Judiciary workers on Tuesday made good their threat to embark on industrial action to press home their demand for the implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary.
Reports from states showed that a task force raised by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to enforce the strike, went from courtroom to courtroom to ensure compliance with the directive.
However, as part of efforts to resolve the industrial dispute, governors of the 36 states of the federation will meet soon to discuss the implementation of the Executive Order 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2020, which seeks to enforce financial autonomy for the judiciary and legislature in states.
It was also learnt that the governors might challenge the order at the Supreme Court.
The Executive Order No. 10 of 2020, made it mandatory for all states to include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The order also mandates the Accountant-General of the Federation to deduct from source amount due to the state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state, in the case of states that refuse to implement the autonomy provision.
But the governors have not complied with the executive order, hence the decision of the judicial workers to go on strike.
A visit to courts in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) revealed total compliance with the strike.
The strike disrupted activities at the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court Abuja and the headquarters of the FCT High Court, Abuja.
Their premises were shorn of the regular human traffic as the gates were all locked.
A JUSUN official, who refused to give his name on the grounds that he was not authorised to speak for the union, said the leadership of JUSUN as at the time of the interview was in a meeting with the National Judicial Council (NJC).
He stated that a positive outcome of the meeting could speed up the resolution of the dispute leading to the strike, which the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and some lawyers believed was untimely.
In Kano State, the federal, state and magistrate’s courts were shut down by members of JUSUN.
Chairman of the state branch of JUSUN, Mr. Mukhtar Lawan, told reporters in Kano that the lockout was in compliance with the instruction given by the national headquarters of their union.
Rabiu said: “There is no going back. We have begun the strike and all courts within the state have been shut.”
When THISDAY visited some courts, it was observed that staff members, litigants and their lawyers were locked out.
At the Federal High Court in Kano, the union officials also shut down the premises and directed workers to go back home and await further instruction.
Also at the State High Court, workers were seen under trees discussing the industrial action.
The Sokoto State chapter of JUSUN also joined its counterparts to embark on the indefinite strike.
Members of JUSUN in the state locked out staff members, litigants and their lawyers from entering court buildings.
The Vice-Chairman of JUSUN, North-west zone, who also doubled as the Sokoto State Chairman, Mr. AbdulNasir Muhammad, said the lockout was in compliance with the instruction given by the JUSUN national headquarters.
In Katsina, all courts in the state were shut-in compliance with the nationwide strike.
JUSUN members locked out staff members, litigants and their lawyers.
The Katsina State Vice Chairman of JUSUN, Mr. Yusuf Sani, told journalists that the lockout was in compliance with the instruction given by the JUSUN national headquarters.
In Osun State, all cadres of the courts were locked up.
Osun State Chairman of JUSUN, Mr. Gbenga Kunle Eludire, in an interview with journalists, said: “This is an indefinite strike and no state has any right to negotiate with any government except for the National Working Committee of the JUSUN.”
In Ekiti State, the state High Court, Court of Appeal, magistrate’s courts, Customary Court and the Federal High Court in Ado Ekiti, were all locked up.
Vice-Chairman of JUSUN in the state, Mr. Kunle Afolayan, said their actions were premised on the decision of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the union.
However, judicial workers in Edo State, Tuesday refused to comply with the directives of their national body.
Efforts to reach the Edo State Chairman of JUSUN, Uyi Ogeriakhi, proved abortive as calls to his mobile telephone line didn’t go through.
Courts in Ebonyi State also sat on Tuesday.
But the activities at the various courts in Kwara State were also paralysed as the premises of both the Federal High Court and the state High Court in Ilorin were under lock and key.
The Kwara State Chairman of JUSUN, Mr. Sambo Ibrahim, told THISDAY that the government should respond to their demands if it wants the strike called off.
“The courts now are totally grounded and nothing is working. Various departments, including commissioner for oaths, are all affected and there will not be any adjudication of rule of law for now because even the judges are affected and nobody will be allowed to come into the court premises,” he said.
Anambra State judicial workers also joined the strike when THISDAY visited major courts in the state.
Courts in Ondo State were also shut down following industrial action embarked upon by the judiciary workers.
When THISDAY visited courts in Akure, Ondo State capital, there were no activities in any of the offices.
The State High Court, Court of Appeal, magistrate’s courts, National Industrial Court and the Federal High Court in Akure were shut by the JUSUN led by the state Chairman, Mr. Femi Afolabi.
THISDAY learnt yesterday that governors would soon meet to resolve the impasse over the quest for financial autonomy for the judiciary.
Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), told THISDAY yesterday that out of the desire to ensure strict compliance with the constitutional provisions of financial autonomy of states’ judiciary and the legislature, the Buhari administration came up with Executive Order 10 to enforce Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution.
Malami, who spoke through his media aide, Dr. Umar Gwandu, said: “This, if complied with, will ensure the democratic doctrine of separation of powers, bring grassroots development and accelerate the much-needed dividends of democracy to the teaming Nigerian masses who clamoured for change.”
It was gathered that the next meeting of the governors may resolve to either challenge the constitutionality of the Executive Order 10 at the Supreme Court since the governors have not been able to resolve it with Malami.
A source told THISDAY that the governors are billed to address the matter.
“I know it is part of the Executive Order 10, signed in May 2020 and a committee was set up by the governors to address this matter holistically. Not until this is done, the governors will not have a position.
“We are already meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President and the outcome of this meeting will form the basis for the meeting of the governors on this matter in a couple of days,” the source said.
He added that the meeting may resolve to challenge the order at the Supreme Court if other means of settlement fail.
In one of their meetings, the governors had set up a committee to meet with Malami.
THISDAY, however, gathered that there has not been any conclusive outcome before the commencement of the strike by the judicial workers.
The Sokoto State governor, Hon. Aminu Tambawul, headed the committee interfacing with Malami.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, had in June 2020 hosted a meeting involving the leadership of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and some ministers over the matter.
NGF Chairman and Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, had told State House correspondents at the end of the closed-door meeting, that they wouldn’t file a court action against the president for signing the executive order.
He said Buhari had agreed to delay gazetting the order after listening to the concerns raised by the governors on the modalities for the implementation.
According to him, after listening to their concerns, about the constitutionality of the executive order, the president agreed that the gazetting of the order would be delayed.