Governors in the South-West geopolitical zone have proposed decentralisation of the Supreme Court in the ongoing amendments to the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly.
In their memorandum through the South-West Caucus in the federal parliament, the governors are seeking establishment of six more apex courts, one in each of the geopolitical zones.
Nigeria presently has one Supreme Court sitting in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, which handles all cases from the Court of Appeal.
However, the governors are proposing that cases to be appealed to the apex court in Abuja be limited.
The South-West Governors’ Forum had met with the South-West Caucus at the National Assembly in Abuja behind closed doors on July 6, where they presented the memo.
At the meeting were Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Chairman of the South West Governors’ Forum; and Governors Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, and Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State.
Both parties had resolved to set up a joint Senate and House committee to ensure that proposals in a memorandum presented by the governors were captured in the constitution review exercise.
The document, dated July 5, 2021, was titled ‘Proposals for the Review of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended): Presentation by South West Governors’ Forum.’
Specifically, the governors are seeking amendment to Section 230 of the constitution.
It is being proposed that while the present Supreme Court can have up to 21 Justices, the zonal apex courts would have 16 Justices each.
The section presently reads, “Establishment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria: (1) There shall be a Supreme Court of Nigeria. (2) The Supreme Court of Nigeria shall consist of (a) the Chief Justice of Nigeria; and (b) such number of Justices of the Supreme Court, not exceeding 21, as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.”
The proposed amendment will not only decentralise the apex court, but also legalise the authority of the Chief Justice of Nigeria over the courts in the country.
The proposed Section 230 reads, ‘(1) There shall be a Supreme Court of Nigeria. (2) The Supreme Court of Nigeria shall consist of (a) the Chief Justice of Nigeria who shall be the head of the judiciary of the Federation; and (b) such number of Justices of the Supreme Court, not exceeding 16, as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.’
The governors noted, “We propose zonal Supreme Courts along the lines of the geopolitical zones and one in the FCT. The Supreme Court in the geopolitical zones shall be the final court in all disputes and appeals from the Court of Appeal.
“The Supreme Court at the FCT shall have exclusive jurisdiction on appeals arising from dispute relating to presidential election and matters relating to revenue of the federation and disputes between states and federation.
“This recommendation will open up judiciary and enhance the quick hearing of appeals by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”
Apart from autonomy for the local government, the forum proposed amendment to Section 121(3) of the constitution.
The new subsection reads, “Any amount standing to the credit of the (a) House of Assembly of the state shall be paid directly to the account of the House by the accountant-general of the state: and (b) Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund shall be paid directly from the Federation Account to the heads of the courts.”
The governors noted, “This is proposed for the implementation of the financial autonomy for the various arms of government.”
Also, amendment to Section 150 was proposed to separate the office of the justice minister from the office of the attorney general.
The governors noted, “This section needs to be amended to separate the professional office of the attorney general from the political office of the Minister of/Commissioner for Justice.”