March 2, 2024

Delta State High Court Directs Chief Judge, President of the Customary Court of Appeal to Present Budgets Directly to the State House of Assembly

The Delta State High Court has directed the Chief Judge and President of the Customary Court of Appeal to pesent their budgets directly to the State House of Assembly.

The court, presided over by Hon. Justice G.B Briki-Okolosi, also restrained the Governor from preparing the budget estimates and presenting same to the House of Assembly for appropriation.

In addition, the court commended the claimants John Aikpokpo-martins and Olukunle Edun for filing the present suit which “offered the opportunity to redress the situation” and their “doggedness” in the pursuit of Justice.

Emphatically restating the independence of the judiciary, the Court ruled that:

“The presidential system of Government brought by the of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, no doubt, recognises cooperation and partnership among the three arms of Government for peace, order and good governance in the Country. But that does not mean that any arm should be dependent or subservient to the other, as is the practice with regard to the funding of the judicial arm of Government.

Another point worthy of mentioning is, if the National Assembly does not submit it’s Budget Estimates to the Executive arm, why should the judiciary be made to do so? As the Executive arm is required by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to submit it’s Budget Estimates to the National Assembly for deliberations, so is the judicial arm accorded the same right and independence to do so under Sections 81 and 84 of the same Constitution. Any interpretation outside this arrangement would mean acting contrary to the intendment of the framers.[…]

Justice Birki-Okolosi continued that “Itis therefore beyond adventure to state that as the Constitution did not recognise the practice of the judiciary submitting it’s annual Budgetary estimates to the Executive arm, and the provisions of the Constitution are sacrosanct, then the Court has the inherent power to arrest the apparent drift characterised by the clear and unconstitutional practice entrenched over the years. It is my belief that by declaring as unconstitutional the age long practice of requiring the judicial arm to submit its Budgetary Estimates to the Executive for consideration and inclusion in the Executive Appropriation Bill, this Court will be assisting the Executive arm to adhere to the provisions of the Constitution.

In the same vein, say with every force at my disposal that the current practice whereby the Judiciary in Delta State, that is the 3rd, 4th and 6th Defendants are required to submit their Annual Budgetary Estimates to the Executive arm for scrutiny before inclusion in the Appropriate Bill, is an aberration and therefore unconstitutional. This Court has inherent power under the Constitution, considering that the provisions of the Constitution are sacrosanct, to arrest the apparent drift characterised by the clear and unconstitutional practice entrenched over the years, and particularly, since 1999. I am of the firm view that by declaring unconstitutional this age long practice in Delta State of requiring the judicial arm to submit its Budgetary Estimates to the Executive arm for consideration and inclusion in the Executive Appropriation Bill, this Court will be assisting the Executive arm to adhere to the provisions of the Constitution, as advocated in this judgment.”

Further registering the need for complete autonomy for the Judicial arm of government, the court said “In concluding, I recall that following the amendment to S. 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution through the Fourth Alteration No. 4, Act No. 7 of 2017, the President and Commander-in-Chief, Muhammadu Buhari issued Executive Order 10 in 2020 to facilitate compliance with the aforesaid provision dealing with the release of the funds standing to the credit of the House of Assembly and the Judiciary to these Branches of government. The Governors of the 36 States of the Federation including the 1st Defendant immediately filed Suit No. SC/CV/655/2020: A. G. ABIA STATE & 35 ORS vs. A. G. FEDERATION, where the Claimants in an originating summons brought before the Apex Court, claimed several reliefs. The Supreme Court by a majority of the justices, a split decision of 6-1, nullified Executive Order 10, by which the Federal Government of Nigeria had sought by the Order to give effect to Section 81(3) and particularly, section 121(3) of the Constitution with regards to financial autonomy of the respective 36 States Judiciary and Legislature, provisions which had before then been observed by the State Governors more in the breach. That decision was handed down in February 2022. I am of the firm view that until a positive order is made by a competent Court the judiciary will not see its way through the woods.

By that decision hope was lost momentarily, but that hope is brought to life today with the present opportunity. Hopefully, unlike the other cases referred to in this judgment, where there was stiff opposition, it is not the same in the instant case. This portends something good for the future of the judiciary. It is hoped that Delta State is set to position its Judiciary among the best in Nigeria if not the best. I must not fail to commend the Claimants for their doggedness and for filing the present suit offering the opportunity to redress the situation.”

In the final result, after a calm consideration of the case of the Claimants and the law, find and hold that there is merit in the case. I accordingly answer all the questions for determination in the originating summons, in the affirmative. I also grant all the reliefs sought with some amendments to bring the language of the reliefs within the practice in Delta State.” The judge said in the verdict.


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