The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Wednesday, suspended its two-month-old strike after a meeting with the National Judicial Council, (NJC). A five-man committee set up to monitor the compliance with the memorandum of action (MoA) signed between the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) on financial autonomy for the Judiciary demanded an end to the strike in view of its impact on the nation’s court system and appeals from other stakeholders.
NJC’s spokesman, Soji Oye, in a statement, said the NJC, led by its chairman and Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, at a meeting, prevailed on the striking court workers to end the industrial action. Stakeholders recount the gains and losses of the strike.
Malachy Ugwummadu, lawyer: “Let me say upfront that the strike action by JUSUN is legitimate and justified and has largely succeeded considering solidarity and supports it enjoyed. But in so many respects, the industrial action personally affected me, my firm and staff. The courts are largely the market places where we conduct our businesses as litigation lawyers. They have been under lock and key for over two months now. That in itself has a serious crisis of strangulated cash flow without a corresponding stop in salaries, maintenance and general bills associated with running the firm.
“Access to justice by both litigants and suspects has been suspended. Prison congestion is in the increase since the incidence of crime is escalating without the court fora to arraign suspects. The fundamental rights of Nigerians to liberty, dignity and even movement are presently under siege. Even the judges, particularly trial courts, who are obligated under S.294(1) of the 1999 Constitution to deliver judgments and final rulings within 90 days after conclusion of evidence and final addresses are now caught in a constitutional dilemma.
“Even those delivering judgements are unable to conclude the process of certification. E.g. I got two judgements on-line from the High Court of Lagos State last week but we’re unable to apply or obtain the CTC meaning that we cannot also appeal within the time frame allowed. The federal and respective state governments must respect the agreement reached with JUSUN on the issue of judicial autonomy.
“The judiciary and the legal profession should lend more support and solidarity to the struggle being beneficiaries of the struggles of JUSUN. This is the same profession that was badly hit by the COVID-19 long lockdown and the #EndSARS crisis that took the whole of 2020. The legal profession hardly functioned in 2020 particularly in Lagos State where there was massive destruction of court buildings and facilities. It had direct impact on investors’ confidence and trust regarding the safety of their investments if any.”
Mrs Bimbo Salami, bookseller: “Since the strike, those of us who sell within the court premises were not able to sell much of the books because lawyers are our main customers and since they don’t come to court, no sales for us. It was really hard because one does not have other source of income. I used all the money I had to stockpile books hoping that after the Easter break, activities would resume. But suddenly the strike crippled everything. I thank God it has been called off.”
Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume, SAN: “It is very unfortunate that the court system in Nigeria has to be shut down even for a day. The court system is what keeps the society in shape; what makes transgressors to be stopped and what gives victims of transgression a relief. When the (court) system is down, anarchy is on the prowl. But in any case, I would also like to let you know that the effect of the shutdown is as bad as the cause that made the shutdown to take place. The independence of the judiciary which encompasses financial autonomy is provided in the constitution. Why is that constitutional first line charge, from the consolidated revenue, not being obeyed? It’s only being obeyed in the breach. So, victims of persecution abhor a situation where it is JUSUN that would be calling on the government to obey the constitution. Obedience to the constitution should be the primary duty of the government; no one needs to remind them about it.”
Mr. Akinseye George, SAN: “I support the objective of the strike which is to demand for compliance with the constitutional provisions and the Executive Order on financial autonomy for the judiciary, I’m not sure the timing of the strike is right. The judiciary and the entire country are yet to recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19 and the attendant disruptions on the administration of justice. The JUSUN strike at this time smacks of an overdose of a good medicine. But the agitation for improved working conditions, financial autonomy and well-being of the judicial sector must continue through less disruptive means.”
Mrs. Yemisi Opalola, Police Public Relations Officer, Ogun State: The Command had to release suspects whose case were not too severe on administrative bail to decongest the cells. It is a great problem for us; we need to be releasing some suspects on bail. In as much they have sureties, we grant them administrative bail. Our cells are overcrowded, just because we are unable to arraign suspects. Those who are in the cell are those whose cases are severe, I mean the high profile offences. The ones we don’t have power to grant administrative bail, we have no choice than to keep them in the cells.”
Nelson Anekwe, lawyer: As one who uses the court, the prolonged JUSUN strike affected me in many ways. It was a clear evidence of disregard for rule of law by the executive arm of government. It showed that the constitution is not followed in letter and spirit. But for there to be transparency and accountability in any polity, the three arms of government namely: the executive, legislative and judiciary must have separate and equal powers. It does not augur well where the judiciary go cap in hand to be funded by the executive. It affects the quality of justice delivery.
“Besides, the strike denied lawyers access to their day-to-day source of income. It was tempting to engage in other enterprises unworthy of a lawyer as prescribed in lawyers’ rules of conduct and practice which would have dragged the hallowed profession in the mud. I thank God things will soon return to normalcy since it has been called off.”