• Friday, July 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

New year blues: Judicial activities remain at standstill, as JUSUN carries on with strike

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As offices and businesses opened for the year, with workers trouping back to resume work in the new year, members of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) have failed to follow suit, announcing that the indefinite strike which began in July 2014, will continue.

JUSUN speaking through its President, Marwan Mustapha Adamu insists that its members would only return to the courts on the issuance of a cheque by the Accountant General, for payment to all 36 states, as against individual payments from the ministry of finance in each state.

The Federal High Court had in January 2014, declared unconstitutional and unprocedural, the allocation of funds to the judiciary, through state Ministries of finance. The court had also ordered the Accountant-General of the Federation to make deductions of the amount standing to the credit of states’ judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund; further directing the Accountant General to remit it to the National Judicial Council which will then disburse same to the various heads of court. The strike, which canvasses for total independence of the judiciary, is urging the Accountant General to respect and implement the decision of the court.

Early this week, while addressing Pressmen in Abuja, Adamu warned that failure to implement this decision would cause untold hardship to judges, lawyers, litigants and other court users, as the union was not ready to reconsider its position.

Decrying the situation, lawyers and litigants found around the courts, lamented about the effects of the strike on their cases and the welfare of their clients, who are beginning to feel the brunt of the crisis. They urged the government to yield to the demands of the workers, putting into effect the financial autonomy of the judiciary.

The independence of the judiciary has been a major source of concern to rights advocates and several well-meaning Nigerians. It would be recalled, that in February 2014, rights advocate and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, approached the Court to challenge the present appropriation practice whereby the Judicial Arm of Government is dependent on the Executive Arm of Government for judicial estimates and funding. The Court held that the continued dependence of the judiciary on the Executive Arm for its Budgeting and funds release violates Section 81 (2) and Section 84(1), (2), (3), (4) and (7) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It declared unconstitutional the Executive interference with judicial funding.

In the case, Olisa Agbakoba v Attorney General of the Federation, The National Judicial Council (NJC) & The National Assembly, Agbakoba had asked the Court to declare amongst other things that by virtue of Section 81 (2) and Section 84(1), (2), (3), (4) and (7) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), the remuneration, salaries, allowances and recurrent expenditures of the Judiciary, being constitutionally guaranteed charges (or “First Charge”) on the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, DO NOT form part of the estimates to be included in the Appropriation Bill as proposed expenditures by the President.

“…the continued dependence of the Judiciary on the Executive Arm, represented by the 1st Defendant for its Budgeting and Funds Release, is directly responsible for the present state

of under-funding of the Judiciary, poor and inadequate judicial infrastructure, low morale among judicial personnel, alleged corruption in the Judiciary, delays in administration of justice and judicial services delivery and general low quality and poor out-put by the Judiciary.

”- OLISA AGBAKOBA, SAN

Secondly, that by virtue of the constitutional guarantee of independent funding of the judiciary under Section 81 of the Constitution, the 2nd Defendant (The NJC) ought NOT to send its annual budget estimates to the Budget Office of the Executive Arm of Government but rather the 3rd Defendant (The National Assembly) for appropriation.

Third, that virtue of the same Section 81 any amount standing to the credit of the Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation ought NOT be released to the Judiciary in warrants or other means through the Federal Ministry, the Budget Office, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation or any other person or authority in the Executive Arm as is the present practice, BUT to be paid directly in whole to the 2nd Defendant (The NJC) for disbursement. And Fourth, he asked for a declaration that the continued Dependence of the Judiciary on the Executive Arm, represented by the 1st Defendant for its Budgeting and Funds Release, is directly responsible for the present state of under-funding of the Judiciary, poor and inadequate judicial infrastructure, low morale among judicial personnel, alleged corruption in the Judiciary, delays in administration of justice and judicial services delivery and general low quality and poor out-put by the Judiciary.

Finally, the learned silk asked for a further declaration that the present practice on Judiciary funding by the Defendants, which is DEPENDENT on the Executive Arm in budgeting and release of funds is in violation of section 81 (2), (3) (c) and 84(2), (7) CFRN 1999 and therefore unconstitutional, null and void.

The strike action is part of decisions taken by judiciary workers to persuade the Federal Government to grant financial autonomy to the judicial arm of government.