The Pains, Gains And Justification Of JUSUN’s Recent Strike

By Mark Longyen, Abuja

The three-week industrial action embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff
Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) early this year has come and gone, but
observers say the strike was not without attendant wounds, pains,
gains and justification.

They say that though the strike was painful, it was a justifiable and
worthy sacrifice which, by and large, achieved the aims and objectives
of the aggrieved judiciary workers, given government’s acceptance to
comply.

Some stakeholders, however, say that the industrial action was illegal
and needless, arguing that JUSUN ought to have gone back to court to
seek enforcement of the judgment it got instead of resorting to
strike.

The union had decided to down tools on account of the refusal of the
Accountant-General of the Federation and state governments to comply
with a court judgment which granted financial autonomy to the
judiciary.

Justice Adeniyi Ademola of an Abuja Federal High Court had in the
landmark judgment on January 13, 2014, declared as unconstitutional
the practice of disbursing funds of state judiciaries through state
governments.

According to him, the practice whereby the executive disbursed funds
to the judiciary arm through the executive was in violation of
Sections 83(1), 212(3) and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution.

He had, therefore, ordered the Accountant-General of the Federation
(AGF) to disburse the judiciary arm’s funds directly to the judiciary
through the National Judicial Council, NJC.

Twelve months after the judgment, which was not appealed, however, the
AGF and state governments had failed to comply with the order,
thereby, engendering JUSUN’s directive to its members nationwide to
down tools. This was preceded by a warning strike in mid-2014.

Consequently, the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, Federal High
Courts, State High Courts, FCT High Courts, and Magistrates’ Courts,
were all shut down, thereby, completely paralyzing justice delivery
nationwide.

Declaring the strike suspended, Mr Marwan Adamu, JUSUN president, told
newsmen that JUSUN decided to suspend the strike in Federal High
Courts following government’s “commitment to comply’’ with the
judgment.

He said that JUSUN state chairmen would receive “commitments to
compliance“ with the judgment from their respective state
governments, following which they would suspend the strike at the
state level.

Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim, Secretary to the Government of the Federation
(SGF), commended JUSUN “for fighting for the future of the judiciary
in the country“ and pledged government’s commitment to comply with
the judgment.
justice
He said that monitoring committees comprising State Chief Registrars,
the NBA, NLC and JUSUN would be set up to ensure compliance with the
judgment at both federal and state levels.

Corroborating Anyim’s view at the press briefing called to announce
the strike’s suspension, Mr Augustine Alegeh (SAN), NBA president,
commended JUSUN “for taking action in the interest of the entire
judiciary.“

“I want to say that the strike by JUSUN was unusual; JUSUN did not go
on strike to seek increase of salaries but to enforce compliance with
court judgment.

“The action is commendable because it is not for personal gain but
for the benefit of the whole judiciary system to be well-funded and we
will continue to support them,” he said.

A legal practitioner, Mr Val Owolabi, said the strike was a
justifiable means under international labour law to make legitimate
demands from government, arguing that government’s acceptance to
compliance was victory for the judiciary.

“Government’s initial refusal to comply with the order of a competent
court of law, which it did not appeal, one year after judgment was
delivered, is contemptuous, an affront and aberration to the justice
system,” he said.

Mr Charles Imhonobe, another lawyer, observed that JUSUN’s successful
push for financial autonomy was justifiable because the decision of
the Federal High Court which granted the autonomy was not challenged.

“No responsive government would fold its arms and watch the judiciary
shut down indefinitely for such a long period due to resolvable issues
as it happened during the strike, ‘’ he said.

Recounting the pains they went through, lawyers, litigants and owners
of ancillary businesses within the courts’ precincts, say the dispute
was an evil wind that blew no-one any good.

Most hit by the JUSUN strike was the plethora of high profile
political cases emanating from the political parties’ primary
elections conducted late last year, which ought to have been resolved
before the March general elections.

Opponents of the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate,
Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, for instance, claimed that proceedings in the
suit they instituted against him over his WASCE result controversy
were stalled because the case could not be filed immediately due to
the strike.

Speaking with newsmen in the heat of the strike, NBA president,
Alegeh, had said that JUSUN had a good cause since there was a valid
court judgment in its favour.

“We must appreciate that these are very critical political times in
our country; various political parties have conducted their primaries,
and the law court is the only avenue for individuals to ventilate
their grievances.

“We cannot afford to shut them down at this point; the effect of the
strike on the masses and polity is enormous,’’ he said.

Similarly, Mr Ita Edem, an Abuja-based lawyer, said JUSUN strike
negatively impacted on the prospects, outcome and credibility of the
2015 elections.

“Many cases arising from the primary elections held by the political
parties are pending in courts and ought to have been concluded early
enough to enable INEC know the authentic candidates.

Also, Mr Alex Muoka, Lagos NBA chairman, described the strike as
painful, saying that the strike had adversely affected activities of
lawyers in the country.

“It is particularly painful because the strike has affected our
clients and our livelihood,’’ he said.

Mr Oye Fatokun, a Nigerian Prisons Service official, estimated that
the cases of about 42,000 inmates awaiting trial across the nation
were stalled in courts during the industrial action.

He said that some of the inmates had been in prison custody for many
years but while their cases were still pending in the courts, the
proceedings were stalled because of the strike.

“Don’t forget that about 75 per cent of our inmates are awaiting
trial and some of them have been remanded in prison custody for long
and their cases are still pending in courts,’’ he said.

Relatives and friends of detainees said that the strike had made it
impossible for them to secure the release of their detained relatives.

Narrating his ordeal, Mr Farouk Hamza, friend to a detained suspect in
an Abuja Divisional Police Station, said it was unfortunate that the
strike forced his friend to rot away indefinitely in detention.

“It affects those in detention most; a detained suspect cannot have
access to the court because the courts are under lock and key.

“There is a court order compelling the police to arraign my friend
who is in their detention, but due to the strike he remains in
detention,’’ Hamza said.

An activist, Mrs Mercy Alonge, said that the strike had a negative
effect on justice delivery generally, both low profile cases as in the
prisoners above, and high profile political cases.

She observed that the dictum “justice delayed is justice denied,’’
was true, no matter the status of the person involved in the search
for justice.

Her observation finds illustration in the case of Mrs Amaka Ogu, a
housewife in Mararaba, Nasarawa, who sued her husband over threat to
life.

Ogu said: “I filed a case for divorce over threat to life against my
husband in the court, which was to be concluded on Jan. 12, but
because of the strike it was stalled.

“It has not been easy because my husband still threatens me, even in
my parent’s house where I have relocated.

“It is only the court that can save me from this intimidation, but
unfortunately this strike will not allow that to be’’.

Also, Mr James Omakpo, an engineer, who sued his wife for adultery,
said the strike had frustrated him from getting justice.

“I come here every day hoping to see the court in session so that my
case which was adjourned till Jan. 5 could continue.

“If the courts were in session, within a short period, my case would
have been disposed of,’’ he said.

Mrs Joy Adams, a businesswoman, who also filed for divorce said that
proceedings in her case, which was to come up for mention on Jan. 6,
were stalled due to the strike.

“My husband is always giving me troubles; the strike has weakened and
left me traumatized,’’ she said.

Also, petty traders and owners of ancillary businesses within the
precincts of the courts across the country said they were also
adversely affected by the negative effects of JUSUN’s strike.

They said that they were hard hit by the strike such that they had to
seek alternative means of eking a livelihood in order to survive the
strike’s horrendous repercussions.

Recounting his experience in the second week of the strike, Mr Adamu
Sani, a smoked fish hawker within the precincts of the Wuse Zone 2
Senior Magistrates’ Court, Abuja, most of whose customers are
judiciary workers said:

“My business here is to sell smoked fish and make a little profit for
me and my family, and business was okay before the strike began, but
now I do not get customers anymore because nobody comes here to buy.

“Truly, I must confess, it is very difficult to make any sales, I
come here every day hoping to see my customers again, but no life
here, right now I cannot even feed my family or pay school fees’’ he
said.

Sharing a similar experience, Malam Mustapha Musa, a fresh fruit
seller in the area, said that the strike brought about untold hardship
on him and his family, leaving sour tastes in their mouths.

He said: “truly I did not envisage the seriousness of this strike
until I started experiencing the effect on my business. Can you
believe that some days I do not see anybody to buy my fruits?

“When the courts were in session, within a short time my fruits were
always all sold out; now unless a passer-by stops to buy, I make no
sales that day”, he said.

Also, Mr Umaru Yusuf, a shoe-shiner in front of the Igboshere
Magistrates’ Court, Lagos, said:

“I used to polish not less than 30 shoes per day when the courts were
in session but now I cannot boast of polishing up to 10 shoes from my
passersby customers.’’

Mrs Damilola Ishaka, A food-seller in the area, expressed her
frustration over the low sales and patronage that she was experiencing
daily during the strike.

Also, Miss Bolanle Jolasun, a Photocopy Machine operator in a Business
Centre at the Igbosere Court premises said that JUSUN’s strike had
adversely affected her business.

“I just come out here daily to avoid being idle at home. If the court
were in session, I would be very busy making some money to eke a
living to the extent that I would have no time to eat food.

“I have suffered untold hardship from this strike and I don’t want
the strike to continue. This is the beginning of the year, we should
not start the year with strikes,’’ she said.

Justifying the industrial action, Mr Joseph Otteh, Executive Director,
Access to Justice, a human rights group, said that JUSUN was
clamouring for what was very important to governance in Nigeria.

Aligning with Otteh, Mr Chino Obiagwu, National Coordinator, Legal
Defence and Assistance Project LEDAP, said the strike was necessary
because government had disobeyed judgment of a competent court of law.

Obiagwu said: “we sympathise with those caught in the cross-fire but
this is the sacrifice Nigerians have to make to improve our judiciary.

“The strike is proper because the country will be in trouble if
government cannot comply with the court’s order.’’

Corroborating the viewpoints of his human rights colleagues, Mr Tayo
Ademola, a lawyer, said that financial autonomy for the judiciary was
a constitutional issue which was not negotiable.

“Not granting financial autonomy is a contravention of the provisions
of Section I62 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria (as amended).

“It provides that statutory allocation to the judiciary must be
handled by the judicial arm of government directly.”

“The constitution effectively grants fiscal autonomy to the third arm
of government and aims at protecting it from undue influence by the
executive arm,” he said.

Mr Dan Nwosu, another lawyer said that because the judiciary was a
vital arm of government, which should be given financial autonomy to
make it truly independent.

“If financial autonomy is not granted, it erodes the independence of
the judiciary and makes it subservient or to play a second fiddle to
the executive.

“If the judiciary must remain impartial, then financial independence
or autonomy is an indispensible factor, thus justifying JUSUN’s
strike,’’ Nwosu said.

Mr Chijioke Kanu, another legal practitioner, said that the judiciary
ought to have used the machinery within the system to force government
to comply with the court order.

“The judiciary was supposed to bring application for committal to
prison for disobedience of court order.

“The judge gave consequential orders and JUSUN should have gone extra
miles to use this remedy to get the government to obey the judgment on
financial autonomy for the judiciary before now.

“The courts in Nigeria are established by the Constitution. It is the
legal duty of everybody to obey the court order,’’ Kanu said.

On his part, Mr Afam Okeke, the immediate past Secretary of the
Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Abuja Branch, said that the judiciary
had been taken for granted for too long.

“No matter how painful it is, I think the judiciary workers are
fighting a just cause because the executive, both at the national and
the state levels, have taken the judiciary for a ride.

“The judiciary is not an appendage to the executive, but an
independent arm of government.

“We have three arms of government and if the other two can have their
independence, what stops them from granting the judiciary their
financial autonomy?’’ he queried.

Mr Akpandiaha Ebitu, NBA Chairman, Eket, Akwa-Ibom, however, condemned
the strike action, saying that members of the judiciary should not go
on strike to enforce court judgments.

“Constitutionally speaking, judiciary, as the arm of the government,
cannot send its own budget directly whether at the federal or state
level to the legislature for approval.

“You do not go on strike to enforce court judgments. JUSUN strike is
illegal because the law is very clear on how to enforce court
judgments.

“If there is civil disobedience to a valid court order, there is a
way to enforce it, It should not be strike,’’ he said.

Similarly, Mrs Rita Ilevare, the president, International Federation
of Women Lawyers, (FIDA), Ekiti, said that JUSUN ought to have
approached the court to compel government to comply with the judgment.

Ilevvare said: “making use of a gentle and proper manner to fight
their course is more honourable, rather than total close down of all
courts in the country.

“If the government is not willing to comply with the judgment that
granted the judiciary’s financial autonomy, they can take advantage of
the court processes to compel government to obey the law,’’ she said.

Observers are, therefore, of the view that, in spite of the
excruciating pains that JUSUN’s recently suspended strike subjected
many stakeholders to, the end has justified the means, as government
has made commitment to comply with the judgment.

They, however, express genuine concern over the fact that some state
governments have yet to reach agreement with JUSUN in their respective
states, culminating in the courts remaining under lock and key two
months after the strike was suspended.

Author: News Editor

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