Labour Minister, Senator Chris Ngige, has said that the Muhammadu Buhari led administration is monitoring the implementation of autonomy of the Judicial arm of Government.
In the first quarter of this year, it would be recalled that the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, went on strike for over two months but later suspended it effective from June 14 pending the 45 days timeline for the implementation of the agreement they entered with Governors’ Forum.
In his expression, Ngige stated hopefully that there wouldn’t be a further strike because he is in touch with the Chairman of Governors Forum and the three-man committee that they set up on the negotiation.
He said, “since I came to the Ministry of Labour and the labour unions go on strike, there is never a paper that I signed where they stated that they have called off strike. They will tell you that they suspend. I don’t know where they learnt that one from. They said what it means is that when they suspend, they can go back if they are not satisfied with the implementation of whatever agreement reached. But, I think we won’t have needed this.
“I am in touch with the Chairman of Governors Forum and the three-man committee that they set up on the negotiation and that same three-man committee will also look at compliance by the states. The governors Kebbi, Plateau, and their Chairman are heading this Committee.”
Ngige further explained that the agreement that was entered between Judiciary and the Governors was compartmentalized to allay fears of breach by the parties. According to him, the fear of the judiciary and legislative workers is that when they call off, the governors will not keep their own side of the bargain. Thus, three separate accounts have been created for the legislature and the judiciary
On the part of the Governors, he said they are afraid that the Chief Judges will be building the courts and offices for themselves without anybody saying something. To allay this fear by Governors, it was agreed that capital expenditure in terms of construction of new court buildings and quarters for both legislators and judges are expenditures that will be supervised by the state Ministry of Works
“You see the agreement is even delineated to what capital expenditure should be and tried to go down to the nitty-gritty so that the element of fear on both sides will be erased. The element of fear on behalf of the judiciary and legislative workers is that when they call off, the governors will not keep their own side of the bargain. Again, they will say, we need compartmentalization in the Assemblies because when the money also comes, we are not sure what the legislators will do with it.
“So, the agreement has gone into the legislature and in the legislature account, we will have three compartments. One, there will be accountability for the legislators. Two, there will be accountability for the staff development and welfare. And three, an account for the state House of Assembly Commission. So, there are now three accounts there. Nobody will cross the line and go and use the money already budgeted and appropriated for any of these sub-bodies into his own compartment. So, they are now less afraid.
“The governors themselves are afraid: Does it mean that the Chief Judges will be building the courts and offices for themselves without anybody saying something? Can Chief Judges award contracts, sign it, and if there is breach of agreement, is it not the courts that the thing will come back again? We are now saying that capital expenditure in terms of the construction of new court buildings and quarters for both legislators and judges are expenditures that will be supervised by the people who have the mandate. That is the state Ministry of Works and Housing because those buildings are public buildings. So, it is in the agreement. So, nobody wakes up and go and starts awarding contracts for buildings and the rest of them, even though it is in your budget.
“There must be synergy because public buildings are responsibilities of Ministry of Works and Housing actually. And so, there must be that arrangement by which the supervision of the structures and everything are monitored from the state Ministry of Works. Vehicles, air conditioners, and others are capital expenditures that the judiciary or legislators can handle themselves. And in the case of the judiciary, the Chief Registrar is the Accounting Officer, going by the Fund Management Law that will be enacted by the judiciary. And the Clerk of the House of Assembly is the Chief Accounting Officer and the Chairman of the management of funds in the State Houses of Assembly.
“So, this is how we have designed it. It is like a skeleton given to them for them to be putting some flesh as they go on. As you know, this is a work in progress. Every day, we learn new lessons and so, I think I am very comfortable with it.
“I was a governor and I have told the governors that they don’t need to panic on the agreement. I was a legislator. So, I told the legislative people that there is nothing to panic about. We have given you what is obtainable in the National Assembly. So, that is where we are on the matter for now. But I am very optimistic that we will not have any brouhaha again, provided everybody keeps to his own lane”.