Written by Lillian Akhigbe, Communications Officer, Social Action
The indefinite nationwide strike embarked upon by the Nigerian Judiciary workers, which took effect on Monday January 5, 2015 has lingered into the fourth week, with no end in sight to the strike action. The workers, under the platform of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), have vowed not to resume work until the Federal High Court judgement granting financial autonomy to the Judiciary is enforced. The judgement which was delivered by Hon. Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on January 13, 2014, was later followed by several Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) agreed between the Nigerian government, representatives of JUSUN and other stakeholders, who all pledged to comply with the court ruling, to allow a free and independent justice system in Nigeria. But the reluctance of the federal and state governments, to abide by the agreed terms of the most recent MoU dated November 27, 2014, has led to the commencement of the current strike action by JUSUN.
The Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), as a civil society organisation, condemns in very strong terms, the failure of government at the various levels to allow the Judicial arm of government have financial independence as expressly provided in Section 81(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which states that: “Any amount standing to the credit of the Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation shall be paid directly to the National Judicial Council for disbursement to the Heads of the Courts established for the federation and the state…”. The Judiciary, being the last hope of the common man, must not be made financially dependent on the Executive arm of government, but rather be allowed to exist as a free, vibrant and efficient arm of its own. Hence, the strike action of the Judiciary workers is for a good cause which would fortify democracy in Nigeria.
According to the Executive Director of Social Action, Dr. Isaac Osuoka, “Nigerian leaders must genuinely embrace democratic principles, orientations, ideas and ideals which would bring about good governance, social stability and democratic freedom. Social Action is committed to the promotion of better democratic practices, people-oriented policies, improved livelihoods and the protection of human rights. In that light, I urge all stakeholders to support the call for financial autonomy of the Judiciary, in order to strengthen democracy in Nigeria and bring about an end to the prolonged strike action embarked upon by the Judiciary workers which has affected the wellbeing and livelihoods of a diverse array of Nigerians.”
We lament the loss of livelihoods occasioned by the ongoing strike action. A majority of lawyers earn their living through litigations, and these legal practitioners have been adversely affected by the lingering strike and the closure of the courts. This loss of livelihood has brought hardship upon them and their dependants. Also affected by the strike action, are arrested persons kept in prison custody who seek bail, as well as those who have successfully been granted bail and are ready to meet their bail conditions but cannot, owing to the closure of the courts. These people now languish in prison custody indefinitely, pending the termination of the strike action, while the challenge of prison congestion grows worse as a result.
Sadly enough, poor community folks and vulnerable members of the society who crave for justice in the face of oppression and violation of their rights, have no court of law to seek redress for the wrongs they have suffered. Against the background of the closure of the courts, anarchy seems to be on the rise in the country, and the aggrieved, downtrodden masses silently bear the brunt of it.
With the forthcoming elections scheduled to hold in February, 2015, it is expedient for the courts to be operational, in order for Tribunals to be set up for election petition litigations which may arise, following the conduct of the elections.
We therefore call on the federal and state governments of Nigeria, to uphold the principles of democracy and put the interests of the Nigerian masses above their personal interests by complying with the Federal High Court ruling and the MoU entered into with JUSUN, in order to ensure an autonomous Judiciary. Indeed, the political profitability of denying the Judiciary its financial autonomy, has a prohibitive cost on the quality of the Nigerian justice system.
For further enquiries, please contact Lillian Akhigbe, Communications Officer of Social Action,on: admin[at]saction.org; lillian[at]saction.org