Law News
Judicial strike, financial autonomy and behemoths


Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed

THE courts across the federation are on indefinite strike, and avoidably so. The need for this strike wouldn’t have occurred if we were blessed with breed of selfless leaders who respects the rule of law.

Unfortunately, the timing of the strike might as well be inauspicious to the agitators – the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and sadly, the litigants and lawyers. This is due to the impending election and the heightened camapign activities. Added to this, is the fact that the culprits, the governors and government officials who are supposed to heed the order of the court, which warranted the strike, appear aloof to the pains of regular court users and are now facing electionioneering campaigns.

Unless intense pressure is exerted by influential personalities, which is not very likely, this strike might not bear the needed fruit until perhaps, the workers sheathe their swords unplacated or the politicians see the need for the courts, when they are done with the polls and the allegations of rigging and fraud begin to reverberate.

JUSUN had in 2012 challenged the piecemeal payment of funds accruing to the judiciary from the consolidated revenue fund contrary to the provisions of sections 81(3), 121(3) and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution before a Federal High Court, Abuja.

The court in its judgment ordered the 36 state governors and the FCT to comply with the constitutional provisions on financial autonomy for the judiciary.

Delivering judgment, Justice Ademola Adeniyi held that the system whereby the states pay funds accruing to the judiciary from the consolidated revenue in piecemeal was a breach of the constitution.

He, therefore, ordered an immediate end to it and directed all the 36 state governors of the federation and the FCT Minister to comply with the order henceforth.

Adeniyi also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the governors from further breach of the provisions of the constitution regarding the financial autonomy for the judiciary.

He said that Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa were, however, exempted from the order for having enacted the judiciary financial autonomy law.

Adeniyi further ordered the counsel to JUSUN, Philip Odusola, to serve notice of the order to the Accountant General of the Federation and states accountant-generals.

Also to be served by the order are the president of the senate, speaker of the house of representatives, speakers of state houses of assembly and the attorneys-general of states for immediate implementation.

The judge, in his landmark judgment, also dismissed the preliminary objections of the defendants who had challenged the court’s jurisdiction and JUSUN’s “locus standi’’ to institute the action.

It is interesting to note that foremost human rights lawyer and former President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) had equally on February 1, 2013 taken the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the National Assembly to court stating that the manner by which the budget of the judiciary was being appropriated was contrary to the principle of separation of power and the provisions of section 81 (2) and Section 84 (1), (2), (3), (4), and 7 of the Constitution.

He also prayed that the continued dependence of the judiciary on the executive represented by the 1st defendant for its budgeting and funds release is directly responsible for the present state of underfunding of the judiciary.

In its judgment the Court declared unconstitutional the practice of sending the annual budget estimates of the judiciary to the Budget Office of the executive arm of government or any other authority.

The Court also ordered that henceforth the National Judicial Council (NJC) would prepare the budget of the judiciary and that it would no longer be part of the estimates to be included in the Appropriation Bill as proposed expenditures by the President, as is the present practice.

He also filed one in Ekiti State High Court, asking the court to compel the Ekiti State Government to comply with the provisions of Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that monies standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the heads of court concerned. Decisions in both cases favoured the plaintiff too.

As a result of these court pronouncements, JUSUN began to press for the implementation. A meeting was held on November 19, 2014 between the federal government and JUSUN. Another was convened on November 27, 2014, where it was agreed that the Accountant General of the Federation was to commence the implementation of the court judgment during the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) meeting.

The agreement was contained in a memorandum of understanding (MoU) reached at the end of a marathon meeting at the instance of supervising minister of Labour and Productivity, Kabiru Turaki, the leadership of JUSUN and other stakeholders.

The MoU was jointly signed by the permanent secretary ministry of Labour, Clement Illoh, the accountant general of the federation, Jonah Otunla, JUSUN president, Marwan Mustapha Adamu, director, Home Finance, Federal Ministry of Finance, K. Zaji, and others.

This decision was reached to persuade JUSUN to suspend the threat to resume strike Monday, December 1, 2014.

By the end of December, JUSUN was convinced those they signed MoU with were not committed to it. Consequently, it ordered its members to shut the courts indefinitely from January 2.

JUSUN national president, Adamu has vowed that its current industrial action was indefinite until financial autonomy was achieved for the judiciary.

He said JUSUN was compelled to down tools due to the inability of the authorities to comply with the court order granting financial autonomy to the judiciary.

“The strike is indefinite and we are not ready to go back until the government complies with the court judgment.There was a court judgment since January 13, 2014. There is no stay on that judgment and nobody is willing to comply with that judgment.

“If a court of competent jurisdiction delivers a judgment and the state governors decide not to respect it, I do not think we are doing the right thing for this country.

“State governments through their accountants-general and commissioners for finance being members of Federation Account Allocations Committee (FAAC) equally contributed to this industrial action”, he declared.

He  recalled that JUSUN commenced the strike on July 11, 2014, demanding full compliance with the judgment, but called off the strike following stakeholders’ intervention.

Already, the toll of the strike is telling. Federal High Courts and National Industrial Courts as well as other courts have been shut down since last Monday. Courts were initially scheduled to resume proceedings last Monday, January 5, after the Christmas and new year vacation.

As it is, the fate of important cases slated for January is hanging in the balance. They include  the trial of five police officers indicted in the killing of leader of the Boko Haram sect, Mohammed Yusuf. The matter was adjourned to  January 12.

Already, hearing in Coroner’s inquest in TB Joshua’s building collapse, slated for January 6 in Lagos has been stalled.

Also likely to be affected are the suit filed by former Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Lawal Hassan Gummi. A Federal High Court, Abuja will on January 20 deliver judgement in that matter. Gummi is challenging the powers of NJC to exercise disciplinary control over him by suspending him on allegations of judicial misconduct despite having voluntarily retired from service.

Also, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of an Abuja Federal High Court in Abuja was to hear the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF)’s address on the constitutional issues raised in the fundamental human rights suit by alleged Nyanya bombing mastermind, Aminu Ogwuche on January 12. Ogwuche is seeking N100 million in damages against the federal government.

Included in the cases likely to be stalled is  the application by the Attorney General of the Federation to extradite former managing director of Nigeria Security Minting and Printing Company (NSPMC) Ehidiamhem Okoyomon to the United Kingdom for alleged bribery scandal. Justice Chukwu Evo of an Abuja High Court ought to rule on it January 23.

The President of The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Augustine Alegeh (SAN) last week, urged judiciary workers in the country to call off the strike and pursue amicable resolution.

The president rightly noted that the strike action had caused untold hardship on lawyers, adding that same should be resolved.

Alegeh said although JUSUN had a good cause since there was a valid court’s judgment in its favour, the effect of the strike action on the masses was however, enormous.

His words: “We appreciate the position of JUSUN, but it is important to note that the defendants in the suit are not the only users of the courts; the courts are also accessible to other members of the public.

“The court remains the last resort of the common man and we must appreciate that these are very critical political times in the country.

“Various political parties are conducting primaries and the court is the only avenue for individuals to ventilate their grievances; so, we cannot afford for the courts to be shut down at this point. It will have a negative impact on the citizenry. On that grounds, we are appealing to JUSUN to call off its strike”.

Alegeh also urged the union to employ other workable means of getting the court’s judgment complied with and implemented.

His view seems to differ  with that of the chairmen of the Lagos, Ikeja and Ikorodu branches of the NBA, Mr. Alex Muoka, Mr. Yinka Farounbi and Mr. Dotun Adetunji respectively.

For Muoka, even though the development is painful, he supports the action. He added that the strike action had affected activities of lawyers in the country.

“We support the demands that JUSUN is making. So, it is now for the government to abide by the decision of the court on financial autonomy for the judiciary. Basically, it is important for the government to implement a full fledged autonomy for the judiciary, as ordered by the court.

“We sympathise with JUSUN in this regard and appeal to the authorities to fulfill the union’s demand; it is particularly painful because the strike has affected our clients, and our livelihood.

“JUSUN had embarked on this strike action last year, but called it off without their demands been met, so I think it will be difficult to ask them to call off this strike without the demands been satisfied,” he said.

Muoka therefore, appealed to the government, to implement the court’s judgment on financial autonomy for the judiciary, in the interest of justice.

Farounbi described the strike action as unfortunate. He stressed that since there had been no formal appeal against the judgment of the court, the natural consequence should be simply for the executive arm to abide by it.

“I am not aware of any formal appeal lodged against the judgment of the court, so it is rather unfortunate that there is difficulty in compliance.

“However, I want to urge JUSUN to confine its action within the law; if there has been non-compliance with the judgment, then they should go back to court and initiate contempt proceedings against the necessary parties.

“The strike has affected even those who knows nothing about the court’s judgment; some accused waiting to perfect their bail terms have also been affected by the situation,” he said.

Farounbi therefore, urged the authorities to ensure an immediate resolution of the issues.

In the same vein, the Ikorodu branch Chairman of the NBA, Adetunji, also called on government to accede to the demands of the union.

He said: “Since this is a court’s judgment arising from a constitutional issue, which has not been appealed, it is necessary for the executive to abide by the decision.

“The strike has caused a lot of hardships on lawyers and litigants in the country, and it is in the best interest of the society for it to be resolved amicably.”

However, the striking workers have a strong ally in the Lagos based human rights campaigner, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa. He said the strike is valid and in order.

“It has been very disturbing for me, listening to and reading comments by legal practitioners, denouncing the strike action, whilst our umbrella body, the Nigerian Bar Association, has called on JUSUN to suspend the strike and explore other options. I beg to differ, with all due respect.

“First, section 39 of the 1999 Constitution grants the freedom of expression, to every citizen and that freedom can be exercised through protests, strike actions, or other legitimate methods of civil protests. To that extent, the JUSUN strike is valid in law and supported by the Constitution.

“Second, sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Constitution create the three arms of government to be the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, and no one arm is to interfere with the duties and functions of the other arm. Since independence, the Judiciary has become the whipping organ of the other arms of government, totally starved of funds, controlled at will by the Executive and reduced to mere rubber stamps, by the Legislature, through ouster clauses and obnoxious laws”, he stated, urging them to be resolute in their demands and pledging free legal services when the need arises.

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