Donors and the international financial institutions are keen for developing countries to adopt good governance, but few appear to be supporting the current judiciary workers strike in Nigeria.
The workers in each of the 36 states were on strike in July last year and again from the beginning of January this year. The strike is over the independence of the judiciary and the implementation of the 1999 Constitution that requires the judiciary to receive its funding direct from the Federation Account (where all the oil money should be collected).
Although the constitution of Nigeria provides for an independent judiciary, the
judicial branch is susceptible to executive pressure, particularly at the state and local levels. There have been numerous calls for a more independent judiciary over the years, both from the judiciary itself and from outside. In 2009, some prominent Supreme Court judges called for a more independent judiciary.
In January 2014, the Federal High Court ordered the Accountant General of the Federation to deduct monies intended for the judiciary from the Federation Account and to pay such sums to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for onward transmission to the Chief Judge in each state. Since then judiciary workers at the Federal and state levels have been struggling for this judgement to be implemented.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola described the disbursement of funds for the judiciary by the executive as unconstitutional and a threat to the independence of the judiciary.
He said the provisions of sections 81(3), 121(3) and 162(9) of the Federal Constitution of Nigeria were clear and straightforward and should therefore be complied with.
According to the Judge, the judiciary should not longer have to beg the executive for funds. The Judge noted that both the National Assembly and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) enjoyed independence of funding and that the same should apply to the judiciary in accordance with the constitution.
National President of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Marwan Mustapha Adamu said: “remember that this judgment was delivered in January 2014, since then, government has engaged us in discussion about 20 times”.
The Federation Account Allocation Committee (FACC) of the Federal and state Accountants General agreed to set up a technical implementation committee at their meeting in June, 2014, but this has not been implemented.
Marwan lamented that despite the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was signed to ensure the suspension of the judiciary workers strike in July last year, the Accountants General of the states are insisting that they cannot meet the union’s demands, due to declining oil revenues.
“So what is difficult, when the figure is there for everybody to see how much is budgeted,” Marwan queried. He alleged that since the MoU was signed the union has not been invited to any meeting to discuss how to implement the court order.
The judiciary workers and their union, JUSUN finally lost patience and re-commenced their strike from the beginning of 2015. The Federal Government has now agreed with JUSUN, as have around a third of the 36 states. However, the strike continues in the other states that are yet to adopt the constitutional good governance demanded by the trade union.
In Edo State, for example, the judiciary workers held a protest in mid-March and marched through the centre of Benin City to demonstrate their determination to continue their strike. The previous day the local JUSUN president, Uyi Ogieriakhi had met with the governor of the state. However, the governor had expressed his opposition to the strike and his determination not to provide greater independence for the state judiciary.
The judiciary workers are equally determined to continue their fight for good governance and independence of the courts. In an exclusive interview, Uyi said that their demands were “sacrosanct in terms of good governance”. At the protest he said the strike would continue, even for two years, and was loudly cheered by his members.
The donors and financial institutions talk about good governance, so you would expect them to be supporting the striking JUSUN workers over their struggle to gain proper independence for the courts in Nigeria. However, when I asked their local president, Uyi Ogieriakhi, whether they had received any support from the donor community, his response was, “Erm, erm, I do not think that is the case now”.