The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (NJC) on Wednesday suspended its nationwide strike which paralysed the Nigerian courts for over two months.
Members of the union had embarked on the strike on April 6 to press home their demand for the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
The 64-day-old strike is the longest industrial action the Nigerian judiciary, as a whole, has ever seen. The closest to it which members of the union embarked on in January 2015 for the same reason only lasted for two weeks.
JUSUN took the decision suspending the strike at a meeting of its National Executive Committee (NEC) in Abuja on Wednesday.
The union announced the suspension of the strike in a communique issued at the end of the NEC meeting on Wednesday.
It cited the intervention of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and other stakeholders in reaching the decision to suspend the strike.
“NEC-in-session discussed extensively and after putting so many issues into consideration i.e. the intervention of the NJC and other stakeholders, the NEC has resolved that the strike is hereby suspended,” the signed by the union’s Deputy President, Emmanuel Abioye, and General Secretary, Isiah Adetola, read in part.
JUSUN had convened the NEC meeting following an appeal by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to the union to call off the nationwide strike in the interest of the nation.
The NJC led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammed, had made the appeal to the union at a meeting earlier on Tuesday.
The union which commended the CJN, state Chief Judges, and other stakeholders for their efforts in ensuring the resolution of the crisis, also sought the protection of its members from persecution and “peculiar allowance” for its members.
“NEC-in-session agreed that there shall be introduction of peculiar allowance throughout the state and federal courts,” the union stated in its communique.
“NEC-in-session unanimously reiterated that no member of JUSUN should be victimised on strike action,” it added.
Matter not yet laid to rest
There are indications that the union took the decision to call off the strike on Wednesday despite that its demand for the implementation of the agreement it signed with the state governors on financial autonomy of the state judiciaries had yet to begin.
In broad sense, the union’s demand is for compliance with constitutional provision which places the state judiciaries’ budgets on the first line charge, a status that enables them to receive their funds directly from the federation account.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last year signed the Executive Order 10 for the enforcement of the constitutional provision. The 36 state governors had kicked against the executive order.
But PREMIUM TIMES reported how the union, in May, signed a Memorandum of Action (MoA) with the governors on how to ensure the full implementation of constitutional provision.
Major highlights of the MoA include a provision that the “respective states shall credit the accounts of each State House of Assembly and each state judiciary with the pro-rata amount due each of the two arms of government under the 2021 Appropriation for each state.”
But the implementation had yet to begin as of Wednesday when the union suspended its strike.
Therefore, the union in its communique issued at the end of its Wednesday’s meeting pleaded with “the NJC, the Presidential Implementation Committee, Attorney-General of the Federation, Accountant-General of the Federation, and all stakeholders to see that the issue of judiciary financial autonomy is laid to rest finally as provided in section 81(3), 121(3), and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
It “condemns the actions of the Governors of Kaduna, Plateau and Benue states for withholding salaries of judiciary in their various states for months and urge all governors involved to do the needful.”
“NEC-in-session agreed that there shall be introduction of peculiar allowance throughout the State and Federal Courts.
The union also said it kicked against what it described as “the deduction of salary of JUSUN members of Bayelsa State.” It demanded that “the deducted sum be restored forthwith.”
‘NJC advised JUSUN to call off strike’
The NJC had said in an earlier statement that it had advised JUSUN to call off its over-two-month-old strike.
This came after the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, on Tuesday, directed the workers to return to work, threatening that the government might be forced to invoke “sections of the Trade Disputes Acts” if the strike persisted longer.
The NJC said in a statement on Wednesday that it advised JUSUN to call off the strike during an emergency meeting it held with the leadership of the union on Tuesday.
Soji Oye, NJC’s Director of Information, said in a statement on Wednesday, that the meeting held under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (NJC), Tanko Muhammad.
The meeting, according to Mr Oye, was attended by the Chief Judges of states, the JUSUN executive members as well as Senator Ita Enang, who is the Senior Special Adviser to the President and Secretary of the Implementation Committee.
The meeting was summoned by the CJN, who doubles as the chairman of the NJC, in a bid to find a lasting solution to the lingering strike.
The workers have been on strike since April 6 in agitation for the financial independence of the judiciary. The strike has now led to the shutdown of Nigerian courts for over two months.
Series of meetings have been held between the leaders of the union and the labour minister, Chris Ngige, who is leads the federal government’s negotiation team regarding the financial autonomy status of the state judiciaries and Houses of Assembly.
The JUSUN leaders’ meeting with the NJC on Tuesday is the latest in the series of such reconciliatory meetings that that have been convened since April to resolve the lingering industrial crisis.
Giving an update on the outcome of the meeting on Wednesday, Mr Oye said the council received briefings from the CJN and executives of JUSUN led by Emmanuel Abioye, who is the union’s Deputy President.
“At the end of deliberations, Council advised JUSUN to consider suspending the strike in the interest of Administration of Justice and National interest,” the statement read in part.
NJC sets up monitoring committee
The statement also said the NJC set up a committee to monitor the implementation of the agreement on the judiciary’s financial autonomy which the union signed with the state governors.
“The council thereafter set up a five-man committee in order to monitor the implementation of the Memorandum of Action signed between the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and JUSUN,” the statement added.
Mr Oye said on Wednesday that the council received briefing from the CJN who was said to have lamented the negative impact of the strike on the nation at large.
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria and other stakeholders during the interface, lamented that the strike had affected the judiciary in particular and the nation at large and therefore sought for a way to resolve the lingering issue,” the statement read.
According to the NJC’s statement, Mr Abiri, JUSUN’s Deputy President of JUSUN, blamed the problem on state governors whom they said have refused to obey constitutional provisional provisions on the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
Mr Abioye explained that “despite the constitutional provision of sections 81 (3), 121 (3), 162 (9) and the judgement delivered since 2015 in favour of JUSUN, the Executive Order 10 of 2020 and the agreement reached between the Union, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, the governors have refused to yield financial autonomy to the state judiciary.”
He added that the union’s other grievances include, “non-payment of peculiar allowance for judiciary staff; attempt by the Kaduna State governor to place the State Judiciary under its civil service and scheming for a state judicial council.”
Referencing the agreement the union recently signed with the governors, Mr Abioye said, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) “was merely playing politics with the constitution and had also failed to remit the one-month payment agreed on at the end of May as a demonstration of their good faith.”
Mr Abioye said the NGF could renege in fulfilling its promise at the end of the month of May, adding that there was no guarantee that it would not in June. He therefore requested that the Accountant-General of the Federation be directed to deduct from source the amount meant for the Judiciary before the Union could call off the strike.