The Federal Government has, for the second time, on Tuesday, announced an indefinite postponement of a reconciliatory meeting with the striking judiciary workers.
The announcement was contained in a statement by the Deputy Director/Head, Press and Public Relations, of the Ministry of Labour, Charles Akpan.
The development dashes hopes for a quick resolution of the lingering crisis within the judiciary.
Members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) had since April 6 shut down all courts across the country, in protest against the non-implementation of the financial independence of the third arm of government at the state level.
The labour minister, Chris Ngige, had scheduled a meeting with the JUSUN leadership and others, including the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), on April 15.
But the meeting was called off at the last minute, prompting both JUSUN and NBA to hold separate protests in Abuja and other parts of the country on Monday.
The meeting was then rescheduled to hold on Tuesday.
The postponement of Tuesday’s meeting came barely 24 hours after Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, who is the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), raised hopes with his assurance on Monday that the governors would start the implementation of judiciary’s financial autonomy in their various states at the end of May.
It was expected that the governors would table their proposal before the striking union at Tuesday’s meeting.
Reason for postponement
But the statement issued on behalf the labour minister said the meeting, which was also meant to involve the representatives of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), had to be postponed to afford the government time to harmonise issues arising from various meetings.
It said the postponement was “to enable the Federal Government negotiating team to harmonise all issues from the Memorandum of Understanding reached at separate meetings with tiers and arms of government.”
“The minister this was necessary to ensure that the meeting with the unions comes with a Memorandum of Action which is implementable with time lines,” it also read, in part.
‘Rushed meetings not needed’
The statement also quoted Mr Ngige as saying that there was no need to rush going into meetings with the union, noting that the NGF as well as the representatives of the judiciary and the presidency were involved in the ongoing negotiation.
“There is no point rushing to do a meeting that will be fruitless. The judiciary, the governors’ forum and even the presidency are involved in this negotiation because the meeting (which) held yesterday was at the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President.
“The arising documents are not yet properly harmonised. It will therefore not be fruitful to hold a negotiation where people speak from irreconcilable positions. It won’t help us and it won’t help the unions either,” the minister said.
He added that the postponement “is to ensure that the agreement reached at the end of our meeting here is put into action, with timelines for implementation.”
“So, if we don’t have a paper that is ready to go, then there will be no point for the talk shop,” the minister also said.
The statement also said the minister on Tuesday met with the government’s team, “comprising the Solicitor General of the Federation, Dayo Apata; the Director General of the Governors Forum, Asishana Bayo Okauru, and the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Ita Enang.”
‘New date to be announced’
The minister also said “the meeting will continue at a date to be announced soon.”
He also noted that the governors, who are the main targets of the ongoing strike, “hold the ace because they hold the sovereign in their respective states, even though they are sub-nationals but they run the government of those states”.
“It is better done properly so that the governors can implement whatever agreement we enter into,” he added.
‘Government not against judiciary’s autonomy’
Mr Ngige, who said the Federal Government believed in autonomy of the two other arms of government, added that “utmost patriotism and tact have to be exercised to sift the issues in contention.”
“Today, fund management committees have been proposed, and there is also Executive Order 10.
“This means there is a problem and we must be very careful not to create more problems than what we are out to solve.”
Judiciary workers embarked on strike on April 6 demanding the implementation of section 121(3) of the Nigerian constitution which is being flouted by the governors.
The section provides that funds meant for the judiciary at the state level be released to the heads of courts in various states directly from the consolidated revenue account.
A judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja delivered in January 2014 had also affirmed the constitutional provision, yet the governors have refused to comply, thereby prompting the current faceoff.