The Supreme Court on Monday reserved judgment in the suit brought before it by the 36 states of the federation, seeking to compel the Federal Government to take up the responsibility of funding capital projects for state High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal, and the Customary Courts of Appeal in the states.

The state governments are also challenging the Presidential Executive Order 10 of 2020 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on the funding of the courts to enforce the financial autonomy of the legislature and the judiciary at the state level.

The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had clarified that the president signed the order 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.”

In the suit numbered SC/655/2020, the 36 states of the federation also want the court to order the Federal Government to pay them the sum of N66 billion, being an amount they have so far spent on the capital projects for the three courts in their states.

The plaintiffs, through their counsel, Augustine Alegeh (SAN) told the seven-member panel of Justices of the apex court led by Justice Mohammad Musa Datijjo that the three courts are courts of the federation and as such, the funding of their capital projects should flow from the consolidated revenue fund of the federation.

Alegeh, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) argued that since the salaries and emoluments of Judges of the three courts are being paid by the Federal Government, Section 81 of the 1999 constitution should be invoked to place the responsibility of the funding their capital projects in the hands of the federal government.

Meanwhile, the sole defendant in the matter (AGF), represented by the Acting Director, Civil Appeals in the Ministry of Justice, Tijjani Gazali (SAN) vehemently opposed the request by the States and urged the court to dismiss the request with substantial cost.

He said, while the issue of salary and emoluments are expressly stated in the constitution as the responsibility of the federal government, the Section was silent on the capital project adding that, since the state has been responsible for the funding of capital projects for the courts since 1999, the position should be maintained.

Gazali urged the apex court to dismiss the suit and award a substantial cost against the 36 states of the federation for filing a case that constitutes an abuse of the court process.

However, three out of the five amicus-currea (Friends of the Court), invited the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) to address the courts on the reliefs sought by the 36 states of the federation, submitted that the federal government should be responsible for the funding of capital projects for the three courts since they are courts established by the Federal Government.

The three friends of the court are Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, Olisa Agbakoba, and Sebastine Hon, all Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who all argued in favour of the 36 states of the federation.

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