A meeting scheduled to hold between government representatives and the leadership of the striking judiciary workers on Thursday has been postponed indefinitely.
State governors, under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) along with the labour minister, Chris Ngige, postponed the meeting without giving reasons to the workers’ union on Thursday.
With no new date fixed for the meeting, the development erodes hopes for a resolution of the judiciary workers’ strike that has shut down all Nigerian courts for 10 days.
Judiciary workers, under the aegis of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), had on April 6, embarked on the indefinite nationwide strike demanding an enforcement of constitutional provisions and court judgments granting financial autonomy to the judiciary at both the state and federal levels.
The governors, who are the main target of the strike, had scheduled a meeting with the leadership of JUSUN on Thursday to fashion out modalities for meeting the workers’ demand.
But a top officer of the JUSUN, Jimoh Musa, said that, “they were shocked to receive the message postponing the meeting on Thursday”.
Mr Musa said the meeting was scheduled to hold at the federal ministry of labour with the minister of labour as the lead representative of the federal government.
“We were shocked to get a message from a director in the ministry of labour today that the meeting has been postponed.
“The director said no reason for the postponement of the meeting was given but that a new date will be communicated to us,” Mr Musa said.
The deputy director, press and public relations of the ministry of labour, Charles Akpan, also confirmed that “the meeting was called off”.
He also said he couldn’t tell the reason for the development.
“I would not know the details of the scheduled meeting. But I was told the meeting was called off. I was not told the reason for the calling off of the meeting. I was just told it was called off,” he said.
‘Protests to be added to strike’
Mr Musa said JUSUN leadership was disappointed by the abrupt postponement of the meeting.
He added that the executives of the union later, on Thursday, held a meeting where “it was resolved that the strike should continue.”
“In addition to that, we have also resolved that if we do not hear from them before next week, we will add protests to the strike,” he said.
He said the union would lead a march to the offices of the accountant-general of the federation and the attorney-general of the federation in Abuja for their refusal to enforce the relevant sections of the constitution that entitles the state judiciaries to receive their allocation directly from the federation account.
“We cannot understand why the accountant-general of the federation cannot deduct the money due to the state judiciaries from the federation account and pay it to them directly, and why the attorney-general has not been able to ensure that those constitutional provisions are complied with.
“We are saying that the accountant-general should start the implementation of the financial autonomy status of the judiciary by not giving the funds meant for the state judiciaries as from this month (April),” he said.
Financial autonomy, strike
The governors often claim not to be opposed to the financial autonomy of the judiciary. However, they trample on the independence of the arm of government by only releasing funds to it as they please, violating constitutional provision placing both the state judiciary and legislature on first line charge of the state budgets.
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.
The governors rushed to court last year to challenge an executive order signed by President Muhammadu Buhari for the enforcement of the first line charge status of both the state judiciary and legislature.
They argued that executive order which directs the accountant-general of the federation to deduct funds meant for the state judiciaries and legislatures in the federation account and pay it to them was “unconstitutional”.
Federal judiciary, to a large extent, has been enjoying some measure of financial independence, by being placed in the first line charge of the federal government’s budget.
However, both the state and the federal government have failed to comply with a less known aspect of the financial autonomy which entitles the judiciary to prepare its budget without executive tinkering.
Several meetings held between the leadership of JUSUN with the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Ngige, and some members of the House of Representatives, have failed to end the strike.