The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Monday urged judiciary workers under the aegis of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to shelve their plan to begin a nationwide strike on Tuesday.
The association in a statement signed by its President, Olumide Akpata, said although it believes in the battle for financial autonomy of the judiciary being waged by the workers, the timing of the planned strike would spell doom for the country considering the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in the last one year.
Mr Akpata stated, “However, 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, particularly coming on the heels of prolonged lull in judicial activities owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and the enforced lockdowns.
“Across the country, the courts are trying to play catch-up for lost time, and it would be catastrophic for the administration of justice for the Courts to be shut down 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.”
JUSUN had in a circular dated April 1, declared a nationwide industrial action in to press for financial autonomy for the country’s judicial arm of government.
According to the circular, JUSUN directed its members across the nation to commence an indefinite strike on April 6, Tuesday, which would ground all the courts in Nigeria.
NBA bemoaned the action of state governors who had gone to court to challenge the Executive Order No. 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, on May 20, 2020, which, “to a large extent, sought to address this constitutional imbroglio by treating the funds due to the state judiciaries as a first line charge, and requiring that the funds be paid directly to the Heads of court concerned.”
The body of Nigerian lawyers said despite that the Executive Order was not necessary to enforce the financial autonomy status of the judiciary provided for in the Nigerian Constitution, the executive arm of government, particularly at the State level, had customarily refused to comply with the provisions of the Constitution, which are targeted at safeguarding the independence of the Judiciary.
Mr Akpata added, “The NBA is aware of the judgment of the Federal High Court of January 13, 2014 which unequivocally confirmed the autonomy of the Judiciary in line with the spirit and letters of the Constitution.
“While that judgment was followed by a Memorandum of Understanding between JUSUN and relevant stakeholders under which parties agreed to conscientiously give effect to the judgement of the Court, that has not been the case for seven years after the landmark judgment.
“This situation does not augur well for our constitutional democracy, as it suggests that members of the Executive arm of Government, who swore to uphold the principles of the Constitution, can flout it, with impunity.
“The judiciary is an equal arm of Government relative to the Executive and the Legislature, and its independence is fundamental to the effective discharge of its mandate under the Constitution.
“A situation where the Judiciary literally begs for its resources from the Executive arm, as is currently the case across several States, cannot guarantee its independence, and constitutes an affront to the Constitution and the Rule of Law.”
The NBA pointed out while it was in support of the demands for financial autonomy for the judiciary, it is, however, worried by the timing of the strike.
It said that it had reached out to the aggrieved JUSUN on the prospects of reconsidering the imminent strike action, adding that the association would provide updates as the discussions progress.
The statement stated, “For the avoidance of doubt, the NBA, as a leading stakeholder in the justice sector, keeping with its motto of promoting the Rule of Law and in is in support of the demands of JUSUN, and has been a constant voice of advocacy towards enthroning judicial timing of an action, is as good as the action itself.
“Against the backdrop of the above, the NBA has reached out to, and is discussing with JUSUN on the prospects of reconsidering the strike action at this time, and will provide updates as discussions progress.”