Lawyers, litigants groan as Judiciary workers’ strike continues ─Survey

*Concerned stakeholders say the Judiciary workers’ strike has forced many to go on compulsory holiday, while litigants cannot go to court to get justice deserved and the police cell is congested because suspects cannot be brought to court

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Since the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) directed its members nationwide to begin a strike and shut down all courts across the country April 6, 2021, some lawyers and litigants in Kaduna State Monday, May 17 have expressed concern over the prolonged strike Judiciary personnel.

The JUSUN members ever since then have complied with the directive and mounted guard at the entrances of the courts to ensure that no one entered the court premises.

News Agency of Nigeria in a survey stated the lawyers and litigants have appealed to the State Governors in Nigeria for a quick resolution to end the industrial action.

Mr. Tega Michael, a lawyer, said: “It has been over a month since the strike began.

“Every user of the court is clearly finding it difficult. The strike has forced us to go on compulsory holiday, litigants cannot go to court to get justice they deserve and the police cell is congested because suspects cannot be brought to court.

“The judiciary workers have every reason to fight for their rights but for how long will the masses suffer because the courts are closed.

“We are affected as legal practitioners, because that is where we work and our offices have been shut.”

Michael further stated: “Right now, as we speak, there are people in detention, who though presumed innocent because they have not been tried in the court of law and have not been found guilty of any offence, but yet they are now locked up.

“There are litigants who need the court for affidavits, and for other important things but cannot get them; that is a terrible state.”

He urged the state governors and the judiciary workers to reach an agreement in order for courts to be functional in the country’s economy.

Usman Garba is another lawyer, who disclosed that he was in support of autonomy for the judiciary.

Garba also said: “The strike has caused untold hardship to ordinary Nigerians, who are deprived of their freedom without trial and without any opportunity to apply for bail.

“As we speak, you cannot even say there is an urgent matter and you want to approach the court to get an order because there is total absence of justice in the land.

“It has also made other fundamental rights enforcement settlement of disputes (matrimonial, family, taxation, etc.) impossible, thereby shutting down all justice infrastructure provided by law in Nigeria.”

He, however, called on all parties concerned to immediately find ways of resolving the dispute and allow courts to reopen.

Emmanuel Samson, a litigant, said the industrial action by the Judiciary workers has crippled court proceedings as well as commercial activities around the court premises in the country.

Samson stated: “Many people are affected by the industrial action, especially those who are detention and seek bail, as well as those who have successfully been granted bail and are ready to meet their bail conditions but cannot, owing to the closure of the courts.

“These people now languish in custody indefinitely, pending the termination of the strike action, while the challenge of prison congestion grows worse as a result.

“The strike is ultimately taking its toll on the criminal cases in the country as many detention centers are filled up with criminals awaiting trial or in detention.”

According to him, “vulnerable members of the society who crave for justice in the face of oppression and violation of their rights, have no court of law to seek redress for the wrongs they have suffered.

“Awaiting trial inmates who are languishing in the correctional centres have had their trials not only delayed, but their time in jail elongated unnecessarily.”

Samson urged the state governors to uphold the principles of democracy and put the interests of the Nigerian masses above their personal interests by complying with the Federal High Court ruling and the MoU entered into with JUSUN.

Another litigant, Mariam Kabir, has appealed to the governors and the striking Union to make peace for the sake of justice and the common man whose last hope is the court.

She said continuous closure of courts was very unhealthy for the Nigerian judiciary.

It is recalled that a verdict of the Federal High Court in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, FCT, January 2014, had held that financial autonomy for the country’s Judiciary is a constitutional provision that must be complied with by the Executive branch of the Nigerian Government.

President Muhammadu Buhari May 23 this year signed into law the Executive Order to grant financial autonomy to the Legislature and the Judiciary across the 36 states of the country.

The order also mandates the Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF) to deduct from source amount due to state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state for states that refuse to grant such autonomy.

Abubakar Malami, Honourable Minister for Justice, the Executive Order No. 10 of 2020, made it mandatory that all states of the Federation should include the allocations of both the Legislature and the Judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.

According to the AGF, “a Presidential Implementation Committee was constituted to fashion out strategies and modalities for the implementation of financial autonomy for the State Legislature and State Judiciary in compliance with section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended).”

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) also indicated that they would begin to implement financial autonomy for the judiciary latest by May ending this year, a pledge that indicates that an end to the ongoing strike that has crippled the country’s Judiciary may be in sight.

The state governors also called on striking members of the JUSUN to call off their two weeks old strike, report stated.

Governor (Dr.) Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, Chairman of NGF, gave this assurance in an interview with journalists after meeting with ‘stakeholders’ from the state Judiciary and Legislature at the Presidential Villa, in Abuja, FCT, according to report.

The modalities for the implementation were worked out at the meeting held at the Presidential Villa, Governor was quoted to have said.

He noted that the meeting, chaired by Ibrahim Gambari, Prof.  Chief of Staff to President Buhari, was attended by the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the representatives of the judiciary, the representatives of the Conference of Speakers, and House of Representatives.

The first line charge status, which is being respected by the Federal Government in respect of the Federal Judiciary, entitles the state judiciaries to get funds due to them directly from the Federation Account.

However, the governors rushed to court in 2020 to challenge an Executive Order President Buhari had approved for the enforcement of the first-line charge status of both the state Judiciary and Legislature.

They argued that executive order which directs the accountant-general of the federation to deduct funds meant for the state judiciaries and legislatures in the federation account and pay it to them was “unconstitutional”.

Subsequently, JUSUN rejected the 36 state governors’ proposed template for the implementation of judiciary’s financial autonomy being demanded by the workers May 14.

The governors, in their proposal, rather seek the creation of a State Account Allocation Committee (SAAC) to oversee the distribution of funds to the three arms of government at the state level.

But in a communiqué, the Union issued after a meeting of its National Working Committee, the union insisted on its demand that funds meant for the state judiciaries must be deducted directly from the federation account and paid to the heads of courts through the National Judicial Council.

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