The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) embarked on a nationwide strike on April 6, 2021, demanding financial autonomy for the judiciary. This entails the ability of the judiciary to decide freely on its internal financial affairs. In addition, a subsequent Executive Order was issued by President Muhammadu Buhari on “Implementation of financial Autonomy of States Legislature and State Judiciary” on May 20, 2020, and several court judgments declaring the continuous control of judicial resources unconstitutional.
Robert Igbinedion, lawyer: “It has affected my productivity, earning and sense of self fulfillment. As a lawyer, I am trained to resort to litigation where all other means of resolving dispute or seeking redress fail. So where there are no courts because of JUSUN strike, one will definitely be stock. But going to court is like 50 per cent of my work. I am not completely grounded but it depends on one’s type of practice and the percentage of the volume of a lawyer’s work. Those who have like 90 per cent or more of litigation will definitely be grounded by now, except one uses the opportunity to clear the table.
“The way forward is that all further meeting should be televised live. We want to know who is saying what; we want to know the demand of JUSUN and the response of government. Nothing should be hidden from the people. “As it is, we are almost in the dark as to what is happening except for snippets of rumors and news headline. I don’t see what is difficult in the demand of JUSUN, especially when they are asking for the implementation of constitutional provision.”
Kunle Edun, lawyer: “The prolonged JUSUN strike has seriously affected the administration of justice in this country. The litigants are suffering and many of the inmates in the detention centres have their cases on hold. A government properly called comprises the executive, legislature and the judiciary. The judiciary in Nigeria has been shut down for more than 60 days and still counting.
“The struggle for financial autonomy for the judiciary should supersede every personal suffering. It is a struggle for a true constitutional democracy. With the independence of the judiciary, the people will have more confidence in the justice system and there will not be any need to be crawling back to the governors all the time for funds. We understand the suffering that Nigerians are going through and we appreciate their patience but this is a struggle for an enduring democracy.
“The federal and state governments must comply with the constitutional provisions that make it mandatory for the judiciary funds to be on a first line charge. Governors must stop making mockery of the judiciary with the way they gift houses and cars to the judiciary and turning it into a media affair. It is shameful.”
Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labur: “ “The government might be forced to invoke sections of the Trade Disputes Acts, if the strike persisted longer. The ministry will not be happy to be pushed into invoking sections of the acts capable of eroding all the gains made so far. We urge members of the two unions to immediately return to work in honour of the May 20, 2021 Memorandum of Action (MoA), signed by all parties. The Federal Government has sadly noted that the MoA between all the stakeholders involved in the JUSUN/ PASAN strike, mainly JUSUN/PASAN, governors’ forum and the Presidential Implementation Committee is yet to take effect because of non-compliance by parties.
“The state governors are desirous that the state assemblies be opened so that they can enact the laws meant to give effect to the autonomy as enshrined in the MoA. But we have advised all governors that have consulted with their heads of judiciary and legislature to go ahead and credit the accounts of the judiciary and legislature before fine-tuning the laws. We appeal for the last time to all parties involved in the signed agreement to abide by its spirit and letters, by firstly re-opening all the courts and the State Houses of Assembly so that all other ingredients in the MoA can be given full compliance by all parties concerned.”
Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Forum on detention and correction: “An African proverb says ‘when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ While the lack of implementation of the various provisions of the law on financial autonomy impedes the notion of an independent judiciary, the temporary stoppage of work also constitutes an impediment on the right to access to justice in Nigeria. The judiciary as the last hope of the common man has not been the reality since the closure of the courts. Access to justice which is fundamentally guaranteed by our Constitution has been thrown out in the mud, arrests have been made by the Police and other law enforcement agents but arraignment is impossible.
“This incapacitation of our justice system, has resulted in extended remands in custodial centres for awaiting trial inmates and other persons in various holding facilities in Nigeria. The rights to dignity of human person, personal liberty and fair hearing as provided for in sections 34, 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Articles 5, 6 and 7 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights have been severely violated.
“The strike has put more strain on an already underfunded and overwhelmed judiciary. The attitude of the government towards this unfortunate situation is underwhelming. According to Section 17 (2)(e) of the 1999 Constitution, it is the constitutional duty of the state to ensure independence, impartiality and accessibility to courts. The attitude of the government toward the current state of affairs has been largely complacent and the liberties of the citizens are now left at the mercy of state actors.
“This is unacceptable. In order to cushion the effect of closure of the courts on speedy dispensation of justice, it is our advice that immediate strategies be put in place to access inmates in custody who are affected by the court closures, identify those that their cases may be administratively attended to or that may be prioritized for application for virtual court sitting where the facilities for this is available.
“We urge the government to prioritize the opening of the courts bearing in mind the current state of the nation, and the need to ensure the rule of law and separation of powers as envisaged in a democratic state. Governors must align themselves to the voice of reason and implement financial autonomy for the judiciary, as a matter of national urgency.
“Access to justice is the lifeblood of any democratic society. This continuous violation must not be allowed to continue. We also call on the leadership of JUSUN to review its approach, strategize and choose a better and more effective way to resolve this issue. While autonomy of judiciary is sacrosanct, the continuous closure of the courts with no end in sight inhibits the justice that is being sought.”