By Henry Ojelu, Adesina Wahab Shina Abubakar, Bashir Bello, Demola Akinyemi, Marie-Therese Nanlong, Johnbosco Agbakwur & Joseph Erunke
Proceedings in most courts across the country were yesterday paralysed following the indefinite nationwide strike embarked on by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, to demand autonomy for the judiciary. The development came in defiance to the appeal by the Nigerian Bar Association to shelve the strike, saying it was ill-timed, considering the COVID-19 constraints the Nigerian courts had been battling within the last year.
Similarly, academic activities at Polytechnics and Monotechnics in the country were also grounded yesterday as the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics commenced an indefinite strike over non-implementation of 2014 NEEDS Report and non-release of revitalization fund to the sector despite assurances by government since 2017.
The action of the two unions is coming less than a week after resident doctors embarked on a nationwide strike over non-payment of allowances and other issues.
JUSUN has been in the forefront of the battle for financial independence of the nation’s judiciary. The legal actions taken by the union led to a January 14, 2014 judgment of Justice Adeniyi Ademola, then a judge of the Federal High Court, abolishing the piece-meal funding of the state and federal courts by the executive. 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.
The federal legislature and judiciary have, to a large extent, been enjoying financial autonomy status as they receive their appropriated funds in bulk unlike their counterparts at the state levels who always get what the governors feel like releasing to them.
As part of efforts to tackle the challenge, President Muhammadu Buhari in May last year 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 federal government was on the verge of starting the implementation of the Executive Order when the governors got the president to suspend it.
Supreme Court shut
Our correspondent who monitored the JUSUN strike in Abuja observed that Supreme Court workers returning from the Easter break were not able to access the complex on Tuesday as the two key judiciary institutions – the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) – which share the same premises with the Supreme Court were shut.
Staff buses were also seen making a detour upon arriving at the barricaded gate of the Supreme Court. The court is located at the Three Arms Zone in Abuja, a neighbourhood it shares with the Presidential Villa and the National Assembly Complex.
Staff, lawyers, litigants locked out of Federal High Court
At the Federal High Court in Maitama, Abuja, staff, lawyers, litigants and the general public where prevented from gaining access to the court premises by JUSUN members. 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.
Litigants trying to gain entrance were turned away while security personnel attached to the court were seen loitering around. Kano, Oyo State, Lagos courts shut In compliance with the JUSUN strike, all courts in Kano, Oyo State and Lagos were shut on Tuesday.
Our correspondent, who monitored the developments, reported that JUSUN members locked out court staffs, litigants and their lawyers from entering the court buildings. The Chairman of JUSUN in Kano, Mr Mukhtar Rabiu-Lawan, stated that the lockout, 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 speaking, Chairman, JUSUN Oyo State Chapter, Mr Kayode Olusegun, said there was no going back on the action. Olusegun expressed regrets that nothing positive had been done to the Executive Order signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, gran-ting financial autonomy to both judiciary and the legislative arms of government. Also at Ikeja High Court, Lagos, members of JUSUN, donning red vests, had prevented entry into the premises 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.
Leaders of JUSUN in Osun State yesterday stormed the High Court premises as early as 7:30 and locked the main entrance to the complex, denying judges access.
The main gate was locked and placard with inscription “JUSUN 21-day warning strike commenced today was placed there. Union leaders were seen combing offices with a view to ensuring no staff has access into the court, while others mounted surveillance at the entrance.
Lecturers’ strike grounds polytechnics
Despite last minute entreaties by the federal government, members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, yesterday began a nationwide strike. The national leadership of the striking polytechnic lecturers and Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, had met a few hours after the strike commenced.
Our grouse with govt — ASUP
Briefing journalists before the meeting, ASUP National President, Mr. Anderson Ezeibe, noted with dismay the poor attitude of government towards the polytechnic sector. Ezeibe enumerated the grouse of the striking lecturers to include: “The non-implementation of NEEDS Assessment report of 2014 in the sector and the non-release of any revitalization fund to the sector despite assurances since 2017.
“ The non-reconstitution of governing councils in federal polytechnics and many state owned institutions leading to the disruption of governance and administrative processes in the institutions since May, 2020. “The non-release of the 10 months arrears of minimum wage owed our members in federal polytechnics and non-implementation of same in several state owned institutions. This is despite the presidential directive for the payment of these arrears since December 2019.
“Nonpayment of salaries in some state owned institutions as our members are owed their legitimate emoluments ranging from 5 to 24 months in Abia, Ogun, Osun, Edo, Benue, Plateau etc.
“Non establishment of a commission for the sector to bridge gaps in regulatory activities, as well as match the expansion of the sector while positioning the institutions towards fulfillment of their mandate to the country.
“Non implementation of the approved 65 years retirement age in the sector by some state governments notably Kano as well as the continued appointment of unqualified persons as Rectors of Polytechnics in some states.”
Ezeibe appealed to the public to show understanding and support the effort of ASUP as government is yet to demonstrate any seriousness in resolving the issues as listed.