Members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) who began a nationwide strike on Tuesday shut down courts in Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Benue, and Oyo states.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that JUSUN had in an April 1, 2021 circular, directed all its states and zonal heads to comply with the strike as from Tuesday.
The workers are demanding financial autonomy for the nation’s judiciary in compliance with the Nigerian Constitution and a judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja which affirmed the relevant constitutional provisions in a January 2014 judgment.
JUSUN, which had similarly embarked on a three-week strike in January 2015, over the failure to obey the court judgment, argued that denial of the judiciary of its financial autonomy status by the executive arm of government was the root cause of the inadequate funding of the third arm of government across all levels.
This newspaper had reported how activities were grounded at the Supreme Court and other courts in Abuja in compliance with the strike directive on Tuesday.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) which monitored the developments about the strike, reports that JUSUN members locked out staff members, litigants and their lawyers from entering the court buildings at the various states.
Lawyers and litigants in customary, magistrates’ and high courts were turned back by the striking workers.
A NAN correspondent reported that some lawyers were seen standing around the premises of the Federal High Court in Lagos with no activities taking place.
At the Ikeja High Court, Lagos, members of JUSUN, donning red vests, prevented entry into the premises by members of the public by sealing all the entrances to the court premises.
A banner notifying the public about the ongoing strike was placed conspicuously at the main entrance of the court.
Members of the union were also observed chanting words of protest stating that their rights should be enforced.
Lagos JUSUN speaks
Kehinde Shobowale, Chairman JUSUN, Lagos chapter told NAN on Tuesday in Lagos that all entrances to courts premises in the state would remain closed until the union’s demands were met.
On the implication of the strike on the court activities in the state he said:
“It is just ‘a simple strike’ involving our members, and this means that whoever is a member of JUSUN Lagos branch will go on strike.
“That means they will stay at home while only the exco members will be on the ground at the high courts. All our gates will be locked.
“I would not know if this will affect the activities of courts or not, but all I know is that the entrances to all courts in Lagos State will be locked. For us in Lagos State, we believe that the judiciary is still under something I can conveniently refer to as bondage.”
Mr Shobowale said Section 81(3) of the Nigerian Constitution “is so explicit as to what should happen to the finance of the judiciary” and queried, “so, why are people not obeying the constitution?”
He added, “Executive Order 10 which was signed by the president was to put that section of the constitution in motion, but implementation has not been done, hence, the judiciary still go cap in hand to the executive for funds to run the courts, and that has led the Judiciary to been in bondage.”
The Chairman of JUSUN in Kano, Mukhtar Rabiu-Lawan, told a NAN correspondent that the barricade was in compliance with the instruction given by the JUSUN national headquarters in its letter, No JUSUN/NHQ/GEN/III/VoL II/65 dated April 1.
”There is no going back. We have begun the strike and all courts within the state have been shut,” Mr Rabiu-Lawan said.
Also in speaking, Kayode Olusegun, the Chairman, JUSUN Oyo State chapter said there was no going back on the action.
Mr Olusegun expressed regrets that nothing positive had been done to the Executive Order 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari to enforce the constitutional provision of financial autonomy of both judiciary and the legislative arms of government.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Benue branch, on Tuesday, threw its weight behind the ongoing strike.
NAN reports that the NBA branch gave the indication in a statement signed by its chairman, Justin Gbagir, in Makurdi on Tuesday.
It decried the poor state of infrastructure in most Nigerian courts, which it blamed on poor funding of the judiciary.
The statement said in part, ”The entire infrastructure in the judiciary sector across the country is in a state of disrepair. The general welfare of judicial officers is humiliating across the states of the federation.
”Governors must obey the 2014 landmark judgment which unequivocally confirmed the autonomy of the judiciary in line with the spirit and letters of the Nigerian Constitution.
“It is against this background that the NBA Makurdi Branch identifies and support JUSUN for embarking on this strike which seems to be the only language that our governors seem to understand.”
The association expressed hope that Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, ”who is a listening and progressive governor will again take the bold step to be the first among his equals to observe and implement the constitutional provisions ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and we so urge”.
The chairman said ”there was every need for the immediate review of the emoluments of judicial officers especially those at the senior courts whose salaries had not been reviewed upward in the last 10 years”.
NAN also reports that lawyers and litigants in Kaduna on Tuesday expressed diverse views on the strike.
Most lawyers interviewed by NAN expressed support for the strike, with a few saying that the action would lead to the collapse of the country’s justice system.
A lawyer, David James, who opposed the strike argued that it might bring about the collapse of the justice system in the country.
According to Mr James, ”the strike will deny those awaiting trial quick resolution of their cases, while lawyers will be made redundant, thus affecting their income”.
He said the industrial action by JUSUN might increase the level of poverty and crime, if not resolved on time.
He urged the government to listen to JUSUN’s demands, ”if that will bring about reforms in the judicial system”.
Also, Karim Abdullahi, a lawyer who expressed support for JUSUN, said ”it would be wrong if the government remained unconcerned about developments in the judiciary”.
He advised the government and the union to resolve the issues urgently.
“The ones that have to be negotiated should be negotiated and in the process, there would be a compromise, there would be no winner, no loser.
“The JUSUN cannot have everything it wants, and the government cannot fold its arms and feel unconcerned, let them sit and agree on the fundamentals to ensure that the courts become functional again,” Mr Abdullahi added.
He said ”the strike would hit hard on inmates standing criminal trial for five to six years”.
Also, Paul Daniel, said ”it would be good if the demand of JUSUN on autonomy was granted, as the judiciary is a vital arm of government”.
According to him, ”the judiciary workers were fighting a good cause, though the strike would definitely cost him and his clients a lot”.
A litigant, Ruqayya Adamu, expressed sadness over the strike.
Mr Adamu, whose civil case was slated for a mention, said it was unfortunate that the courts were closed due to the strike.
Another litigant, Aliyu Ibrahim, said he left home early so as to appear before the court, ”but was disappointed to meet the court closed”.
He also appealed for a quick resolution of the issues, “so that the common man will access justice.”
Mr Buhari had on May 22, 2020, signed the Executive Order 10 for the enforcement of the financial autonomy status granted to state legislature and judiciary in the Nigerian Constitution.
Executive Order 10 of 2020, 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.
The order 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.
PREMIUM TIMES reports that state governors under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) are against the implementation of the Executive Order and have filed an action in court to challenge it.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in its bid to avert the strike on Monday, appealed to JUSUN to put the industrial action on hold because of the timing, but decried the government’s violation of constitutional provision.
The NBA President, Olumide Akpata, said in the statement reported by PREMIUM TIMES that an Executive Order was not required for the enforcement of constitutional provision.
But he had appealed to JUSUN not to embark on the strike because it would spell doom for the justice administration sector which he said was still battling to regain grounds lost to COVID-19 crisis since last year.