It is exactly a week today, since the commencement of the strike by the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, over the continued delay in implementing the financial autonomy order for the judiciary.
It may be recalled that in May last year, PMB signed Executive Order 10, for the enforcement of the financial autonomy status granted to state legislature and judiciary in the Nigerian Constitution.
By that order, it is mandatory for all states to include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets. It also mandates the accountant-general of the federation to deduct from source, all amount due to the state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state, for states that failed to grant such autonomy.
Certainly, Executive order 10 is timely and appropriate because it has come to restore the honour and respect of those charged with the responsibility of ensuring sanity in society. No sane society would be happy with a situation where for example, state high courts would be going to governors cap in hand, begging for what is constitutionally theirs.
Yes, the law has given employees the right to strike for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, but must refusal to work be the only weapon of protest by those seeking concerted action, or concession from their employer?
To what extent is strike morally justifiable, when juxtaposed with public convenience and it’s conformity to conventionally accepted standards of behaviour?
Certain services are so essential that interrupting them can endanger the life and collective safety of the public. And I see the judiciary as one of such services, because without the members of the judiciary in courts, to transcribe and translate the laws of the land, anarchy would be enticed indirectly, through the non-recognition of authority.
The constitution created and recognizes courts as the third arm of Government, vested with the primary responsibility of interpreting the laws. In doing so, the courts are armed with the powers to make orders and issue directives that should be obeyed until set aside by a superior court.
Because the courts have the powers to look into virtually every aspect of the affairs of people in the society, they earned for themselves the title of, “the last hope of the common man”.
But how appropriate is it for those seen as the last hope of the common man to resort to absentee engagement? Wouldn’t that give way to additional challenges like inordinate delays and high uncertainty in the discharge of justice?
I am always in love with the legal maxim, “Justice delayed is justice denied” but quick to question lawyers about their enthusiasm to its appropriate application. Some in the system love to use it in rhetoric but reverse the use in practice.
When, in trying to compel the government to respect a promise, the judicial workers embark on a strike without restraint, methinks they are taking advantage of a given authority to create a situation of autocracy or even judicial tyranny.
Take it or leave it, for the period of this strike, justice is delayed, and by extension, it is denied for the man who sees the court as his last hope.
When you factor the newly introduced theatrics of the accused suddenly turning incapacitated in court, in order to evade or delay justice, alongside the incessant strikes by members of the judicial staff union, one would be right to say Nigeria is the biggest culprit in the world, in the art of disrespecting speedy dispensation of justice.
The situation is particularly poignant when viewed from the prism of those in prison, who are unfairly held for long without trial.
Last year, during the announcement of the 2020 Presidential Pardon and Clemency to inmates and ex-convicts, while the government was trying to give pardons, with the aim of decongesting correctional centres across the country because of the coronavirus pandemic, the then head of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Ja’afaru Ahmed, said, 51,983 inmates are awaiting trial out of the prison’s total population of 73, 726 inmates. That was about 70 per cent of the total. Only 22, 773 inmates have been convicted, because of the slowness of the wheel of justice.
Yesterday, Monday, the government, through the minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, appealed to the leadership of the union, to call off the strike in order for the wheel of justice to resume rolling. Like doctors and nurses he said, they are on essential duties and should not go on strike. The country cannot make progress economically and socially when the laws of the country are not enforced.
If we look at it from the point of the dignity of the judicial staff, particularly with respect to their rights of independence and autonomy, the appropriateness of the strike cannot be faulted.
But if we look at it from the point of those seeking justice, particularly on the grounds of Human rights, or the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person on earth, which include shared values, like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence of the inmates, we cannot but fault the arbitrariness of the strike.
Ibrahim, a media advisor writes from Abuja