Judiciary, Parliamentary Workers Press Home Demand for Financial Autonomy

By Alexander Enumah and Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The agitation for autonomy for the judiciary and parliamentary arms of government has assumed a different dimension since workers in both sectors embarked on an enduring strike to press home their demands, write Alexander Enumah and Oñyebuchi Ezigbo

In a bid to resolve the deadlock over the agitation for financial autonomy by the judiciary and parliamentary workers, the Federal Government has scheduled a meeting with the unions today, Monday, at the Ministry of Labour and Employment in Abuja.

That the ongoing strike by judiciary workers has paralyzed the justice system, and the economic cum political environment of Nigeria may be an understatement.

Since April 6 when the strike action over the financial autonomy of the judiciary with regards to the states all courts from magistrate up to the Supreme Court have remained under lock and key to the detriment of not only litigants but other Nigerians in need of court services such as swearing-in of affidavit amongst others.

On April 5, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), directed its members across the country to shut down courts nationwide beginning from Tuesday, April 6 following the failure of the governments to respond to its warning strike over the non-implementation of financial autonomy for state judiciaries.

JUSUN had on March 13, 2021, issued a 21- day ultimatum to the government which elapsed on Sunday, April 4, 2021.

While the Federal Government has allowed for financial autonomy for the third arm of government, states governments were however yet to give financial independence to state judiciaries.

The strike which was scheduled for Monday, April 5, was however shifted to Tuesday, April 6, 2021, owing to the Easter holiday.

In a statement by JUSUN President, Comrade Marwan Adamu, “all courts and other departments would be shut until and unless the government does the needful.”

Similarly, a circular with Ref.no.JUSUN/NHQ/GEN/111/VOL.11/65 dated April 1, 2021, and signed by JUSUN’s General Secretary, Comrade Isaiah Adetola, directed members of JUSUN across the country to comply with the directive by the NEC of the Union.

“I have been directed to refer to the communique issued at the end of the last National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of JUSUN on March 13, 2021, in Abuja and particularly refer to paragraph 9 on 21-day ultimatum to the government to implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary, failure of which JUSUN will have no option but to resume the suspended national strike.

“Therefore, as a result of public holiday on April 5, 2021, the strike has been postponed to Tuesday, April 6, 2021.

“You are directed to shut down courts/departments in your states until further notice from the National Secretariat of JUSUN in Abuja,” the circular read.

Following this directive, all courts in the country have been grounded in total compliance.

A visit to courts in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) revealed total compliance with the strike. From the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court Abuja, the situation is the same.

The gates to the courts over the last three weeks have remained under lock and key, with no one going in or coming out of the court premises in different locations of the city capital of Abuja.

Also under lock and key is the headquarters of the FCT High Court in Maitama, Abuja.

From the apex court through to the lower courts the busy environment of the courts have become a ghost of themselves with workers, lawyers and their clients staying away except men of the Nigeria Police Force, the NSCDC and private guards at the entrance of these courts.

At the Federal High Court Abuja, some of the JUSUN officials cited said that the strike would continue until the government fully addressed the issue of financial autonomy of the judiciary.

The official who refused to give his name on grounds that he was not authorized to speak for the union, however, disclosed that the leadership of JUSUN as at the time of the interview was in a meeting with the National Judicial Council (NJC), adding that a positive outcome of the meeting can, however, bring a speedy end to the strike.

Unfortunately, the meeting failed to achieve desired result, with the striking workers insisting there will be no backing down from the strike.

Deputy National President of JUSUN, Mr Emmanuel Abioye at another meeting last Wednesday told the Chief Justice of Nigeria ( CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, that until all state governments effect the constitutional provisions on the financial autonomy of the judiciary, the strike will continue.

Explaining why the union found it difficult to heed the CJN’s demand to call off the strike, Abioye said state governors must begin to demonstrate some level of seriousness by putting in place measures precedent to the implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary in their respective states.

“Though there’s financial autonomy for the judiciary already in some states while some are assuring that they would comply, others have to take steps in readiness for compliance,” Abioye said.

He added that the union expect each state to start implementing its self-accounting law to deal with the Internally Generated Revenue in line with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended; and that states without such law should put it in place.

According to the Deputy National President, it is the position of JUSUN that there must be some level of seriousness from all quarters with the state governments ensuring that the amount standing to the credit of the judiciary from the monthly federal allocation should be deducted directly from the source by the Accountant General of the Federation and remit same to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for onward transmission to heads of courts.

According to JUSUN the budget of each state judiciary submitted to the implementation committee (received) on October 2, 2020) should be implemented with the deduction of the amount due to the state judiciaries directly from source by Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) in line with Sections 81(3) and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Abioye insisted that “The AGF should deduct from the monthly federal allocation and remit it to NJC for onward transmission of the fund to the Heads of Courts at the State Judiciary.

“Until this is done, there is no going back, the strike would go on.”

Surprisingly, the CJN in his response to the position of JUSUN leadership gave his support because their action is aimed at realizing their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

“I can’t fault your reasons for embarking on this protest because the union wants its rights restored in line with the provisions of the Constitution,” Muhammad said.

He, however, commended the JUSUN leadership “for following due process so far to protest against the injustice.”

Outside the strike, JUSUN also called its members out on a nationwide protest to compel the state governments to heed to their demand.

And in solidarity, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) also directed its members to come out enmass to rescue the judiciary from the jaws of state governors fond of using judges however and when so ever they desire.

Leading the protest at the nation’s capital, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) advised the Federal Government and the National Assembly not to negotiate with state governors on the independence of the judiciary.

The umbrella body for lawyers in the country, which claimed it is aware of plans by governors to meet with the Federal Government and leadership of the National Assembly insisted that both the executive and legislative do not have the right to negotiate on constitutional provisions.

Speaking during the protest march to the National Assembly, the NBA through its first Vice President, Mr John Aikpokpo-Martins said it would be in the best interest of the nation for the governors to obey the laws of the land.

“We are aware that governors are seeking to negotiate, we are against it”, he said, “we want to pass a message across that you have no right to negotiate provisions of the Constitution.”

Aikpokpo-Martins said what must however be done is for the governors to obey the constitution and judgments of the courts which were not appealed against or vacated.

Outside the two court judgments in favour of financial autonomy of the judiciary, President Muhammadu Buhari also last year signed Executive Order 10 to compel the states to implement the financial autonomy law to no avail.

The NBA first Vice President had claimed that Executive Order 10 was a product of an all-inclusive meeting of all stakeholders in the judiciary including the governors.

While stressing that parties at the meeting then agreed that the Accountant General of the Federation can pay directly to the Heads of Court without recourse to the governors, Aikpokpo-Martins urged the Federal Government to garnishee accounts of the state governments and pay directly to the respective state judiciaries.

He said failure to do so will not only amount to betrayal of the people but portrays the Federal Government as an accomplice with the governors.

Aikpokpo-Martins said that they were on the mission because it tallies with the NBA motto which is promoting the rule of law and independence of the judiciary.

He lamented that the governors have refused despite all entrities to obey the provisions of the constitution on financial autonomy, adding that all attempt to make them see reasons have failed, hence the protest.

Also speaking at another protest ground, JUSUN’s National Treasurer, Comrade Jimoh Alonge stated that the union resorted to protest in addition to their ongoing strike due to a botched meeting with the governors.

Alonge, while speaking with journalists at the Court of Appeal, the take-off point of the protest to the National Assembly stated that the judiciary is confronted with myriads of problems but noted that once the issue of financial autonomy is addressed others would be taken care of.

“We pick Section 121 of the Constitution to be addressed because when it is observed all other issues will be put in place. Section 121 is not the only issue bothering the judiciary, there are several of them. At the federal level we have the issue of uncleared allowances that have been long overdue, more than six years,” Alonge stated.

He also claimed that several letters written to federal authorities in respect of a review of their peculiar allowances have been neglected.

He accused the governors of Ebonyi and Kaduna States of undermining the judiciary in their states warning that the judiciary would no longer tolerate such from anyone.

He also warned the National Assembly against passing the bill on State Judicial Councils because it is not in the interest of justice and the judiciary because it is capable of putting the state judiciaries in the pocket of the governors.

The striking workers noted that if Nigeria must survive and make any meaningful development then the judiciary must be truly independent.

According to them independence of the Judiciary begins with financial autonomy as it would be difficult for them to move against any executive who buys them cars, renovates their offices or builds houses for them.

The Judiciary Workers have been on strike for over one week now agitating for federal and state governments to implement financial autonomy constitutionally granted to the Judiciary arm of government. In same vein, members of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) are also making a case for the legislature to enjoy financial autonomy as contained in the country’s constitution.

President of JUSUN, Comrade Marwan Mustafa said they were guided by the Constitution of the country in their action , stressing that democracy has to thrive on the Rule of Law.

Mustafa said, “The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a federation and is guided by a constitution. However, we observed that the particular provision of the constitution that grants financial autonomy to the judiciary has never been obeyed as much as it should be, particularly Section 21(3) and Section 81(3).

“Having agitated for so long for the needful to be done and it is not done, we went to court and got a judgment before 2014.We have been patient. We are not lawless people because we work in a sector where the Rule of Law guides our operation. But to our amazement since we went on strike in 2015, the government seems not to hear us until now.”

Mustafa said the union believes strongly that anything could happen without the Rule of Law “and when there is the law of nature, life could be poor, solitary, brutish and nasty.”

Shortly after the workers commenced an indefinite strike, the Federal Government invited them for negotiations on Monday, April 13. At the meeting, government appealed to JUSUN to suspend their nationwide industrial action, which had paralysed activities in courts across the country.

Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige reminded the judicial workers that like doctors and nurses, they were on essential duties and should not go on strike. According to Ngige, the country cannot make progress economically and socially, when the laws of the country are not enforced. In a statement issued by the Deputy Director Press and Public Relations at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr. Charles Akpan, the Minister said, “You are important people and that is why we waited to see if there could be an in-house conciliation with the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) but since progress was not made, we decided to exercise our mandate here as Ministry of Labour and Employment.

“Grant us peace and we are going to handle this matter in a way that doesn’t lose sight of what you are pursuing. I will do a report on this meeting and forward to the President when he returns.

“I will make a commitment here. The Executive Order 10 and its application, granting autonomy to the Judiciary which is topmost on your demand will be tackled because it is a constitutional issue. Even governors owe their office to the constitution. You don’t pick and choose what to obey . However, we must handle this matter with maturity and utmost patriotism .”

An obviously worried Ngige urged the striking judicial workers to resume work so that normalcy can be restored after the Easter celebration.

He further said: “We are apprehending this dispute in line with the labour laws of the country. You people are judicial workers and if any group of people will break the laws of the land, it should not be you. Even if we disagree here, we will certainly agree later on one thing, which is to call off the strike.”

Also at the meeting were the representatives of the Solicitor General of Nigeria, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Eta Enang. This first reconciliatory meeting failed to yield the expected result as the workers continued with the strike. Infact, the Judiciary workers and their counterparts in the legislative arm teamed up to stage a nationwide street protest. They were also supported by the lawyers under the auspices of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the protest which further sealed the hope of reopening the courts.

Several consultations and interventions followed, including meetings by the state governors and the leadership of the National Assembly. However, the representative of the governors, under the platform of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) held a meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari to sort out the issues. At the meeting, the governors agreed with the Federal Government on the need to implement full financial autonomy for the Judiciary and Legislative arms of government but with certain conditions which included a timeline starting from May 21. It was learnt that the governors proposed that they should be allowed to transfer certain percentage of the allocation from the Federation Account to the Judiciary and Legislature every month. Based on that agreement, the federal government is expected to put on hold the implementation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Order on the deduction of allocations to the Judiciary and Legislative as first line charge on the Federation Account.

Bur things turned dramatic last Tuesday when another reconciliatory meeting was convened by the Ministry of Labour and Employment to present the new proposals to the workers in order to end the strike. The meeting was scheduled to commence by 3 pm but by 4.30 pm it didn’t start, thus the leadership of the Judiciary and Legislative staff unions became worried. Ngige appealed to them to exercise patience to allow the government side to conclude their consultations before the meeting could commence, but they were angry for being delayed for so long. Therefore, USUN and PASAN leadership staged a walk out saying that the government team knew they were not ready for the talks but kept them waiting in the conference room. Efforts by the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr. Peter Yerima Tarfa to calm the worker’s nerve failed and they pulled out of the meeting.

Later, Ngige who is the Chief Conciliator explained that the meeting with the combined unions of Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria( JUSUN) and the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria( PASAN) has been postponed to enable the Federal Government negotiating team to harmonize all issues from the Memorandum of Understanding reached separate meetings. Addressing journalists in his office, the Minister said this was necessary to ensure that the meeting with the unions come with a Memorandum of Action which is implementable with timelines.

He said: “There is no point rushing to a meeting that will be fruitless. The Judiciary, the Governors Forum and even the Presidency are involved in this negotiation because the meeting held yesterday was at the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President .

“The arising documents are not yet properly harmonized. It will therefore not be fruitful to hold a negotiation where people speak from irreconcilable positions. It won’t help us and it won’t help the unions either.”

According to Ngige, ” the reason is to ensure that the agreement reached at the end of our meeting here is put into action, with timelines for implementation. So if we don’t have a paper that is ready to go, then there will be no point in the talk shop. The Minister further explained that the members of the unions were in a hurry even as they were properly informed of the little time needed for him to round off a meeting with the government team, comprising the Solicitor General of the Federation, Mr Dayo Apata, the Director-General of the Governors Forum, Asishana Bayo Okauru and the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Senator Ita Enang . He said the meeting will continue at a date to be announced soon. ” It is better done properly so that the Governors can implement whatever agreement we enter into l. The governors hold the ace because they hold the sovereign in their respective states, even though they are sub-nationals but they run the government of those states, said Ngige.

According to Labour and Employment Minister, the Federal Government believes in autonomy but that utmost patriotism and tact have to be exercised to sift the issues in contention.

He said: “Today, fund management committees have been proposed and there is also executive Order 10. This means there are problems and we must be very careful not to create more problems than what we are out to solve.”


*Since April 6, all courts-from magistrate to the Supreme Court-have been under lock and key in commencing with a directive from the leadership of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN)

*The Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) also downed tools at about the same time

*Both the judiciary workers and parliamentary staff are pressing home demands for financial autonomy for the legislative and judiciary arms of government as contained in the constitution

*JUSUN had previously gone to court and obtained a favourable judgment which the different state governments and the Federal Government failed to obey

*JUSUN has singled out out the Ebonyi and Kaduna state governors for poor treatment of judiciary staff

*The union was persuaded to end a similar strike in 2015 by the different governments with a package of promises that were never met

*The union expects each state to start implementing its self-accounting law to deal with the Internally Generated Revenue in line with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended; and that states without such law should put it in place

*The union wants deduction of the amount due to the state judiciaries directly from source by the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) in line with Sections 81(3) and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)

*President Muhammadu Buhari also last year signed the Executive Order 10 to compel the states to implement the financial autonomy law to no avail

*JUSUN wants adherence to Section 121, which will largely address many issues bothering staff of the judiciary

*The Nigeria Bar Association supports the action of the judiciary workers

Source: This Day

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