THE nationwide industrial action embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) on Tuesday stalled activities at the various courts across the country as workers resumed from the Easter holidays.
Reports from various states across the country indicate that the indefinite nationwide strike to press home JUSUN’s demand for the financial autonomy of the judiciary, indicate that members of the union who were out early to enforce the strike locked out staff members, litigants and their lawyers from entering court premises.
In Abuja, the strike was very effective as activities in the various courts were totally grounded.
Prior to the commencement of the strike on Tuesday, JUSUN had last week sent out instructions to its zonal and state councils to ensure the closure of all courts beginning immediately after the holiday.
In compliance with the directive, members of the union very early on Tuesday shut the gates to the Supreme Court locking out employees of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), which share the same premises with the Supreme Court.
Like in the Supreme, litigants and lawyers were also seen stranded at the Court of Appeal Headquarters and the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that while court staff were locked out at the Federal High Court, which is adjacent the Federal Ministry of Justice in the Central Business District of Abuja, staffers and customers of two new generation banks located inside the Appeal Court in Abuja, were seen appealing to the visibly angry JUSUN officials to let them in for the day’s financial transactions.
A branch manager of one of the banks was holed-up in her official car, as her aide made frantic efforts to get the strike enforcers to allow her to enter the premises.
NAN also reports that JUSUN locked out staff members, lawyers, litigants and the general public from the Federal High Court complex in Abuja. Members of the union were seen at the court’s premises as early as 6.30am on Tuesday morning to ensure that no one entered the court premises.
A big padlock was used to lock the entrance to the court from the outside to ensure that no one gained access as members of the union occupied the front of the gate by sitting at the entrance. Though they refused to respond to NAN’s enquiries, the only said: “we are on strike”.
Litigants trying to gain entrance were turned away while security personnel attached to the court were seen loitering around.
Similarly, the strike action was also very effective at the FCT High Court will all activities at its various divisions at a standstill.
Speaking to journalists in the premises of the FCT High Court at Maitama, Abuja, Ms Maryam Gusau, JUSUN’s Legal Adviser, said the executive branch at both the federal and state government levels, has turned staff of the judiciary to slaves by unduly interfering in the affairs of the judiciary, which is the third independent arm of government.
Arguing that the Doctrine of Separation of Powers amongst the three arms of government has been bastardised in Nigeria, Ms Gusua said “separation of powers amongst the three arms of government in Nigeria is a mirage, especially at the state government level, where governors operate as tin-gods; lording themselves against Chief Judges of the state.”
She insisted that the union would not call off the strike until their demands were met. “We (JUSUN officials) resume enforcement of this strike action as early as 4am every working day and leave the court premises at 6pm. We won’t call-off the strike until our demands are met,” she said, stressing that the industrial action was in the overall interest of Nigerians, particularly court users.
“This strike action is meant to guarantee the independence of the judicial arm of government for better service delivery for all Nigerians, especially court users,” Ms Gusau said.
From the states
The Chairman of JUSUN in Kano, Comrade Mukhtar Rabiu-Lawan, told a NAN that the lockout was in compliance with the instruction given by the JUSUN National Headquarters in its letter, dated April 1, 2021.
“There is no going back. We have begun the strike and all courts within the state have been shut,” Comrade Rabiu-Lawan said.
His Oyo State counterpart, Comrade Kayode Olusegun, also concurred, stating that there is no going back on the strike action. He expressed regrets that nothing positive had been done on the Executive Order signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, granting financial autonomy to both judiciary and the legislative arms of government.
NAN reports that lawyers and litigants in customary, magistrates’ and high courts in Oyo State were turned back.
In Lagos, the strike was also fully complied with by members of JUSUN. At the Ikeja High Court, members of JUSUN, who donned red vests prevented entry into the premises by members of the public by sealing all the entrances to the court premises.
A banner notifying the public about the ongoing strike was placed conspicuously at the main entrance of the court. Members of the union were also observed chanting songs of protest stating that their rights should be enforced. “Solidarity forever, we shall always fight for our right,” they cried.