Lawyers, litigants and people with businesses around court premises have decried the insistence of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to continue it’s strike in spite of intervention from some stakeholders.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that JUSUN, on April 6, locked all courts in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and in the 36 states to drive home it’s demand for the implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary as the third arm of government.
Some lawyers, litigants and people doing businesses around court premises, said the attendant consequences of the strike has also left non-litigants who are largely business people, reeling from the courts closure.
Mr Joseph Okeiya, a lawyer told NAN that his client who approached him for representation shortly before the strike started, was getting worried that she might never have her day in court.
“The woman’s family just approached me a few weeks ago and our case was set for mention on April 9 but the strike started April 6.
“She is going through a bad divorce that is why she has approached the court to get justice so you can imagine her anxiety.
“She can not concentrate on anything else because she is waiting for the case to at least start,” Okeiya said.
Mrs Hembafan Gesa, a legal practitioner based in Makurdi, also told NAN that a lot of people were having a difficult time comprehending the strike as their cases suffered more delay.
“Both we the lawyers and our clients are eager to see the courts open again. Our clients are already going through trauma, because their abusers are walking the streets unpunished.”
Gesa also lamented that because of the strike, some of her clients were languishing in prisons and cells because the court is not available to grant them bail or hear their cases.
“My clients are in prison custody. If there was no strike, they would have been brought to the court and their applications for bail would have been taken.”
She appealed to the government and relevant stakeholders to proffer solution to the lingering industrial impasse.
Mr Austin Francis, also a lawyer, described the strike as as precarious saying that he might be forced to close his chamber if it persisted.
“Most of us, lawyers take care of ourselves and our families from the money we make while practising, the court is our farmland, so as long as our farmland is shut down, there will be hunger.
“Mine is a very young chambers and so we need the courts to be open so we can defend clients and get paid to sustain ourselves.”
He urged the government to do the needful so that the strike could be called off since the strike affected even the government as it was not getting the revenue it was supposed to get from the courts.
Mr Kenechi Nnamani, a vulcanizer who operates at the car park of the court told NAN that he has been praying for the strike to be called off.
“Since I started operating here, this kind of thing has not happened so it is like a dream to me.
“I now realise that the N100, N200 I get every day here is really big money, because everyday I go home, there is a good meal waiting for me.
“In the last one week, when my wife brings the food, she will first of all say; “my husband you have to manage this o”, and when I open it, I will actually see that I really have to manage,” Nnamani said.
For her part, Mrs Ndifreka Etim who sells food around the court premises said that her revenue had greatly reduced because she had to reduce the quantity of food she cooks.
“I cook mainly for the lawyers and court staff but now I reduced it since it is only the people in the few offices around here that are coming to work.
“This other building is a hotel so they don’t even patronise me so I am no longer making as much as I normally make.
“I am begging those responsible to please call of the strike because it is from the money I make here that I take care of my children and pay their school fees.”
NAN reports that following the JUSUN directive on its members to shut down all courts across the country, members complied with the directive and mounted guard at the entrance of the courts to ensure that no one entered the court premises.
The action has crippled court proceedings as well as commercial activities around the court premises.
NAN reports that a verdict of the Federal High Court in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, had in January 2014, held that financial autonomy for the judiciary is a constitutional provision that must be complied with by the executive branch of government.
NAN reports that on May 23, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Executive Order to grant financial autonomy to the legislature and the judiciary across the 36 states of the country.
The order also mandates the accountant-general of the federation to deduct from source amount due to state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state for states that refuse to grant such autonomy.
The Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the Executive Order No. 10 of 2020, made it mandatory that all states of the federation should include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.
According to the AGF, “a Presidential Implementation Committee was constituted to fashion out strategies and modalities for the implementation of financial autonomy for the State Legislature and State Judiciary in compliance with section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended).”
He said consideration was given to all other applicable laws, instruments, conventions and regulations that provided for financial autonomy at the states.
NAN also reports that on April 16, representatives of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies met with Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, in Abuja, over the ongoing nationwide strike of judiciary workers.
Speaking with State House reporters at the end of the meeting Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, who is also the Deputy Chair of the NGF, appealed to the striking workers to call off their strike in the interest of the nation.
NAN reports that Tambuwal told reporters that the governors had met with the speakers and the Chief Judges of various states, and would continue to engage the leadership of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria over the strike
Tambuwal said the governors had always been in support of the autonomy of state legislature and judiciary. (NAN)