Judiciary workers, under the aegis of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), have declared an indefinite nationwide strike to press home their demand for the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
The national leadership of JUSUN in a circular dated April 1 and seen by on Saturday, ordered the shut down of various courts across the country as from Tuesday, April 6.
In the circular signed by JUSUN’s General Secretary, I. M. Adetola, it directed all states and zonal heads of the union to comply with the strike.
The union stated that it had at its last National Executive Meeting on March 13, 2021 in Abuja, issued a 21-day ultimatum to the government to implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary with a threat that “failure of which JUSUN will have no other option but to resume the suspended national strike action.”
“Therefore, as a result of the public holiday on April 5, 2021, the strike action 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 in part.
The planned strike is bound to add to the woes of many Nigerians whose access to healthcare has already been impaired by the ongoing strike of Nigerian doctors.
Battle for financial autonomy
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 January 14, 2014 judgment of 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 feels like releasing to them.
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 the Federal Government was at the verge of starting the implementation of the Executive Order when the governors got Mr Buhari to suspend it.
In the build-up to the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, the JUSUN shut down all courts across the country in a bid to enforce the Federal High Court judgment.
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The strike, which lasted for weeks leaving litigants and other court users stranded, was based on the failure of the federal and state governments to implement a judgement of the Federal High Court affirming financial autonomy status for the judicial arm of government.
On the first day of the strike in 2015, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mahmud Mohammed, and other Justices of the Supreme Court were locked out of their respective offices by protesting judiciary workers, while all the courts were barricaded by the workers.
The situation was the same in different part of the country.
The strike got many pre-election matters stalled ahead of the 2015 general elections stalled.
‘Lack of courage’
The financial autonomy status of the judiciary has been a source of concern in Nigeria.
According to Olisa Agbakoba, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the current leadership of the Nigerian judiciary lacked the courage to confront the executive arm of government by refusing to submit its budget estimates for consideration.
In a recent interview with Channels Television, Mr Agbakoba urged the CJN to take the judiciary’s budget estimates directly to the National Assembly for appropriation.
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