By Chief Malcolm E. Omirhobo Esq
Let me start by stating that I am one hundred and ten percent in support of the financial independence of the Nigerian judiciary because of its enormous importance and significance to the administration of justice, the rule of law and our nacesent democracy.
I am also in full support of the struggle for the actualisation of the financial independence of the Nigerian judiciary provided it’s approach is civil, lawful and constitutional. And for the records , I am in support of the extant Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), strike but I vehemently oppose its modus operandi.
The grouse of JUSUN for which it has unlawfully shut down the entire judicial system since on the 6th day of April 2021, is that the State Governments are in violation of “Sections 81 (3) and 121 (3) of the Constitution of Nigeria which grants financial autonomy to Federal and State Judiciaries which have been confirmed by the courts in the following cases:: Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria Vs National Judiciary Council & Governors of The 36 States in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/667/13; Olisa Agbakoba Vs FG, the NJC & National Assembly, Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/63/2013; and Olisa Agbakoba Vs AG, Ekiti State & 2 Others, Suit No. NAD/56/2013.
Granted that the 36 State Governors are in violation of the Constitution. Granted that they are also contemptuous of the judgements of the court, I dare say, that does not give JUSUN the licence to violate the constitution and to defile the sanctity of the courts. It is incongruous for JUSUN, to on one hand profess to defend the Constitution and on the other hand flagrantly violate it.
I am shocked that the stakeholders of the Nigerian judicial system have failed, refused and/or neglected to tell members of JUSUN that while striking they do not have the right to obstruct other Nigerian citizens from going about their lawful activities or violate their rights, whereas the rights of members of JUSUN ends where that of other Nigerian citizens begins.
I am shocked that the stakeholders of the Nigerian judicial system have failed, refused and or neglected to tell JUSUN that they are violating the Nigerian Constitution in too many ways but suffice to mention a few herein under:(1) Many Nigerians whom the constitution presumes to be innocent are today languishing in cells and jails through out Nigeria because they cannot get bail? (2) Many Nigerians needs access to the court to ventilate their grievances instead of taking the laws into their hands or resorting to self help. (3) Many Nigerians needs access to to the court for the protection of their lives and properties. (4) Many Nigerians needs access to the courts to make a living. (5)
Many Nigerians needs access to the court to enforce their fundamental rights. (6) Many Nigerians needs access to court to swear affidavit for several reasons like retriving their lost SIM cards, compilation of traveling documents or for record purposes as a condition to do several things. (7) Many Nigerians needs access to court to challenge the Governments both at the federal and state levels via public interest litigation. (8) Many Nigerians needs access to the court to process their letters of administration or wills at the various probate registry. (9) The Nigerian police needs access to the court to enforce the law. (10) The judges needs access to the court to administer justice.
The list of why the JUSUN must immediately call off the strike and reopen the courts is endless but let me just point out here that JUSUN must know that the Nigerian Court is the turf of all Nigerian citizens and not exclusively theirs and therefore, they have no locus to put it under lock and key. There are Nigerians who may want to use the library in the court’s premises, judges who may want to use their Chambers and as flimsy as it may sound Nigerians who may want to visit the court for excursion or sight seeing. The stakeholders of the Nigerian judiciary must tell JUSUN that the disadvantages of their action by far outweighs what ever benefits it believes it wants to achieve by this industrial action.
As far as I am concerned, the strike defiles law, commonsense and logic because it is absurd for JUSUN to shut down the Federal High Courts nation wide which has started the implementation of Financial Autonomy for the Judiciary as shown by the superfluous Executive Order 10 of 2020 of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and against the wise counsel and plea of the Nigerian Bar Association.
Hitherto, one of the major factors inhibiting the execution of the judgment of the court for the implementation of the financial independence of the Nigerian judiciary is the refusal of the Nigeria Police which is an agency of the Federal Government under the control of the President of Nigeria to make her input in the execution of the judgement of the Court against the State and Federal Governments. But now with the new Federal Government disposition towards the actualisation of the financial independence of the Nigerian judiciary this impediment have been removed. But I am suprise that JUSUN has refused to latch onto this opening whereas the State Governments are now critically exposed to the extent that it is only the State Governors that have immunity while their commissioners of finance, accountant generals and attorney general’s do not. My thinking here is that JUSUN is not putting on her thinking cap and have choose the short cut of strike which has resulted in the punishment of the entire country for the sins of thirty six thick skinned, power drunken rascals.
It is sad that JUSUN has refused to realise that the issue here is a constitutional one that requires constitutional solution. The point which JUSUN is missing here and must focus on is how the manual of governance and the Nigerian constitution expects us to handle a governor who is in breach of the constitution and who is also contemptuous of the order or judgement of a court bearing in mind his status of immunity within the confines of the law?
The earlier JUSUN understands that the grant of immunity of office to the State Governors from civil or criminal proceedings and arrest or imprisonment through out the tenure of their office is constitutional as per the provisions of section 308 of the Nigerian constitution and that the only anti dote to the abuse of immunity of office by a Governor is another constitutional means called impeachment as per the provisions of the section 188 of the Nigerian constitution.
The issue of judicial autonomy should be the concern of every well meaning Nigeria citizen. Starting with the judges, lawyers and members of the public. The judges must be upright and up and doing. They must stop indulging the Executive and their agencies. They must make the right pronouncements without fear or favour when it matters and at the right time so that they can earn their respect from the other arms of government.
Let Nigerians read, see or hear that a court of law has cited the Minister or Commissioner of Finance, the Accountant-General or the Attorney-General either at the State or Federal level for contempt of court. Does the names Kutugi, Obaseki, Uwaifo, Ovie Whisky, Odigbe, Kayode Esho, Oguntade, Oputa, Pat Acholonu, Karibi White, Niki Tobi, etc ring a bell ? These were great men of the Nigerian judiciary that stood tall during the Military era in Nigeria. Please do well to read their judgements. They were the ones that made Gani Fawehinmi of blessed memory shine like a million stars. Their sound judgement on public interest litigation helped develop our jurisprudence and embroaden our liberty which we enjoy today.
Our present judges must give preference to public interest cases, they must stop dodging or shying away from them or deliberately allowing them to be overtaken by events and thereby rendering them nugatory or academic exercise.
As for the Nigerian lawyers, we must contribute our own quota in the struggle for the actualisation of the financial autonomy of the Nigerian judiciary by defending the Nigerian constitution at the slightest breach by other organs of government, all levels of governments and their agencies. As lawyers we must stop being selfish and self centered pursuing our briefs and the Rank of SAN without giving some of our time and energy to our society. As learned minds, we must at all times endeavour to educate the public on the dictates of the constitution and governance.
On the part of the Nigerian public with whom the ultimate power resides in but have failed, refused and or neglected to exercise it, I say they must avoid short cut and cosmetic approach to things. They must at all times be prepared to persevere and go through the due process of law.
In the extant JUSUN strike, JUSUN is suppose to enlightened members of the public through series of write ups, seminars, webinars, symposiums, so that the public can be well informed and organised to stage protests and strikes at their various State Government Houses and State House of Assemblies, lobby their representatives and in the worst case scenario demand their representatives at the pain of recall to impeach their governors for breach of the constitution and disregard for the rule of law and the administration of justice.
Sure, JUSUN have the right to pursue a policy of financial Independence of the courts guaranteed by the constitution and affirmed by three decisions of superior courts of Nigeria as opined by my learned senior Olisa Agbkoba SAN but I dare say that JUSUN do not have the right or mandate of Nigerians to shut down the entire Nigerian judicial system.
My opinion may be unpopular but I have no regrets and to tell you what even though JUSUN succeeds with this approach my position will not change as long as it is outside the confines of the constitution and manuals of governance.