The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, on Tuesday, called on the members of the Judiciary Staff Union (JUSUN) to end their ongoing nationwide strike.
This was contained in a statement by Mr Muhammad’s spokesperson, Ahuraka Isah.
The strike , which the judiciary workers embarked upon on April 6 to agitate for the financial autonomy of the judiciary particularly at the state level, clocked seven weeks on Tuesday.
Courts at both the state and federal levels across the country have now been shut for 43 days as a result of the strike.
But the CJN, in the statement by his spokesperson said, his call on JUSUN to end the strike followed a fresh briefing he received from the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who leads the Federal Government’s negotiation team that engages with the leadership of the union.
“The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige on Tuesday met with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad at the Supreme Court over the ongoing strike embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to demand for financial autonomy for the Judiciary in the country.
“Upon being briefed by the Minister on the negotiation level so far, the CJN then requested the JUSUN to call off the strike in the interest of the nation and the larger interest of justice,” the statement read, in part.
The statement added that the CJN is of the view
that calling off the strike “would also allow opportunity for further negations towards the resolution of the dispute.”
‘Strike is sub judice’
But the CJN, who earlier acknowledged the justification for the ongoing strike, said publicly for the first time on Tuesday, that the ongoing strike is “sub judice”, a suggestion that the industrial action may be preemptive of a pending suit in court.
“Besides, the CJN observed that some of the issues in contention are already sub judice, as such there is need to give requisite legal process enough opportunity to be exhausted,” the statement read in part.
The CJN did not give details of the pending legal matter pending in court that the ongoing strike may possibly be infringing on.
PREMIUM TIMES is not aware of any suit challenging the constitutional provision granting financial autonomy to the judiciary which is the core of the judiciary workers’ strike.
But there is a suit filed by the 36 state governors under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) challenging the Executive Order 10 issued by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2020 for the enforcement of the financial independence of the judiciary.
Strike, failed meetings
Mr Muhammad has met with the leadership of JUSUN on two occasions since when the strike started 43 days ago.
At the end the meetings, the union had insisted on going on with the strike until its demand for strict compliance with constitutional provision that prescribes direct funding of state judiciaries and legislatures directly from the federation account.
Despite meeting with the union leaders on different occasions, the labour minister too has not been able to convince them to call of the strike.
The call by the CJN comes about 10 days after JUSUN rejected the 36 state governors’ proposed template for the implementation of judiciary’s financial autonomy being demanded by the workers.
The governors, in their proposal, seek the creation of a State Account Allocation Committee (SAAC) to oversee the distribution of funds to the three arms of government at the state level.
But in a communique the union issued after a May 8 meeting of its National Working Committee (NWC), the union insisted on its demand that funds meant for the state judiciaries must be deducted directly from the federation account and paid to the heads of courts through the National Judicial Council (NJC).
It maintained that the provisions of the constitution “cannot be negotiated, doctored, manipulated and therefore must be obeyed”.
As a condition to end its ongoing strike, the union insisted that all the state judiciaries’ funds for October 2020 till May 2021 must be deducted directly from source, the federation account, and paid to the heads of courts through the NJC as prescribed by the constitution.
The federal government currently complies with the constitutional provision which JUSUN demands compliance with.
But at the state level, governors take funds meant for the three arms of government from the federation account, but only funds the judiciary and the legislature as they please, without minding how much they are entitled to in the budgets.