The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) embarked on a strike action on the first of April, 2021. The industrial action was called off after about two months on June 10 without any tangible commitment extracted from the 36 state governors in Nigeria. However, the leadership of JUSUN and the leadership of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) signed an agreement or a sort of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for all the governors in the country to grant full or at least substantial autonomy to the judiciary within three months.
The Constitution of Nigeria has expressly granted full autonomy to both the judiciary and the legislature. Further, President Muhammadu Buhari had sometime in 2020 signed Executive Order 10 which mandated the governors to grant autonomy to these other arms of the government as enshrined in the constitution. The judiciary at the federal level has a substantial level of autonomy. The same thing applies to the legislature at the federal level. The only group of people emasculating the other arms of government are the governors who have vehemently refused to release these arms of government from their bondage. The governors also have not allowed the third tier of government (which is the local council) to be independent. If one says that the governors are the major tyrants stifling Nigeria’s fledgling democracy, one may not be wrong.
The governors have Customary Courts, Magistrate Courts and State High Courts under their firm grip or stranglehold. These same governors run to the judiciary to obtain all manner of Exparte Order, rulings, injunctions and judgements, but for them to free the judiciary from their bondage is what they do not want to hear. There is no governor in Nigeria today whose electoral victory or mandate was not affirmed by the judiciary. Some governors reclaimed their mandates stolen by usurpers through the instrumentality of the judiciary. Yet, for them, the judiciary must be stifled.
The three months grace period given to them by JUSUN on June 10 had since elapsed without virtually all of them honouring the agreement they had entered with the leadership of JUSUN. One of the governors has signed the financial or full autonomy of the judiciary into law. For instance, I know that the governor of Ondo State, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) had fulfilled his own side of the bargain. What are other governors waiting for? Should they be left alone to continue their defiance and impunity against the autonomy of the judiciary? Where is the leadership of JUSUN? Have they gone to sleep or abandoned the struggle for the autonomy of the judiciary? If Governor Akeredolu could sign the judicial autonomy act into law, other 35 governors should be compelled to do the same.
JUSUN should not relent in getting the autonomy of the judiciary granted this year.The lame excuse that judiciary staff, lawyers and litigants will suffer if JUSUN embarks on another strike is not tenable. It is ludicrous. If the agitation for financial autonomy is not granted to all the state’s judiciary now that the Ondo governor had taken the lead, when shall the autonomy be granted? Will there be any period in future when there would be no staff of the judiciary, lawyers and litigants who will not suffer if strike action is embarked upon at that time? If JUSUN fails to compel governors to grant autonomy to the judiciary this year, there will never be a better time for the agitation.
By next year, preparations for the general elections of 2023 will commence in full force. Pre-election matters will be flying all over the courts of the land. Should next year be the appropriate time for JUSUN to embark on strike? It won’t augur well for the country because it will have an adverse effect on democratic process and transition programmes.
After the 2023 general elections, the governors who will emerge mayl still call the bluff of JUSUN and continue their tyranny against the judiciary and other arms of government. It then means that the judicial autonomy may never be realised ad infinitum. The JUSUN leadership should convene an emergency meeting with immediate effect and shut down all the courts under the jurisdiction of the deviant states. The Customary Courts, the Magistrate Courts and State High Courts should be shut down forthwith until these recalcitrant governors comply with the Presidential Executive Order 10 and the dictates of the Nigeria constitution. Allowing them to continue with their impunity is encouraging executive tyranny. The Federal High Courts, the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court could be excused from the next strike action because they are under the purview of the Federal Government of Nigeria. JUSUN, for once, should bark and bite just like the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other labour unions. Nigeria governors should not be lords of manor while the federal government is buffeted from all corners by other labour unions.
Odogwu writes from Owerri, Imo state.