It’s 9th June and there’s some cheering news in Nigeria.
Remember that absurdity that shouldn’t have taken place in any serious democratic country in the world? Yes. Courts in the entire 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) embarking on an industrial action.
The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) had on 6th April embarked on an indefinite nationwide strike in protest against the denial of the judiciary; its constitutionally guaranteed financial autonomy also affirmed by a Federal High Court in January 2014.
This development follows President Muhammadu Buhari’s signing into law on May 22, 2020, of an Executive Order granting financial autonomy to the legislature and the judiciary across the 36 states of the federation. According to the Executive Order No. 10 of 2020, it is mandatory for all states to include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.
In line with this, the Accountant-General of the Federation is mandated to deduct from source; amounts due to the state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each that refuse to grant such autonomy.
With a disagreement arising between the labour unions – Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) and the state governments; the industrial action which kicked off on April 6, became a tool for the judiciary workers to vent their grievances and press home their demands. Thankfully, the striking workers on Wednesday suspended the action, but we must as a people reflect on the losses such an action places on us
The Nigerian court system has many flaws ranging from shortage of judges and backlog of pending cases; to low input of technology which makes justice delivery time consuming; inadequate court buildings and accommodation for judicial officers; as well as corruption and judicial independence.
Notably, these challenges (even when the courts are open) affect not just the judiciary but society on the whole, due to the impact of the courts on the life of the average citizen. Hence, the closure of the courts on whatsoever ground is gravely injurious to society and should never have been allowed to happen in the first place.
According to a Premium Times report published in April 2020, at least three-quarters of Nigeria’s total prison population (that is, 51,983 inmates out of the prison’s total population of 73, 726 inmates) are serving time without being sentenced at various Correctional Service centres across the country. This report most likely puts into consideration the fact that the courts are open and working to dispense justice (at whatever pace).
A next line of action would then be to consider a situation where the courts are shut for as long as two months. The imagined consequences should be puzzling enough to scare anyone who understands the concept of democracy.
The Punch had reported on April 13 that the strike had resorted to overcrowded detention facilities at the police stations across the country as the strike had prevented the police and other law enforcement agencies from arraigning suspects in courts. This obviously doesn’t take into account the possibility of same at the facilities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Services (DSS) who are largely covert in their operations.
All over the world where democracy is practised, the judiciary being the final arbiter is seen as the last hope of the common man. Issues of rights abuses on ‘the streets’ or even at macro levels like the Federal Government’s suspension of Twitter are areas where the courts are needed to avert jungle justice, or large scale crises and play a huge part in restoring hope in government.
It behoves governments at all levels of the country therefore to work out all solutions that would avert such an anomaly or absurdity as court closure from taking place; if truly we are serious about being a democratic country.
When justice is not carried out at the right time, even if it is carried out later, it can hardly be classified as true justice, as it was totally absent when there was demand for it. Former British Prime Minister, William Edward Gladstone puts it succinctly, “Justice delayed is Justice Denied.”
On the sidelines, one hopes that this action would motivate the Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP), DAAR Communications Plc. and all others who have signified interest in dragging the federal government to court over its controversial suspension of Twitter’s operation in Nigeria, to do so without further delay.
The grave assault on the freedom of expression of over 30 million Nigerians who use the platform to express their opinions about government’s actions and inactions, demand accountability, organise for political participation as well as transact and/or promote their legitimate businesses must not be allowed to stand.
Justice must be delivered to the ordinary Nigerian who cannot afford dictatorship under any guise.
Until then, Court…Stand!
Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq is a Journalist, Political Analyst and Satirist with major interest in Nigerian Politics, Governance and Sports.