The suspension of the 64-day-old nationwide strike embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, has been received with mixed feelings in Abuja.
Some lawyers described the suspension as a welcome development, owing to the strategic importance of the judiciary, others expressed the reservation that since all issues which warranted the strike have not been fully resolved, it would be too early to celebrate.
The strike, the longest industrial action in the Nigerian judiciary was suspended on Wednesday, following a meeting between officials of the union and the National Judicial Council (NJC) led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad.
Both parties agreed that the strike should be called off in the interest of the nation and to give room for the implementation of agreements JUSUN reached with the Federal Government.
NAN reports that courts are to re-open on June 14.
A Lagos-based Lawyer, Victor Opara, said:”JUSUN through the strike, has sensitised the public on the challenges the judiciary is facing for not being autonomous.
“They brought awareness to the fact that judicial autonomy and judicial awareness is something that we need, and that will augur well for the administration of justice.
“They have been able to sensitize lawyers and stakeholders that autonomy and independence, as is constitutionally provided for, is something that should be adhered to.
“From what we read, they have been able to get some concessions and some state governors who have hitherto exhibited a lackadaisical attitude to it sat down at the round table to discuss it.
” At least some agreements were reached, and a window for implementation decided upon”.
Opara,however, advised parties to be faithful to the agreement signed.
“If an agreement has been signed, it remains for the parties to be faithful to that agreement.
“Any departure from that would suggest that one party is simply reneging on that agreement”.
However, Chudi Ojuwku, who spent over two decades teaching at the Nigerian Law School shared a different opinion on the benefits of the JUSUN strike.
“The truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, they have not exactly got the financial autonomy they are demanding.
“At the end of the day, the judiciary still does not have financial autonomy because the system we run does not allow that to happen.
“Autonomy would mean that the money meant for the judiciary would go to the judiciary and it would be up to it to decide how to use it”.
He added that as it stands now, the Executive is not interested in that.
“They want to be the ones to budget and apply the judiciary money for them.
“So one wonders if (JUSUN) called off the strike to save face or have reached a compromise,” he queried.
Also, an Abuja-based Lawyer, Mr Bowie Attamah felt that whether or not the strike achieved much depends on how one looks at.
“It goes without saying however that the state of affairs where the judiciary gets its funds at the behest of the state government needed to be looked into.
” That is what the JUSUN strike has drawn attention to. It is now open to public debate.
“And it seems to me that the public is weighing in on the side of JUSUN, if we must practise true separation of powers,” Attamah added.
Also, Mr Frank Tietie, a Human Rights Activist said the suspension of the strike was a welcomed development.
According to Tietie, the strike brought hardship and pain to lawyers, litigants and those in police detentions that required the services of the courts.
“There are several other ways of ensuring compliance to the constitution standards of judicial autonomy rather than crippling the entire judiciary.
“The government may function without the judiciary, but businesses and the ordinary man cannot operate normally without the judiciary.
NAN reports that the union JUSUN had begun a nationwide strike on Tuesday, April 6, when the union directed all its members across the federation to shut down all courts after the expiration of the 21-day ultimatum earlier given over the failure of the government to implement the law.
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 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 Attorney General of the Federation Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said 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).”
NAN reports that the Nigeria Governors Forum said it will start implementing financial autonomy for the judiciary latest by May ending, a pledge that indicated that an end to the ongoing strike that has crippled the nation’s judiciary may be in sight.
The governors also called on striking members of the JUSUN to call off their two weeks old strike then.
The Chairman of the NGF, Gov. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, gave this assurance in an interview with journalists after meeting with “stakeholders” from the state judiciary and legislature at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
Fayemi said the modalities for the implementation were worked out at the meeting held at the Presidential Villa.
According to him, the meeting, chaired by the Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Ibrahim Gambari, was attended by the Solicitor-General of the Federation, representatives of the judiciary, Conference of Speakers and House of Representatives.
The first line charge status, which is being respected by the Federal Government in respect of the federal judiciary, entitles the state judiciaries to get funds due to them directly from the Federation Account.