• Criminals Are Getting Emboldened, NGO Warns
• It Is A Precarious Situation For Us — Lawyers
• Union President Urges Members To Be Resolute As Strike Continues
• Plans Nationwide Peaceful Protest On Monday
Major stakeholders in the judicial arm of government have lamented the effects of the ongoing strike embarked upon by the judicial workers, under the aegis of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), leaving courts under lock and key.
The stakeholders, including the Police, lawyers and Nigerians who have one case or the other in courts, said the strike has negatively affected them and called on the government to proffer a solution to the lingering industrial crisis.
JUSUN had on April 6, shut down all courts in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and replicated the same across the country to push for the implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary as the third arm of government. The union had alleged that the Federal and State governments had over the years, declined to grant financial autonomy to the judiciary.
Efforts by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to persuade the union to shelve the strike proved abortive, as members shut courts and agencies under the judiciary, such as National Judicial Council (NJC) and Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC).
President of the union, Marwan Mustapha Adamu, yesterday, issued a circular to the National Executive Council (NEC) and all members of the union, stressing that the industrial action continues since the government was yet to address their grievance.
Adamu, while appreciating members for their comradeship and solidarity exhibited in the ongoing action, informed them that the Federal Government and state governors were yet to find the ground for meeting with their demands.
“We are aware of threats and pressures that may come from governors, but please be resolute. Furthermore, be informed that following an emergency meeting of NWC on April 15, it is agreed that the union will organise a peaceful protest, which will be replicated in the 36 state capitals, in furtherance of our agitations from April 19.
“Please, note that in case there are any invitations for negotiations or talks, you should promptly inform the national headquarters for guidelines and representations to avoid disorder in the presentation of facts,” the union leader stated.
For the Police in Osun State, cells have been overcrowded since the strike began, as suspects could not be arraigned, so as to get bail or being remanded in correctional centres.
The state Police Command’s Public Relations Officer, Mrs Yemisi Opalola, told The Guardian, yesterday in Osogbo, that the Command had to release suspects whose case were not too severe on administrative bail to decongest the cells.
Opalola said: “We are very tired of the situation. It is a great problem for us; we need to be releasing some suspects on bail. In as much they have sureties, we great them administrative bail.
“Our cells are overcrowded, just because we are unable to arraign suspects. Those who are in the cell are those whose cases are severe, I mean the high profile offences. The ones we don’t have the power to grant administrative bail, we have no choice but to keep them in the cells.
“We pray they call off this strike so that we can move them to courts.”
A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Value Female Network (VFN), which has been pursuing a rape case involving a public school teacher in the state, Gbenga Samson Ayenioye, and his friend, a theatre practitioner, Tunde Amoke Oja, at an Osogbo Magistrate’s Court, said the strike has stalled the trial.
The duo was dragged to court by the Police for allegedly raping an underage (name withheld) in February last year at the Latona area.
Head of its Gender Unit, Moriike Yagboyaju, feared that criminals might be emboldened with the continuous closure of courts, adding: “This is a very unpalatable situation we find ourselves in Nigeria. With the continuous closure of courts, crimes will increase and criminals will be emboldened.
“Many of the gender-related and human rights abuses cases that we are pursuing in courts have been affected. We all know that justice delayed is justice denied.
“We want our courts, which is seen as the last hope of the common man, to be functional again. A whole lot of people are already going through trauma because their abusers are walking the streets unpunished.”
Lawyers decried the continued closure of courts, describing it as precarious, just as they count their losses, especially as they said the ethics of law doesn’t permit lawyers to engage in other works to survive.
They lamented that some of their clients are languishing in prisons and cells because the court is not available to grant them bail or hear their cases, urging the government to have a discussion with stakeholders in a bid to end the industrial impasse.
Aizeyosabo Ima-Idehen said: “My clients are in prison custody. If there was no strike, they would have been brought to the court and their applications for bail would have been made.
“This strike has already confined them to prisons, and the law presumes them innocent until the contrary is proven by the court. There are others who are in Police cells because of the nature of their cases.
“This strike has really affected lawyers negatively as many of us feed our families from the money we make while practising. The court is our workshop, our office and market place and as long as our market place is shut down, there will be hunger.
“I advise the government to call a stakeholders meeting that would proffer way forward because even the government itself is affected, as it is not getting the revenue it is supposed to get since the courts were shut down. So, we are all affected, including the NBA, government and the judicial workers.”
Jimmy Jones expressed fear that Chambers could be forced to downsize to cut cost since courts have been shut down, with the income of lawyers affected.
“It has not been easy. Clients wouldn’t want to part with their money until the court starts. It is very sad. It has had a negative impact on litigation lawyers, unlike lawyers who are more or less political or in the employment of government and politicians. One just has to streamline one’s budget. If you have like 20 staff before, you have to reduce them.
“Many of my clients are in prison now just because of this strike. The one that is so painful to me is the case of Aderemi Sheribu, who is presently at Ilesa Correctional Centre because of this crisis that happened between the Yoruba and Hausa people last year. He was supposed to be granted bail on April 12, but the courts have been shut.
“Government needs to act and ensure that this issue is addressed because if they don’t, this menace will continue. The continuous closure of courts is very unhealthy for our judiciary.”
Also speaking, Ibrahim Lawal, said the fundamental rights of citizens would also be affected by the strike, noting: “Any shutdown of government activities will have negative impacts on the citizenry, particularly the court, which a lot of persons look up to as the last hope of the common man.
“A lot cases before the courts needed resolution and the implication is that a lot of people are languishing in prison and Police cells who should have been out doing their normal work. Their rights have been infringed because there is no court to take them to.
“If the parliament was also shut down, maybe the government would have intervened faster. It doesn’t present us in a good light in the committee of nations. The ordinary people on the streets bear the brunt.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said the past weeks have been very challenging for Judges, lawyers and litigants alike, as it has been a very delicate rope for lawyers to navigate through, being a matter of choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea.
According to him, if lawyers support JUSUN for the strike to continue, they lose revenue and slow down the progress of their cases, and if they oppose the strike, then their ‘sufferings’ will continue and the executive arm of government will keep trampling upon the independence of the judiciary.
Adegboruwa said the strike is for the benefit of lawyers, Judges, litigants and indeed the legal profession at large, as a way of addressing the real issues once and for all, adding that the general thinking of most state governors is to cage the courts and starve the judiciary of funds as a means of rendering it ineffective, so that lawlessness can thrive unchallenged or where challenged, unchecked.
He appealed to state governors to work together with JUSUN, NBA and the federal government to empower the judiciary financially once and for all, insisting that this should be the focus of the various meetings being convened to resolve this imbroglio.
“My charge to the President is to extend the Executive Order to include compulsory obedience to all lawful orders issued by the courts and to prohibit any form of harassment or intimidation of judicial officers, however subtly it may come. When this is achieved, then we can truly say that the judiciary is autonomous and independent,” he added.
Founder of Crusade for Justice, human rights advocacy group, Richard Nwankwo, charged political leaders to rise up and stop the strike because of its overwhelming impact on the already stressed Nigeria judicial system.
Nwankwo lamented that cases that are supposed to be heard expeditiously because of their nature are stalled, as well as high profile cases and awaiting trial inmates, leading to congestions in Police stations and correction centres.
In any case, a former president of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, said the strike has a very disturbing implication of a delayed dispensation of justice.
“In a particular 2013 case I have at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, we were ordered to file our final written addresses. As Counsel to the defendant, who led evidence, we file ours first and within the allocated time, but were unable to serve within time. Although we had forwarded and mobilised the court Bailiff for service, he couldn’t serve because they embarked on the strike on the same day the process was handed over to him.
“In that circumstance, we could also not effect personal service, because the rules require that such a Counsel desiring to effect personal service must bring a written application to that effect.
“That we couldn’t also do, because such an application must be filed and initialled at the Court Registry. What’s more, the current trial Judge was amongst those transferred out of the Lagos Judicial Division.
“If the entire processes, including the Claimant’s address and our possible reply on points of law, do not come in early enough, chances are that the matter could be started de novo.
“Already, we have seen the fate suffered by Section 390 of ACJA, which allows a transferred or elevated Judge to return to his earlier court to conclude a part-heard matter, otherwise known as ‘Orji Uzo Kalu’ case,” he said.
Ugwummadu said in two of those cases at Asaba, Delta State, and Lagos, they were literally hamstrung. “At Ogwashi-Uku, our client has been detained by NDLEA for over three weeks.
“They managed to file charges against him about two weeks ago. Our application for bail cannot be filed, even though the matter had been assigned to a court at the Federal High Court in Asaba and an earlier date is given,” he noted.
In Imo State, Chairman of Owerri branch of the NBA, Jude Ogamba, regretted that in as much as the association was in sympathy with the striking workers, well over 10,000 cases pending in various courts have been affected, excluding those pending in the industrial and magistrate’s courts.
He said: “There is a national statement by the NBA; we abide by it. We support the strike naturally; Judiciary must be independent, including control of funds. The Executive controlling it is not democratic. The arm-twisting is much.
“However, the timing of the strike, we are not in support. We are recovering from the pandemic and practising lawyers earn income, living from there. This will further impoverish them.”
To Gabriel Ofodile Okafor (SAN), the effects of the strike on the cases before the courts are enormous, cautioning that those in prison would continue to be there even against constitutional provision of fair hearing within a reasonable time.
Okafor listed high profile cases that would suffer to include the case of suspects in the killing of 11 people at Nimbo in Enugu State in April 2017, whose trial is stalled, despite limitation imposed by the administration of Criminal Justice of Enugu State 2017.
In Kwara, Chairman of the state chapter of JUSUN, Ibrahim Sambo, expressed delights with the enforcement of the strike. Lawyers were turned back at the gates, just as laymen who came to sign documents were disappointed as no worker attended to them.
The development is making cases pile up, as no court clerk was available to register the filed copies by legal practitioners. Besides, many documents requiring the signatures of the Commissioner for Oaths lie fallow.
Case awaiting trials are stuck, while available spaces at the Police stations in Ilorin, the state capital, are filled to the brim due to the inability of prosecutors to take suspects to courts.