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April 12, 2021

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Courts shutdown enters second day, may become protracted

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The crippling nationwide strike embarked upon by judiciary workers which has led to the shutdown of courts almost throughout the country, entered its second day on Wednesday.

The umbrella body of the judiciary workers, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), had declared the indefinite strike to press for financial autonomy for the Nigerian judiciary at all levels.

PREMIUM TIMES gathered Wednesday that the leadership of JUSUN is billed to meet to review their stance on the strike at the weekend, by the time which the courts across the country would have been shut for four consecutive days.

This implies that the strike is likely to remain till at least the end of the week, and possibly extend to the second week if the seeming aloofness of critical stakeholders, whose input is crucial to the resolution of the logjam, from the strike, persists.

The last protracted strike JUSUN had over their demand for financial autonomy for the judiciary extended to three weeks in January 2015.

In what appears to be an insight into how bleak the current situation might be, a JUSUN official, Jimoh Musa, told our reporter on Wednesday that stakeholders, such as the governors, the Federal Government, and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), had yet to reach out to the union over the matter.

The governors are largely seen as the major opponent of the judiciary’s financial autonomy being demanded by JUSUN.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, at a meeting with a JUSUN delegation led by Mr Jimoh, who is the union’s National Treasurer, appealed that the strike be suspended to afford the government time to start implementing the Executive Order 10 earlier signed by President Muhammadu Buhari for the enforcement of the constitutional provision on judiciary’s financial autonomy.

Mr Muhammad also told JUSUN that he was constrained about talking to the governors over the matter as such could be viewed as asking for a favour that they might in turn want to be repaid for.

‘We haven’t heard from governors, others’

Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, Mr Jimoh said the CJN was not in a position to grant the union’s demand, but said his plea would still channeled to the NEC of the union which is scheduled to meet at the weekend.

He said, “Up till this moment, we have not heard from neither the Federal Government nor the governors.

“It was only the CJN that invited us appealing to us to suspend the strike. But we met with him based on an urgent call, so we did not form a quorum of the National Executive Committee (NEC).

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“Therefore, we that attended told him that we needed to convey his plea to the NEC which holds its meeting by this weekend. We will convey his plea to them, and whatever the decision they take, we will get back to the CJN.

“What we are asking for is not in the hand of the CJN to give. But we will try to channel his to our members.

“We have heard nothing from the Attorney General. We have not heard from the NBA too.”

The strike

JUSUN had called for an indefinite strike which commenced Tuesday to press for financial autonomy for the judiciary at all levels.

The main grouse of the striking workers is against the 36 state governors, and less against the Federal Government which partly complies with the relevant constitutional provision on the issue, by placing the federal judiciary in the first line charge in the national budget.

Under the partial autonomy being enjoyed by the federal judiciary, it still cannot send its budget directly to the National Assembly without being subjected to prior tinkering by the executive.

It is worse off for the state judiciaries which only get funds as it pleases their state governors.

President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari on May 22, 2020 signed the Executive Order 10 for the enforcement of the financial autonomy status granted the state legislature and judiciary in the Nigerian Constitution.

The Executive Order made it mandatory for all states to include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.

It also mandates the accountant-general of the federation to deduct from source amount due to the state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state, for states that refuse to grant such autonomy.

The Executive Order, which many argued was not necessary in the first place to implement a constitutional provision, has not been implemented due to state governors opposition to it.

Federal High Court Headquarters, Abuja

Earlier in January 2014, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the full enforcement of the constitutional provision of the financial autonomy at both the federal and state levels, but the judgment was disobeyed particularly by the state governments.

‘Strike 99 per cent complied with’

Mr Jimoh said the strike declared to press for the enforcement of the judgment and the relevant constitutional provisions was 99 per cent complied with on Tuesday.

“There was at least 99 per cent compliance on Tuesday,” he said.

He said the Borno State chapter which was initially “foot-dragging about the strike, later complied with the strike directive.”

He added that the national leadership of the union was still persuading the Edo State chapter that did not join the strike on Tuesday because of the no-work-no-pay policy enforced by the state government when they took part in similar industrial action in 2015.

“We are still working on them. It is a national thing. Sometimes you need to sacrifice when you are working for a just cause. That is how it will be forever. Sometimes you have to be strong and be determined to do the right thing. That is my appeal to Edo chapter,” Mr Jimoh said.

‘NBA’s position political’

When asked why the union was not swayed by NBA’s call on Monday for the strike to be shelved in the interest of the system of justice administration, Mr Jimoh said the appeal by the body of lawyers was a mere political statement.

“We just read their statement claiming that they are with us, but that the timing is wrong. That is political, because I don’t know the right timing to fight for the right cause. It is political to us,” he said.

‘NBA president has been communicating with JUSUN’

When confronted with JUSUN’s claim that the NBA had yet to reach out to the union beyond issuing a statement, the publicity secretary of the body of lawyers, Rapulu Nduka, said although there had yet to be a formal meeting with the striking workers, the NBA president, Olumide Akpata, had been communicating with them.

Olumide Akpata

“To the best of my knowledge, I know that the president has been reaching out to them and they are insisting on with going on the strike.

“I know that there has been some communication between our president and the leadership of JUSUN. But I can’t really say when the formal meeting will happen. Things are muddled up at the moment, so we are taking them one after the other.”

‘Strike ill-timed’

As stated in NBA’s previous statement, Mr Nduka said the association was in support of JUSUN’s agitation for the financial autonomy but against the “wrong timing” of the strike.

He said, “The bottom line is this, we don’t have a problem with the strike because their agitation is legitimate.

”The only problem we have is the wrong timing, as to how it would affect people.

”With the insecurity in Nigeria, the police will have a field day arresting people and detaining them without trial, and they will have an excuse that the courts are not open. We are just worried about the ripple effect of closing down the courts at this moment.”

‘Governors should do the needful’

He called on the governors to meet the demand of the striking workers.

“We believe that the governors should do the needful. This is a constitutional provisions affirmed by the court. It is not a matter of moral obligation. It is a legal obligation,” he said.

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