Activities were grounded at various courts in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja on Tuesday as a result of the nationwide strike embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN).
JUSUN had in an April 1, 2021, circular directed all its states and zonal heads to comply with the strike as from Tuesday.
The union is demanding the implementation of constitutional provisions granting financial autonomy to the judiciary, and the obedience to a January 2014 judgment ordering its enforcement.
The judiciary workers had shut the gates to the Supreme Court early Tuesday in compliance with the strike directive issued by the union’s national leadership.
Workers of other 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 are also affected.
Staff buses were also seen making detours upon arriving at the barricaded gate of the Supreme Court.
Speaking to journalists on the premises of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court at Maitama, Abuja, Maryam Gusau, Legal Adviser to the JUSUN in Abuja, said the executive branch of government at both the federal and state government tiers, had turned staff of the judiciary to slaves by interfering in the third arm of government’s affairs.
According to her, Baron de Montesquieu’s theory of ‘Doctrine of Separation of Powers amongst the three arms of government had been “bastardised” in Nigeria.
“Separation of powers amongst the three arms of government in Nigeria is a mirage, especially at the state government level, where governors operate as tin-gods; lording themselves against Chief Judges of the state.
While enforcing the strike action at the FCT High Court in Abuja, Mrs. Gusau said the union would not call off the strike until their demands were met.
“We (JUSUN officials) resume enforcement of this strike action as early as 4.a.m every working day and leave the court premises at 6p.m. We won’t call-off the strike until our demands are met,” she said.
When pressed on the impacts of the strike on litigants and the economy of Nigeria, Mrs. Gusau, explained that the industrial action was in the overall interest of Nigerians, particularly court users.
“This strike action is meant to guarantee the independence of the judicial arm of government for better service delivery for all Nigerians, especially court users,” Mrs. Gusau said.
Meanwhile, at the Court of Appeal Headquarters as well as the Federal High Court in Abuja, litigants and lawyers were stranded at the two courts’ premises.
While court staff were locked out at the Federal High Court adjacent the Federal Ministry of Justice at Maitama, staffers and customers of two new generation banks located inside the Appeal Court in Abuja, were seen by our correspondent appealing to the visibly angry JUSUN officials to let them in for the day’s financial transactions.
A branch manager of one of the banks, was holed-up in her official car, as her aide made frantic efforts to get the strike enforcers allow the bank executive access her office.
The appellate court’s staff were also barred from gaining access to their duty posts by the JUSUN officials.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), also reports that JUSUN locked out staff members, lawyers, litigants and the general public from the Federal High Court complex in Abuja.
NAN reports that members of the union were seen at the court premises as early as 6.30am on Tuesday morning to ensure that no one entered the court premises.
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, they however, refused to speak to NAN and only said “we are on strike”.
Litigants trying to gain entrance were turned away while security personnel attached to the court were seen loitering around.
NAN reports that President Muhammadu Buhari had on May 22, 2020, signed the Executive Order 10 for the enforcement of the financial autonomy status granted to state legislature and judiciary in the Nigerian Constitution.
The Executive Order 10 of 2020, made it mandatory for all states to include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.
The order also mandates the accountant-general of the federation to deduct from source amount due to the state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state, for states that refuse to grant such autonomy.
PREMIUM TIMES reports that state governors under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) have stood against the implementation of the Executive Order, which they have filed an action in court to challenge.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in its last-ditch effort to avert the strike, appealed to JUSUN to put the industrial action on hold because of the timing, but decried government’s violation of constitutional provision on financial autonomy of the judiciary.
The NBA President, Olumide Akpata, said in the statement reported by PREMIUM TIMES that an Executive Order was not required to enforcement of constitutional provision.’
But he appealed to JUSUN not to embark on the strike because it would spell doom for the justice administration sector which is still battling to regain grounds lost to COVID-19 crisis since last year.