After expiration of 21-day ultimatum, nationwide strike commences immediately —JUSUN President, Marwan

The National President of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Comrade Marwan Mustapha, spoke on the danger of the recent move by the National Assembly, being prompted by some governors to create State Judicial Council (SJC) and also remove the National Minimum Wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list. He also spoke on the 21-day strike ultimatum issued to the government over the independence and financial autonomy of the judiciary arm of government across the states of the federation. SOJI-EZE FAGBEMI gives the excerpts.

 

WHAT is the danger of the  plan by the National Assembly to create State Judicial Councils through a recently proposed bill by one of the members?

Let me begin by saying that the sponsor of the bill didn’t do his homework or a thorough investigation because the critical stakeholders were not contacted to understand the merit and demerit of what they intended to do. If we look at it holistically in the current situation on the appointment of judges, from the superior — the Chief Judge (CJ), High Court, Kadis and Customary — the process starts from JNC at the state levels. At that JNC, the government of the day has input in it. The appointment will normally emanate even from the governor, then it will come to JNC, and from JNC to NJC as a regulatory body to do a thorough job and find out, as well as subject the qualifications of those contenders to be presiding over those courts to scrutiny.

In terms of discipline and controlling the abuse of power of office, it is that of NJC at the apex that has the expertise and knowledge of the provisions. If you say you decentralized the NJC, or you disband it or you go to the state to create State Judicial Council to be headed by a Chief Judge, and that a governor will pick and put, that means a governor can wake up and decide who becomes the Chief Judge. He can pick a junior one, a matter of seniority, years of service, professionalism would no longer be there. He can decide, unilaterally who will be the Chief Judge, and the governor will be in total control. In other words, the issue of the financial autonomy we have been struggling with for a long time would be eroded; it will be emasculated because the entire centre where regulations take place (NJC) will no longer be there with that power.

The governor can decide all what to do. In other words, they wanted to come through the back door to frustrate the financial autonomy of the judiciary at the state level. If you read the bill very well, all the power that has been given by the constitution to NJC was just what was copied and pasted. And the mover of the bill did not highlight the defaults in the current system; what NJC is doing or not doing that warrants the review and to now take the power of appointment back to the state. So, we don’t see any reason for creating the State Judicial Council, the JSC is there, their roles and the functions are there. So, why creating now State Judicial Council? To do what? In other words, it is only an attempt to come through the back door to ensure that the issue of financial autonomy and independence of the judiciary as the third arms of government do not see the light of the day.

 

What is your fear about the bill?

Apart from all what I have enumerated above, what is really disturbing us again as a union is the way and the manner the bill came. The bill almost came first before that of the national minimum wage and this is the agenda of a particular governor from the state where the sponsors of those two bills came. If you look at it, it can’t be a coincidence. The mover of the decentralisation of NJC is from Zaria Federal Constituency, while the mover of the removal of national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list is from Sabo, in Zaria Local Government. The two of them are from Kaduna State, and in particular, the Kaduna State governor has in different fora been canvassing and campaigning against the issues of national minimum wage and the NJC. In the case of our own matter, the judiciary, he went far to amend the laws in Kaduna State whereby the power confers on JNC of a state is now subjected to the approval of the head of service. In other words, even the state JNC in Kaduna State today is answerable to the head of service, which negates the doctrine of separation of powers in accordance with Sections 4, 5, 6 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Equally, it may interest you to know that the appointment of JNC secretary that deals with the promotion and everything, if subjected to the head of service, is against the constitution. The judiciary as an arm of government is not in civil service by the definition of Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution. This section clearly defined who is a civil servant and who is a public servant and that is while there is a Civil Service Commission, there is Judicial Service Commission at the state and in the federal, there is National Judicial Service Commission, and the Federal Civil Service Commission that deal with issues of appointment, promotion, discipline and what have you. That provision also corroborates with Sections 4, 5, 6 which deals with the issues of the doctrine of separation of powers where it said the three arms of government should operate independently. Even if you say they should operate independently, that did not stop the issue of checks and balances. How do these arms of government check the excess use of the office? It’s through auditing.

 

You also questioned the sincerity of the lawmakers and those in leadership in terms of their bias on the twin issue of national minimum wage and the centralized salaries and allowances of political office holders even from the local government to the presidency?

Like the President of NLC said, I also keep asking, why is it that when it comes to the issue of interest some people will be raising the issue of federalism. Like the issue of the national minimum wage; if you look at it, from the local government counsellors to the highest echelon of political office holders, their salary is decided by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). There, the issue of federalism does not exist, including the governors. Today, the 36 state governors and all political appointees are taking the same salaries and allowances which are determined by the commission. Why is it that when it comes to the workers’ issue, and only on this issue of the minimum wage they will be talking of federalism?

 

One other issue you raised in your communique is this issue of national minimum wage from exclusive to the concurrent list. What is your position on that?

Our position is, as an affiliate of NLC, and having objectively, thoroughly considered the position of NLC, and as members of all organs of NLC, we are in total support and are in line with all the submissions of NLC.

 

Apart from the declaration of the 21-day ultimatum, what other efforts have you made to call the attention of the government?

We have written to all people concerned, all the stakeholders. To show how important we have taken this issue, we wrote to all members of the House of Representatives and the Senate individually, apart from writing jointly to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate as head of the two chambers respectively. We wrote to the state Houses oF Assembly and the  Nigeria Governors Forum. We have written the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ministers of Labour and Justice, the Director General, Department of the Security Services (DSS), Inspect General of Police, the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), the Head of Service of the Federation, and others important actors in the system.

 

Have you been contacted by any government agency?

That is still early, we have just despatched the letters yesterday. But when the story was published in the media shortly after our NEC meeting, the DSS contacted us but I told them to wait till we issue our communique and send it officially to them. This we have just done between yesterday and today.

 

Typical of our government, they may not contact you till the last day of your ultimatum or till it expires. What exactly will you do if this happens and your demands are not met?

Well, this is not a new strike, it is just to resume the strike we have earlier suspended. The NEC-in-session has already made it clear by issuing a 21-day ultimatum to the government effective from Monday, March 15, 2021, to implement the financial autonomy of the judiciary, failure of which the union will have no option than to resume the suspended national strike action. We have done it before, and the mobilisation is in top gear. And we will commence the strike immediately the ultimatum expires without recourse to anyone again if the government fail to utilize the window of opportunity provided through this ultimatum as contained in the letter written to them.

 

After your NEC meeting, you also threatened to go on strike action?

Yes! That has to do with the issue of financial autonomy of the judiciary which is long overdue. You can recall that in a number of times we went to court, there was even a court judgement that was delivered in our favour in 2014/2015 on which we went on strike and also a number of interventions and negotiations.

Even some Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) were entered into and signed with various stakeholders from various states in which they pleaded with us to give them more time. Since then, there was no single state in the whole of Nigeria that has appealed that judgement. We have been following up, a good development came in when the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria issued a Public Order. Even, before then there was the issue of constitution amendment (alteration) which deals with the issue of state legislature and judicial financial autonomy. At that time of constitution amendment or alteration, there was nothing new to the judiciary because section 121 sub 3 is there and already existed, only what was added was financial autonomy of state legislature.  But all the same, we accepted it in good faith because it has given us some more political pronouncements. It was not that any new thing was introduced for the financial autonomy of the judiciary because the provision of that 121 subsection 3 existed since 1999 as it is. So there’s nothing new. What is new is the introduction of the state legislature to have the same financial autonomy. After that, the disregard to that constitution provision went ahead, with no compliance by the state governors. The then the Federal Government in its wisdom and fairness for justice, Mr President issued Order 10 which categorically stated that whereas a state government refuse to remit what is due for the judiciary and State Assembly, the Attorney General of the Federation as the chairman of that Committee on Implementation of Financial Autonomy should direct  the Accountant General to deduct the money from the source and pay that state. We are privileged to be part of that committee. I am a member of that committee, and for more than 20 times we came up with our report and submitted it to Mr President and that resulted in the issue of Order 10. From that time to date, it’s almost a year, we have exercised patience, we are taking our time, we are meeting and the  Federal Government is doing its best but the state governors are all out to ensure that they frustrate us. And that is one of the reasons we decided in our NEC that it is no longer tolerated. We suspended the strike because of the MOU and the interventions; but since they are not willing to comply, the best thing is to resume our nationwide strike. And again when you look at the issue of peculiar allowances which we raised, those issues of peculiar allowance we met we agreed but nothing is done. Therefore, the NEC in our session frowned at the refusal of some states government to implement the payment of peculiar allowance due to the judiciary workers and called for prompt implementation.

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