By OUR CORRESPONDENT
Nationwide strikes embarked upon by judicial staff and polytechnic workers ground activities in both institutions to a halt across Nigeria.
The Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) members downed tools yesterday in an indefinite strike to demand financial autonomy for the third arm of government. Apart from a factionalsed chapter in Ebonyi State, all the state chapters and the federal capital territory, Abuja, fully complied with the strike.
Judicial workers in Ondo State yesterday joined a nationwide indefinite strike to protest the non-implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary.
LEADERSHIP observed that the state’s high courts, appeal court, magistrates’ courts, National Industrial Court, and the Federal High Court in Akure, the Ondo State capital were closed down by officials of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) led by the state chairman, Comrade Femi Afolabi.
The union said the strike was to seek financial autonomy for the judiciary arm of government, noting that although the federal government had allowed for financial autonomy, state governments were not granting financial independence to the judiciary in the states.
Reacting to the refusal of states to implement the policy, JUSUN accordingly directed its members across the country to shut down all courts nationwide beginning from yesterday..
In Akure, some lawyers and litigants returned home disappointed as they met gates of the court locked by JUSUN officers while the staff members of the Federal High Court were forced out of the premises.
Speaking with newsmen, the JUSUN chairman in Ondo State, Comrade Femi Afolabi said the strike would not be called off until their demands were met by the government.
Comrade Afolabi described as successful the first day of the strike, adding that all stakeholders in the judiciary arm were fully in support of JUSUN.
The strike was similarly observed in Borno State as the JUSUN state chapter yesterday shut courts in the state.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP in Maiduguri, the chairman JUSUN in the state, Mohammed Mayo said the chapter had initially shelved the strike following the agreement by the Borno State government that it would abide any decision from the national body, but after series of complaints from members, the idea was reversed and members embarked on indefinite strike.
Mayo further said even though the state is faced with the challenges of the Boko Haram insurgency, with attending issues from litigants, the union u on thuù strike to ensure financial freedom of the judiciary from the executive for a better dispensation of justice to the masses.
“We have shut down all courts in the state in compliance with the directive from our national body. We cannot continue to beg the government for what the constitution has provided for us,” Mayo said.
Our correspondent reports that both the state high courts , Sharia Court of Appeal and magistrate’s courts in the state were all shut by the striking union.
Litigants that came to the headquarters of the state high courts, who were unaware of the strike, were sent out of the premises by the union members who later shut the entrance gate of the court.
In Lagos, the JUSUN strike yesterday paralysed activities in all the courts.
A visit by our correspondent to most of the courts in the state showed that apart from disruption of legal business, the courts were under lock and key.
Some members of JUSUN as early as 9am locked up the gate of the Federal High Court in Lagos to enforce compliance with the indefinite nationwide strike.
Before shutting the gate, the union evicted all the staff who have resumed work after the Easter break.
The JUSUN enforcement team directed their colleagues in courtrooms and offices to vacate the premises in compliance with the industrial action.
They then went on to seal off some of the offices and pasted notices indicating commencement of the court shutdown.
The strike also affected the five divisions of the Lagos State judiciary as all judicial activities were shut down by members of the union.
Some judicial staff were seen in groups discussing the development.
The unionists also shut the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal and the National Industrial Court (NIC).
The JUSUN national leadership had in an April 1 circular ordered the closure of courts from yesterday until the government complied with the constitution, court judgments and other instruments which confer or re-emphasise financial autonomy of the judiciary.
The circular, signed by its general secretary, I. M. Adetola, directed all states and zonal heads of the union to comply with the strike.
The union stated it had, at its last national executive meeting on March 13, 2021 in Abuja, issued a 21-day ultimatum to the government to implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary with a threat that “failure of which JUSUN will have no other option than to resume the suspended national strike action.”
“Therefore, as a result of the public holiday on April 5, 2021, the strike action has been postponed to Tuesday, April 6, 2021.”
But the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has pleaded with JUSUN to reconsider its planned nationwide strike.
The NBA said that, as commendable and laudable as the proposed strike might be, it was concerned about its timing and the potentially-devastating consequences it would pose for justice administration in the country, particularly coming on the heels of prolonged lull in judicial activities owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and the enforced lockdown.
In a statement, issued yesterday and signed by its president, Olumide Akpata, the bar association said that as the courts were trying to catch up for lost time, it would be catastrophic for the administration of justice to be shut down once again.
“This is not to mention the adverse economic consequences for families and lawyers alike, who earn a living in one way or the other, by providing various support services to the court system.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the NBA, as a leading stakeholder in the justice sector and in keeping with its motto of promoting the rule of law, is in support of the demands of JUSUN, and has been a constant voice of advocacy towards enthroning judicial autonomy,” the NBA stated.
Court activities in Benue State were crippled yesterday following the industrial action by JUSUN.
This is even as the chairman Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Màkurdi branch , Barr Justin Gbagir, in a statement expressed concern over the potentially devastating consequences the strike will pose for justice administration in the country.
Barr Gbagir also disclosed that the association was deeply worried that despite the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which consecrate the autonomy of the Judiciary, the Executive Arm had totally refused to comply with it.
“As commendable and laudable as the proposed strike action may be, the NBA is concerned about its timing and the potentially devastating consequences it would pose for justice administration in the country.
“This is because it is coming on the heels of prolonged lull in the judicial activities owing to COVID-19 pandemic and the enforced lockdown,” he said.
Our correspondent who visited the Federal High Court and Appeal Court among others observed that all the entrances were under lock and key.
Some of the judicial workers who were seen outside the court premises said they were out to enforce compliance, saying enough is enough
It was also observed that some of the courts including High Court of Justice, Federal Appeal Court, Magistrate’s Court, Customary Court of Appeal among others within the state and its environs had complied with the strike order.
In Osun, Kwara, Rivers, Cross River and Plateau States, JUSUN members also joined their counterparts nationwide to down tools to drive home their demand for autonomy.
Their action paralyzed activities at the state and federal high courts, magistrates’ courts, and Industrial court, among others.
In Kwara, the state chairman of JUSUN), Ibrahim Sambo expressed delight with the enforcement of the industrial action by the union in the state.
“It is a national strike and we can’t afford to opt out of it. There are some other reasons for the strike but the main reason for the strike is to grant us financial autonomy which is acceptable to us all. It was a collective decision,” he said.
In Rivers: State, LEADERSHIP observed that hundreds of people who had thronged the courts as early as 7am for various businesses were disappointed following the blocking of the entrances by the striking judiciary workers, who were singing and dancing.
Speaking with newsmen, national vice president (South-South), JUSUN, Sokari George, said all allowances due to their members as essential workers have not been paid.
In Cross River State, virtually all court premises were devoid of life.
When LEADERSHIP correspondent put a call across to the chairman of JUSUN in the state , Mr. Asanya Ebong said that the strike was a continuation of the strike that was suspended by the union some time ago when Judiciary staff called her members out for strike but were asked to sheathe their sword by the NBA which waded into the matter .
Findings by our correspondent revealed that judiciary staff shut all the courts in Plateau state.
The chairman of JUSUN in Plateau State, Comrade Philip Lonji said the government had refused to implement Executive order 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari .
Lonji spoke to LEADERSHIP at the premises of Plateau State High Court in Jos yesterday.
He said: The non implementation of financial autonomy warranted us to embark on this indefinite strike . Authorities concerned should treat the judiciary as truly the third arm of government . They should be treated as such because judiciary is the last hope of the common man.”
Strike Boycotted in Ebonyi State
Members of JUSUN in Ebonyi State yesterday boycotted the nationwide strike embarked by the union to demand financial autonomy.
When LEADERSHIP visited the Ebonyi State Judiciary complex along Ogoja road Abakaliki, it was observed that courtrooms were open for proceedings while staff of the judiciary were also seen carrying out their duties.
Some of the staff members said there was no directive from the leadership of the union for them to embark on the industrial action.
“We got to know about the strike through radio announcement and we had expected our leaders to address us but we came to work this morning to observe that the whole place was open for court proceedings.
“When we communicated with some of our leaders, they instructed us to go about our normal official duties and, by implication, Ebonyi is boycotting the strike.”
Effort to get the reaction of the state chairman of JUSUN, Comrade Felix Oko Nnachi were abortive as his telephone number and that of his secretary were switched off.
But an executive member of the union who spoke on grounds of anonymity said that they were unable to join the strike as the union was factionalised.
He stated that during the last industrial action in the state, the state government created another faction in the union and, since then, the union is yet to come together.
CJN Urges JUSUN To Call-off Strike
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, has met with some national and local officials of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria(JUSUN) in his Supreme Court chamber to find lasting solution to the strike embarked upon by the union.
A statement by Malam Ahurakah Isah, special assistant to the CJN on media and publicity, said the CJN at a meeting asked JUSUN to call off the strike while the process of making the state governments obey Executive Order 10 and various court judgments on the autonomy of the Judiciary is being pursued..
“The unintended sufferers of this strike are better imagined than seen. It has spiral effects, including our children; the Federal Judiciarywhich is a lesser culprit.
“Ordinarily, I would say let me talk to individual 36 state governors, which amounts to asking for their favours. But some of them would ask me to do them favours in return. This is why as a judge I am prohibited from asking for favours,” the CJN said.
The national treasurer of JUSUN, Mr Jimoh Musa, led the delegation on behalf of the JUSUN president, Marwan Adamu.He told the CJN they will present his request to the union’s executive council.
JUSUN president in auto crash
Meanwhile, the JUSUN strike commenced on a sad note following the involvement of its president, Marwan Adamu, in an auto crash.
He was said to have been absent from the meeting with the CJN on account of his involvement in the auto crash, which occurred while he was travelling from Kano to attend the meeting in Abuja.
The meeting was held in the office of the CJN within the Supreme Court complex, where Justice Muhammad appealed to the JUSUN members to call off the strike.
Polytechnics Grounded As Lecturers Commence Strike
Polytechnic lecturers under the umbrella of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) yesterday commenced a nationwide strike action over what they described as neglect of the education sub sector by both federal and state governments
The Union explained that the strike followed the expiration of their ultimatum issued to government since March 2020, adding that the lecturers have been patient with the government.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, national president of ASUP, Anderson Uzeibe said there have been consistent move by the government to demarket the polytechnic sector, stressing that this has led to a steady decline in enrollment of students to polytechnics.
The president said some of the demands of the lecturers include the non-implementation of NEEDS Assessment report of 2014 in the sector nor release of any revitalization fund to the sector despite assurances since 2017, the non-release of the 10-month arrears of minimum wage owed our members in federal polytechnics and non-implementation of same in several state owned institutions despite the presidential directive for the payment of these arrears since December 2019, among other grievances.