As the strike by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) enters third month, the two top courts in Nigeria – the Supreme Court and the Appeal – say they have resorted to delivering judgment through Zoom, a social media platform.
This, they say, has meant that the industrial action has not seriously affected their ability to deliver judgment.
However, cases are piling up at the federal and state high courts as they are not holding any sessions due to the judiciary workers’ strike.
Investigation by LEADRSHIP revealed that lawyers and litigants have bitterly lamented the delay in the dispensation of justice as a result of the ongoing strike.
But the Supreme Court says it has no backlog of undelivered judgements.
According to the senior special adviser on media to the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ahurakah Isah, the CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, had said that all judgements due for delivery during the strike period had been delivered via Zoom.
Also, a senior court registrar in the Court of Appeal told LEADERSHIP that judgement due to be delivered the appellate court were being delivered via the same social media platform.
So, according to the CJN’s spokesman, despite the strike by JUSUN, judgements of the courts are being delivered.
”Parties appear before the justices via Zoom to get their judgments, so, we really do not have many pending judgements”, he said, adding that judgements in only a few cases are reserved for the month of June and July.
”CJN insists that all judgements due for delivery during the strike period are delivered. There are a few ones which are reserved till June and July and they are not yet due. These are the ones pending. The constitution insists that judgements must be delivered after 90 days when the court cases are heard and closed.
”So, no appeal was ever left hanging or delivered after 90 days because of the strike in the Supreme Court and in the lower courts, too.”
The story is, however, different in the high courts.
Eugene Onyekwere, a principal officer at the Federal High Court, Abuja, said it is after the strike is called off that pending judgements can be delivered.
According to him, no judge will be punished for not delivering judgements within the stipulated period.
LEADERSHIP reports that it is expected that judgements are delivered three months after cases are argued, but with the industrial action has scuttled this practice in the lower courts.
Onyekwere said, ”Everybody knows the situation of things in the court now. Nobody will be penalised for not delivering judgements within the stipulated the frame.
”When the court resumes, we will issue notices to parties to come for their judgments.”
Describing the situation as very unfortunate, Professor Ernest Maduabuchi Ojukwu (SAN) said the strike should have been averted if governors in the country truly represent good governance.
The professor of law maintained that the governors had ganged up to frustrate judiciary independence and the rule of law.
He said, “The governors are carrying on as if they own us and own the judiciary. I call upon Nigerians to rise against this heinous abuse of our democracy while, in the interim, continue to explore ADR (alternative dispute resolution) to settle their disputes.
“I call upon President Buhari to implement his executive order on judiciary and legislature independence and stop our governors from continuing to hold the nation to ransom,” he stated.
On his part, the publisher of Supreme Court Law Report, Layi Babatunde (SAN) said as appealing as the cause of judicial workers is, for litigants and counsel, shutting the courts at this time is a double tragedy that must not be allowed to persist.
Babatunde said, “Every litigant or accused person deserves their day in court. To make matters worse, judges are unable to access their chambers to perform some other judicial duties, apart from sitting in open court.
“Government should do all that is necessary to bring this impasse to an early and happy ending,” he stated
While reacting to the protracted strike recently in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) accused the executive and legislative arms of government of aiding the collapse of the country by not resolving the issue of autonomy of the judiciary to allow courts to reopen.
Chief Babalola said, “Since I started practice in the early 1960s, I have never witnessed the closure of all the courts, even for one day.
“As a result of the closure, the police are paralysed because they have not been able to charge any suspected criminal to court. Those who have cases in courts or those who want to file new cases are also affected.
“Of course, you can imagine the effects on the income of lawyers,” he said.
The senior lawyer stated that the three arms of government in the country were like a human being whose ability to work depends on the arm, legs and eyes.
“If for any reason any of these three important parts of the human body is incapacitated, then the whole body is in trouble. With this scenario, Nigeria is certainly in crisis.
“The executive and the legislature should immediately ensure that the situation in the judiciary is immediately resolved, or else they are, by their action, aiding the collapse of the country,” Babalola insisted.
A former chairman of the Ikorodu Branch if the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Bayo Akinlade called on lawyers in the country to join Police Duty Solicitors Scheme (PDSS) to help in the Administration of Criminal Justice system and to ensure that citizens’ rights are protected.
Akinlade said, “Duty Solicitors should use this opportunity to go to the police stations to do their duty by ensuring that no person is arrested and detained unlawfully, to ensure that the rights of suspects are not violated and to facilitate the bail of suspects being detained.
“Nigeria is in a situation where there are no courts to go to after the police effects an arrest of a suspect. The Police cannot also detain the suspect for more than 24 hours, so we now have a Covid-19 situation here which prevailed during the lockdown in 2020. With no courts to go to, our police detention centres are overcrowded, which in itself breeds more Covid-19 cases.
“This is a sacred duty for us lawyers. We may not like the ongoing strike by JUSUN but we can make it count for something if we use our time, talent and treasure to help those in need. Go to the police stations today as a duty solicitor, assist the police, mediate conflicts and protect our constitution.
“It’s a probono service, a worthy cause and a divine commitment to promoting justice an the rule of law.”
On his part, Norrison Ibinabo Quakers (SAN) said the JUSUN strike would have been made needless and unnecessary if the state governors had given effect to the constitutional provision on financial independence for the judiciary.
“It is rather disturbing and disheartening that an arm of government is being emasculated by another arm of government in a constitutional democracy. The negative consequences on the nation as a result of the strike can be laid at the doorstep of the governors.
“I do not believe that JUSUN should be vilified for the step it took to assert judicial independence. The collateral damage occasioned by the industrial action is expected, but to mitigate it all stakeholders in the justice sector must make sacrifices when the strike is eventually called off.
“The usual court vacation must be suspended, more judicial officers must be appointed, alternative dispute resolution must be deployed immediately, legal aid must be given to indigent citizens.
“The Attorneys General of the States and the Federation must play their constitutional roles including, but not limited to, administrative interventions in addressing infractions of constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizen,” he said.
FG Asks Striking Workers To Resume
Meanwhile, the federal government yesterday directed members of the striking Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) to re-open all the courts and the State Houses of Assembly so that the May 20, 2021 Memorandum of Action signed by all parties and further reinforced by another meeting on implementation of timelines on June 4 can take effect.
This was contained in a statement by the deputy director, Press and Public Relations, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Charles Akpan.
The statement quoted the minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, as decrying the situation where the courts and the State Houses of Assembly are still shut across the federation for no cogent reasons of non-adherence to the provisions of the May 20 Memorandum of Action which has 45 days’ implementation window.
The statement noted that many governors are desirous that the State Assemblies be opened so that they can enact the laws meant to give effect to the autonomy as enshrined in the MOA “but we have advised all state governors that have consulted with their heads of judiciary and legislature to go ahead and credit the accounts of judiciary and legislature before fine-tuning the laws.”
The statement added that the Ministry will not be happy to be pushed into invoking sections of the Trade Disputes Acts capable of eroding all the gains made so far in the negotiations since May 6, 2021.