Members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), have begun an indefinite nationwide strike over their lingering demand for the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
Courts in Lagos State, including the Federal High court and the various divisions of the State High Court were all shut down as the JUSUN body ensured full compliance.
On normal days, judiciary workers across the courts in Nigeria’s commercial capital, are busy supporting members of the bench in the courtrooms, attending to newly filed matters and other court processes, as well as involved in other support services in the court premises.
But on Tuesday following the Easter holidays, all courts were shut down in lagos including the headquarters of the state’s judiciary, as members of the judiciary workers union ensured full compliance with the national directives.
JUSUN said its decision came on April 1, after the expiration of a 21-day ultimatum to the government to implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
The impact of the strike is also felt at the Supreme Court and touches down to courts below, including the federal high court in lagos where JUSUN members ordered staff present to pack up and leave. Some court premises and offices were sealed and notices pasted on them, signaling the commencement of the strike. Lawyers and litigants were also Shut out, as even matters of urgency could not be heard.
JUSUN has been clamouring over the years for financial independence of the nation’s judiciary, including the enforcement of a judgment in its favour delivered on January 14, 2014 by Justice Adeniyi Ademola, then a judge of the Federal High Court.
The court held that funds meant for the judiciary should instead be disbursed directly to the heads of court and not to the executive arm of government.
But unlike what obtains at the federal legislature and judiciary which has been enjoying a financial autonomy status as they receive their appropriated funds in bulk, heads of court at the state levels still only get funds from the governors to run their courts.
In May 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Executive Order 10 to give force to the provision of section 121(3) of the Constitution which guarantees the financial autonomy of the state legislature and state judiciary.
The Executive Order authorises the Accountant-General of the Federation to make deduction from the Federation Account the money allocated to any state of the federation “that fails to release allocation meant for the state legislature and state judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended)”. But that order is yet to be enforced.
Before the strike began, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had urged JUSUN to reconsider its planned nationwide strike scheduled to commence today.
NBA’s president Olumide Akpata stated that as commendable and laudable as the proposed strike might be, it was concerned about its timing and the potentially-devastating consequences it would pose for justice administration in the country, particularly coming on the heels of prolonged lull in judicial activities owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and the enforced lockdown.
It added that it had reached out to the aggrieved JUSUN on the prospects of reconsidering the imminent strike action, adding that the association would provide updates as the discussions progress.
MEANWHILE, the House of Representatives also waded into the plan by JUSUN to embark on the strike.
Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, urged the union to stand down on its proposed strike pending the outcome of the House engagement with the governments both at the federal and state levels towards resolving the outstanding issues.