeting with the leadership of the two unions on Thursday the latest in the series of conciliatory talks.

The meeting was attended by the Secretary of the Presidential Implementation Committee on the Autonomy of the Judiciary and Legislature, Ita Enang, who doubles as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Nigeria Delta Affairs.

The governors were not present, but Mr Ngige, who heads the federal government’s negotiation team on the financial autonomy matter, said ”they had agreed to the terms of the agreement”.

Reporters were made to understand that the document signed by parties present at the meeting is to be passed to all the 36 governors to append their individual signatures.

Efforts made to confirm the position of the governors on the matter were unsuccessful as the director-general of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Asishana Okauru, did not immediately answer our reporter’s calls or reply to his text message.

Agreement

The meeting began at about 6.45 p.m. and ended at about 10.p.m. on Thursday with the adoption and signing of a Memorandum Of Action (MOA), the labour ministry’s statement read.

A major highlight of the MOA titled, ‘Implementation of Financial Autonomy for the State Legislature and Judiciary’, is Article D, “upon which the suspension of the strike is predicated”.

The implementation of the agreement will be “triggered as from Monday, May 24, 2021, when the April FAAC to states is expected to start dropping,” the statement added.

Speaking after Thursday’s meeting, Mr Ngige said the parties signed “the document containing the framework for each of the state governments to grant autonomy to their legislature and judiciary.”

He noted that state governors had “studied the document and were in agreement with it”.

Confident that all the 36 state governors would sign the agreement, the minister assured that the implementation would “commence next week with the distribution of the April allocation from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC).”

The assurance, however, tallies with a promise by the NGF chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, in April that the implementation of the financial autonomy of the state judiciary and legislature would start by May ending.


‘Historic’

The minister described the signing of the document as “historic and a fundamental kick-starting of restructuring being clamored for by some Nigerians”.

“This is a restructuring that has granted autonomy to the state judiciary and legislature. I am happy that we are part of this history-making and that we made this history in the life of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari,” he said.

He praised President Muhammadu Buhari for achieving “the feat through the instrumentality of the fourth alteration that gave birth to Section 121 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Presidential Executive Order 10 and the establishment of the implementation committee.”

Presidential implementation committee speaks

Speaking earlier, Mr Enang, commended Mr Ngige for bringing his “wealth of knowledge and experience” to bear in resolving the crisis.

Mr Enang is the secretary of the presidential committee that saw to the issuance of Executive Order 10 by President Muhammad Buhari for the implementation of the financial autonomy of the judiciary and the legislature at the state level.

He blamed past administrations for turning blind eye to the autonomy of the legislature and the judiciary.

“We struggled for this thing for 21years now since the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 was promulgated. The autonomy was there. It was said not to be clear and was clarified, and clarified, but it was not obeyed by our brothers,” he said.

The advocacy for the enforcement of Executive Order 10 by the presidential committee has not gone down well with the governors, who have, for years, foot-dragged on the implementation of the financial autonomy being demanded by the striking workers.

The 36 state governors at their meeting under the auspices of the NGF, had on Wednesday, called for the dissolution of the presidential committee led by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.

The governors accused the committee of “basically misguiding and overheating the relationship between State Governments and the other arms of government”.

JUSUN official speaks

Meanwhile, the National Treasurer of JUSUN, Jimoh Musa, confirmed the signing of the MOA to Newsmen on Friday.

A reporter of Premium Times asked Mr Musa if the signing of the agreement did not imply the union backtracking on its earlier rejection of the governors’ proposed template for the implementation of the judiciary’s financial autonomy.

Responding, he said the proposal had been modified to suit the demand of the union.

“For instance, an aspect of the agreement that gives the ministries of works of various states the role of executing construction projects for the judiciary has been removed upon our demand,” he said.

He added that a major highlight of the newly signed agreement is that the state judiciaries would receive their funds directly from the federation account as stipulated by the constitution.

“We agreed that the implementation will begin next week. We will call off the strike once the state judiciaries gets their allocations from source,” he added.

It was reported how the union, in rejecting the governors’ previous proposal, insisted on strict compliance with constitutional provision on financial autonomy for the judiciary.

It said the provisions of the constitution “cannot be negotiated, doctored, manipulated and therefore must be obeyed”.

As a condition to end its ongoing strike, the union had insisted that all the state judiciaries’ funds for October 2020 till May 2021 must be deducted directly from the source, the federation account, and paid to the heads of courts through the NJC as prescribed by the constitution.

Highlights of signed agreement

The statement issued Friday by the labour ministry gave some highlights of the new agreement.

The agreement read in part, “The governments of the respective States shall credit the Accounts of each State House of Assembly and each State Judiciary with the pro-rata amount due each of the two arms of Government under the 2021 Appropriation for each State in accordance with B(iii) of this Memorandum of Action commencing from April 2021 State Allocation from the State Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) as a sign of good faith.

“And the B(iii) in reference says “whenever there is Revenue shortfall, lower than the Budgeted fund, the monthly allocations to each arm of government shall reflect a percentage of the appropriated sum or an irreducible minimum amount to be allocated every month for the purpose of meeting its costs whichever is higher. This percentage will reflect as 100 per cent in Personnel Cost. The Running Cost and Capital Cost will be pro-rata of Revenue performance as per the State Appropriation Law.

Upon fulfilment of the above, “ the ongoing Industrial Action shall be suspended with immediate effect from the date of the agreements contained in this Memorandum of Action (MOA), provided item D above is effected immediately and others effected within the 45 days window as prescribed in this MOA.

The framework adds, “annually upon the determination of budget ceilings or envelopes from the Budget Committee of the State, anchored by the Budget Office of the State headed by the Commissioner in-charge, each arm of government – Executive, Judiciary, Legislature, acting through its own Budget and/or Funds Management Committee, shall prepare its Budget Estimates/Details and submit same to the State House of Assembly;

“There shall also be established in each State a State Account Allocation Committee (SAAC) to be given legislative backing in the various Fund Management Laws and charged with the responsibility to oversee the distribution of available resources to each arm of Government. Membership to reflect the template of the FAAC.

“Every State Commissioner of Finance and State Accountant General shall on a monthly basis furnish the Committee with the revenue performance of the State within a stipulated timeline not exceeding 7 days after each FAAC meeting. Based on the revenue receipt, evaluations and the needs of each arm, the Committee shall work out an appropriate budget release based on the Appropriation for each Arm of Government for that year.”

The Presidential Implementation Committee shall give a biweekly appraisal and follow-up.

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