The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has appealed to the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to reconsider the proposed industrial action by its members scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
NBA President, Olumide Akpata, who made the appeal on behalf of the lawyers on Monday, described the decision of the judiciary workers to go on strike as commendable and laudable.
He, however, decried its timing and the devastating consequences it would pose for justice administration in the country.
Olumide, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), decried that the strike was coming on the heels of prolonged lull in judicial activities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the enforced lockdowns.
According to him, courts are trying to play catch-up for lost time and it will be catastrophic for the administration of justice for the courts to be shut down again due to the strike by JUSUN.
The senior lawyer also noted the adverse economic consequences of the strike for families and lawyers alike, who earn a living by providing various support services to the court system.
He stated that the NBA has reached out to JUSUN on the prospects of reconsidering the industrial action at this time.
Read the full statement by the NBA president below:
PROPOSED STRIKE ACTION BY JUSUN OVER FINANCIAL AUTONOMY FOR JUDICIARY: STATEMENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
The attention of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) has been drawn to the proposed strike action by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (“JUSUN”), as contained in a notice issued by its General Secretary, I.M Adetola, dated 1st April 2021.
By the said notice, members of JUSUN across the Federation have been directed to down tools, effective from Tuesday, 6th April 2021, to press home JUSUN’s demands for enforcement of financial autonomy in the Judiciary.
The NBA is deeply worried that despite the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered) which consecrate the autonomy of the Judiciary, the Executive arm of Government, particularly at the State level, has customarily refused to comply with the provisions of the Constitution, which are targeted at safeguarding the independence of the Judiciary.
The NBA is aware of the judgment of the Federal High Court of 13th January 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 is equally aware that the Executive Order No. 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, on the 20th of May 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.
However, information available to the NBA shows that the State Governors have challenged the Executive Order, citing constitutional infractions.
The NBA is of the considered view that the provisions of Section 121(3) of the Constitution on the financial autonomy of the State Judiciaries are clear and do not really need the instrument of an Executive Order to give effect to them.
To the contrary, it is a simple matter of enforcement by the States as the Federal Government has admirably done in respect of the Judiciary at the Federal level.
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.
For the avoidance of doubt, the NBA, as a leading stakeholder in the justice sector, and in keeping with its motto of promoting the Rule of Law is in support of the demands of JUSUN, and has been a constant voice of advocacy towards enthroning judicial autonomy.
But the 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.