Not fewer than twenty one (21) Civil Society Organizations under the aegis of Coalition on Detention and Corrections Secretariat have reacted to the ongoing strike of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, which has led to the closure of Courts since April 6, 2021.
JUSUN is demanding amongst other things, financial autonomy for the judiciary in the light of Sections 81 and 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and decisions of Federal High Courts to the effect that all funds due to the judiciary from the Consolidated Revenue Fund shall be paid directly to the Heads of the Courts concerned. A subsequent Executive Order was issued by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari “Implementation of financial Autonomy of States Legislature and State Judiciary” on 20th May 2020, yet some State Governors have failed to implement this fundamental provision of the Law.
The Civil Society Organizations, in a statement made available to TheNigeriaLawyer, admit that the demands of JUSUN are pertinent to the effective administration of justice and its decision for temporary stoppage of work, is also as of Right, as provided under Section 30 (6) of the Trade Union (Amendment) Act 2005 and also Section 18 (1) of the Trade Dispute Act, where the procedure of settlement as provided under the Act is exhausted and a party is unsatisfied.
However, they said stoppage of work is a breach of right to access to justice guaranteed by the constitution. They lamented that arrests have been made by Security Agencies but because of the Court closure, arraignment is impossible.
Consequently, detention of inmates have been prolonged and their rights to dignity of human person and liberty have been violated
They said, “But like the African proverbs ‘when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
“While the lack of implementation of the various provisions of the law on financial autonomy impedes the notion of an independent judiciary, the temporary stoppage of work also constitutes an impediment on the Right to access to Justice in Nigeria. The Judiciary as the last hope of the common man, has not been the reality since the closure of the courts. Access to justice which is fundamentally guaranteed by our Constitution has been thrown out in the mud, arrests have been made by the Police and other law enforcement agents but arraignment is impossible. This incapacitation of our justice system, have resulted in extended remands in custodial centres for awaiting trial inmates or and other persons in various holding facilities in Nigeria.
The Rights to dignity of Human Person, Personal Liberty and Fair Hearing as provided for in Sections 34, 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria and Articles 5, 6 and 7 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights have been severely violated. The strike has put more strain on an already underfunded and overwhelmed judiciary.
“The attitude of the government towards this unfortunate situation is underwhelming. According to S.17(2)(e) of the 1999 Constitution, It is the constitutional duty of the State to ensure independence, impartiality and accessibility to Courts. The attitude of the Government toward the current state of affairs has been largely complacent and the liberties of the citizens are now left at the mercy of state actors. This is unacceptable.”
The Organizations in question are: Hope Behind Bars Africa; PRAWA;
Prison Fellowship Nigeria; Citizen Gavel; Prisoners Rights Advocacy Initiative; Network of Probono Lawyers; Human Rights Network Jigawa; The Probono Center; Jigawa Civil Society Resource Center; Social Inclusion of the Voiceless and Neglected; Ideal Africa Foundation; Restorative Justice in Africa and; Human Rights Network.
Others are Foundation for Justice and Rehabilitation of Prisoners; Headfort Foundation; Justice and Peace Advocates Initiative; Gender Perspective and Social Development Center; Center for Human Right, Fact-finding, Advocacy, Rehabilitation and Reintegration; The Rehab Foundation; Social Inclusion of the Voiceless and Neglected; and Hope for Second Chance Foundation.
They call for arrangements to be made so as to identify inmates whose cases can be administratively attended to and those whose release maybe applied via virtual proceedings.
They also urged the government to prioritize opening of Courts and advised the JUSUN to restrategize their approach
“In other not cushion the effect of closure of the courts on speedy dispensation of justice, it is our advice that immediate strategies be put in place to access inmates in custody who are affected by the court closures, identify those that their cases may be administratively attended to or that may be prioritized for application for virtual court sitting where the facilities for this is available.
“We urge the government to prioritize the opening of the courts bearing in mind the current state of the nation, and the need to ensure the rule of law and separation of powers as envisaged in a democratic State. The State Governors must align themselves to the voice of reason and implement financial autonomy for the judiciary, as a matter of national urgency. Access to justice is the lifeblood of any democratic society. This continuous violation must not be allowed to continue.
We also call on the leadership of JUSUN to review its approach, strategize and choose a better and more effective way to resolve this issue.
“While autonomy of judiciary is sacrosanct, the continuous closure of the courts with no end in sight inhibits the justice that is being sought.” the CSOs stated.
They also advised that immediately the strike is called off, the state should do the following:
“Commence a comprehensive approach of fast tracking the court hearings on all cases including the assignment of specific magistrates and prosecutors to sit on a day-to-day basis in all custodial centers especially those with very high number of awaiting trial persons/non – convicted inmates.
“Effective utilisation of bail and non custodial sanctions by the courts to help reduce the burden on the custodial centers.
“Engagement of several critical stakeholders to enhance access to justice for those in custody towards provision of comprehensive and speedy trial to the affected inmates including the legal aid council of nigeria, Nigerian Bar Association, Civil Society Organizations including members organisations of the National Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Forum on Corrections and Detention.”