JUSUN SHUTS COURTS CREATED BY THE CONSTITUTION TO ENFORCE AUTONOMY GIVEN BY THE CONSTITUTION

Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has embarked on a nationwide strike action, shutting all courts in Nigeria. JUSUN is a union of all judiciary workers excluding persons who work in the capacity of judges. Judiciary workers include all persons who work in one way or the other to aid the administration of justice in the country. For instance, the registrars, sheriffs/bailiffs, registry staff, drivers, etc.

As a labour union, JUSUN was formed to advance the interests of their members. The strike action is a means to compel the Government to look into issues of better welfare for judiciary staff.

Judges and Labour Unions

Interestingly, judges are not expected to join labour unions like JUSUN. Our judges are living oracles of the law with enormous powers. Yet, they are mostly “impotent” when it comes to fighting for their interests. They are unable to help themselves directly by pressing for their welfare through any form of labour unionism. They are unable to do this, irrespective of the fact that joining a labour union is an expression of the freedom of association which is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. The elevated position of our judges makes it conventionally unattractive for any judge in Nigeria to embark on “Solidarity Forever”. In fact, the political climate in Nigeria is not favourable for such display. A Government that bundled out its Chief Justice by an ex parte Order, ignoring strict constitutional procedures is in a class of its own. Therefore, JUSUN, and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in certain cases, are the only mouthpiece of the judges.

But the idea of judges going on strike is not entirely forbidden. From the report, we learnt of how judges in some parts of Africa and Europe had embarked on strike actions to compel the government to reverse certain decisions and improve the working conditions of judges. In 2009, Judges in Spain agitated for the hiring of more judges. Slashing judicial budget met with strike action threat from Magistrates in Italy in 2008. Similar situation occurred in Greece in 2012. Sometime in 2012, Judges in Tunisia went on strike to protest a decision by the then Justice Minister, Noureddine Bhiri, to fire more than 80 Judges for corruption. A Tribunal later faulted the termination process holding that the judges were illegally removed and should be reinstated but the Government at the time refused to comply. In 2012, Judges in Egypt once threatened to go on strike in protest against a decree issued by the then President Mohammed Morsi (now late), the terms of which purports to place the President above any law, with the effect that his decisions cannot be challenged. The Decree was later rescinded.

Main reason JUSUN is on strike

The major reason Judicial workers embarked on this current strike in Nigeria is to press for the financial autonomy of the Judiciary, as an arm of the Government, as provided by the Constitution. More so, JUSUN has moved to compel the fulfillment of the agreement reached with relevant stakeholders in the past regarding the issue. Financial autonomy for the Judiciary is a means to guarantee better welfare and working conditions for judicial workers.

Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides for the financial autonomy of the Judiciary. This is in furtherance of the autonomy of the Judiciary as an equal arm of Government (like the Executive and the Legislature) by virtue of Section 6 and Chapter VII of the Constitution.

By an Executive Order No. 10 (Implementation of Financial Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary Order, 2020) signed by President Buhari on 20 May 2020, the President declared that funds due to State Judiciaries should be treated as a First Line charge and paid directly to the Heads of Courts.

Meanwhile, according to the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, State Governors have challenged the Executive Order, citing constitutional breaches. But as rightly stated by Mr. Akpata, the financial autonomy of State Judiciaries is constitutional and does not require the instrument of an Executive Order to gain effect. Section 121(3) clearly provides:

Any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.

Section 120 of the 1999 Constitution established the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The Section mandates that all revenues or other monies raised or received by a State shall be paid into the Fund. The Constitution also provides for conditions for withdrawing from the Fund.

It was never the intention of the Constitution that the Judiciary in any State of the Federation shall be under the financial control of the Executive, as if in a typical master and slave relationship.

Nevertheless, the NBA moved to stop the strike action by appealing to JUSUN to shelve it due to the difficulties already foisted by Covid-19 lockdown and EndSARS protests recently witnessed. But JUSUN would not be persuaded. JUSUN has shut courts created by the Constitution to enforce autonomy given by the Constitution.

Governments, both at State and Federal level, are familiar with strike actions. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) are some of the associations that often make headlines regarding strike actions. But no lasting solution has greeted the various agitations over the years.

Conclusion

We look forward to a quicker resolution of the issue raised by JUSUN in order to curtail the devastating effect of the strike. Otherwise, litigation lawyers might take to farming while litigants might put on their boxing gloves.

 

 

Featured image credit: The Nation



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

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