Tuesday, April 6, 2021 3:22 pm
By Okafor Ofiebor/Agency reports
Lawyers and litigants arrived court premises around Nigeria on Tuesday, the first day of the working week after the Easter holidays to meet locked doors.
Members of the Judiciary Staff Association of Nigeria, JUSUN had last week indicated that they are going to ground the courts all over the country over failure of governments, especially at the state level to implement President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Order granting financial autonomy to the legislature and the judiciary across the 36 states of the federation.
The President had signed the order into law on May 22, 2020. 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.
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.
It was believed that the law will grant the judiciary more autonomy by removing them from control through threats of financial asphyxiation by the state governors.
But the Judiciary workers also believed that the Order will also improve their lot as the financial autonomy may give the judicial system more control on its renumeration system.
JUSUN had on April 3 issued a circular ordering the closure of courts across the country from April 6, as a measure to ensure an implementation of the order.
Members of the Union ensured compliance with the directive in most parts of the country on Monday. In Abuja, members of the union had locked the Federal High Court premises in Maitama, Wuse Zone Six Chief Magistrates’ Court, and FCT High Courts as early as 6.30am to ensure that no one entered the court premises.
A big padlock was used to lock the entrance to the court from the outside to ensure that no one gained access. Members of the union were seen sitting in front of the court entrance, they however, refused to speak to NAN and only said “we are on strike”. Litigants trying to gain entrance were turned away while security personnel attached to the court were seen loitering around.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that in a statement, JUSUN President, Mr Marwan Adamu, said all courts and other departments would be shut until and unless the government does the needful.
Lawyers and litigants who came into the court premises in the hope that judicial activities will go on as usual were forced to return home without accomplishing their what they came for.
Some of the ligitants expressed their frustarations at the development. Mr Apeh Wilson, a litigant said he traveled from his hometown in Benue and got to Abuja on Monday, at about 11:30p.m. in order to be in court on Tuesday.
“If i had heard anything about the strike, i would have remained in my hometown until weekend as i left an important family event yesterday’s afternoon to travel back to Abuja and got in very late. I had to do all that because i was slated to give evidence before the court today. Now after all that stress for nothing as my lawyer did not inform me about the strike. However, i do not blame people that believe their demand will be met through strike”, Wilson said.
A counsel, Miss Chinwe Aneke said she was aware of the strike, but that her Principal at the office instructed her to stop over at the court to ensure that proceeding was not going on in order to avoid them missing out.
She further said they felt lower courts would not be affected by the strike. Similar situation was also observed at the Life camp Magistrates’ Court as the court premises looked deserted except for few vendors by the entrance gate.
A security personnel by the gate said that earlier in the day, there were some form of activities as lawyers and litigants came to make enquiries or confirm about the strike.
In Lagos, all High and Magistrates Courts in Lagos were also shut in compliance with the indefinite nationwide strike to press home their demand for the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
A NAN correspondent who monitored developments, reports that at the premises of the Federal High Court, Lagos, some lawyers were seen standing around the court’s premises with no ongoing activities, while some members of the union were seen around the court.
At the Ikeja High Court, members of JUSUN donning red vests had 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.
“Solidarity forever, we shall always fight for our right,” they cried.
Mr Kehinde Shobowale, Chairman JUSUN, Lagos chapter confirmed 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 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 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.
“Section 81(3) of the Constitution as amended is so explicit as to what should happen to the finance of the Judiciary; so, why are people not obeying the constitution.
“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.
“So, our agitations is that let them obey the constitution, let the Judiciary be free.
“Let us have our money from the consolidated revenue fund directly to the hands of the Chief Judge, then, we the members of staff can now demand whatever we want from our chief judge.
“If you look at the Constitution very well, we are public officers not civil servants, so, the constitution takes very good care of us.
“This time around, it is either they allow us to be autonomous or we remain closed indefinitely,” Shobowale said.
All in Kano and Oyo JUSUN members locked out staff members, litigants and their lawyers from entering the court buildings.
The Chairman of JUSUN in Kano, Mr Mukhtar Rabiu-Lawan, told a NAN correspondent that the lock out, 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,” Rabiu-Lawan said.
Also in speaking, Mr Kayode Olusegun, the Chairman, JUSUN Oyo State Chapter, said there is no gong back on the action.
Olusegun expressed regrets that nothing positive had been done to the Executive Order signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, granting financial autonomy to both judiciary and and the legislative arms of government.
NAN reports that lawyers and litigants in customary, magistrates’ and high courts were turned back.
In Kaduna lawyers and litigants expressed diverse views on the strike byJUSUN..
Most lawyers interviewed by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) expressed support for the strike, with a few saying that the action would lead to the of collapse of the country’s justice system.
A lawyer, David James, who opposed the strike argued that it might bring about the collapse of justice system in the country.
According to James, the strike will deny those awaiting trial quick resolution of their cases, while lawyers will be made redundant, thus affecting their income.
He further said that the industrial action by JUSUN might increase the level of poverty and crime, if not resolved on time.
“The action was infringing on the fundamental human rights of prison inmates and will also make it impossible for accused persons to be granted bail.
“in such instance, it is the inmates that suffer because of the strike, as their cases are further delayed in courts.
“For example, some of my clients are being unfairly held in police detention because they have not been arraigned before a court due to the strike,” he said.
He urged the government to listen to JUSUN’s demands, if that will bring about reforms in the judicial system.
Karim Abdullahi, a lawyer who expresses 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,” Abdullahi added.
He however noted that the strike would hit hard on inmates standing criminal trial for five to six years.
Abdullahi called on the government to yield to the demands of the judiciary workers as it is the right thing to do and for justice to be granted to those awaiting trial.
Also, Paul Daniel, said that 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.
“I support the financial autonomy of the judiciary for proper checks and balances in the government.
“If the judiciary must remain impartial, then financial independence or autonomy is an indispensable factor,” Daniel said.
Also, a litigant, Ruqayya Adamu, expressed sadness over the strike and expressed the hope that it will be over soon.
Adamu, whose civil case was slated for 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.”
In Rivers, JUSUN members blocked entrances and exits of the Judiciary Complex in Port Harcourt to stop litigants and staff from gaining access into the building.
High Court Judges, Lawyers and Litigants were locked out.
Our Correspondent sighted banner at the entrance gate explaining the reason for the strike.
Speaking on the strike, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) through its president, Olumide Akpata lamented the failure of the government to adhere the provisions of the constitution.
Akpata said the NBA is deeply worried that despite the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered) which consecrate the autonomy of the Judiciary.
”A situation where the Judiciary literally begs for its resources from the Executive arm, as is currently the case across several States, cannot guarantee its independence, and constitutes an affront to the Constitution and the Rule of Law.
“The NBA is equally aware that the Executive Order No. 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, on the May 20, 2020.
“To a large extent, it sought to address this constitutional imbroglio by treating the funds due to the State Judiciaries as a first line charge, and requiring that the funds be paid directly to the Heads of Court concerned.
“However, as commendable and laudable as the proposed strike action may be, the NBA is concerned about its timing and the potentially devastating consequences it would pose for justice administration in the country” he said.
For the avoidance of doubt, he said that the NBA, as a leading stakeholder in the justice sector, and in keeping with its motto of promoting the Rule of Law is in support of the demands of JUSUN, and has been a constant voice of advocacy towards enthroning judicial autonomy.