House of Representatives, yesterday, agreed with the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, on the need to guarantee the independence of the judiciary to enable courts function effectively without external interferences.
It said that the autonomy of the judiciary was cardinal to the practice and survival of democracy.
The parliament spoke when its Committee on Judiciary met with JUSUN officials in Abuja yesterday.
It will be recalled that the union had on April 6, 202,1 embarked on a nationwide strike to protest the non-implementation of the financial autonomy of the nation’s judiciary.
Speaking at the meeting, the Chairman of the Committee, Onofiok Luke, said the House shared in the sentiments expressed by the union.
He said: “As a committee, we share in the sentiments expressed by JUSUN. From our colleagues, they were just proposing some of measures we feel we can put in place to arrive at a just conclusion. We share in what you are saying, not that we don’t understand where the problem is coming from, we know where the problem is.
‘’We don’t behave like the Ostrich, at least not this House under the leadership of Femi Gbajabiamila and the same strength and spirit that the House leadership exhibits is the same strength and courage that is passed to the respective committees where we look at those who need to do the right thing in the face and tell them this your responsibility, you ought to carry out your responsibility.
“We hold the mandate in trust for the people of Nigeria who are at the receiving end of the negative impact of this industrial action and even the negative impact of the actions taken by those who ought to take a better option or ought to have implemented this programme, who ought to have obeyed the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
‘’So, we are not here to actually point out accusing fingers or put blames at people’s doorsteps. It is not going to help us solve this.
“We can speak authoritatively that the only underlying item on the agenda in this industrial action is the issue of financial autonomy which will lead to the independence of the Judiciary and the views as expressed by members of this committee were to get some more information from you that will help us come to a position we can come and help us know those we can actually engage to get a possible solution to this impasse.
“Let me state here that this House understands the fact that a major ingredient of democratic governance is independence of the Judiciary. The House understands that. What makes for the independence of the Judiciary is the financial autonomy of the Judiciary where it will lead to a good working environment for judicial officers and staff.
‘’It will lead to better welfare and judicial officers discharging their responsibility without any fear or favour.
“To that extent, we are in solidarity with you on the agitations that you are making to ensure we have financial autonomy that will lead to the independence of the Judiciary.”.
Luke, however, picked holes in the shutting down of all courts by the JUSUN, arguing that the problem was more with some state governments which have refused to comply with the constitution on the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
Noting that the federal government had followed the law in the funding and release of finances to the courts under it, Luke said the union could not, therefore, punish it alongside erring state governments.
The lawmaker, therefore, appealed to the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, to intervene in the matter to correct the anomalies, saying the House would also engage with the Forum on the same issue.
“Our only point of divergence here is the totality of the industrial action, even within federal courts because if the Federal Government has adhered to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in making sure money meant for Federal Judiciary – statutory transfer – is sent straight to the National Judicial Council for the benefits of courts and other Judicial bodies under the Federal Government.
‘’It is not fair for staff of the Judiciary at the federal level to embark on this industrial action. I understand your agitation but please let’s narrow our agitation to those who have not complied with this issue of financial autonomy, which are the states.
“We want to appeal to Nigerian Governors’ Forum to engage with JUSUN and ensure the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is complied with to make sure we have financial autonomy not only for the State Legislatures but also the Judiciary at the state level.
‘’We are appealing to governors, everyone to join hands together to make sure we resolve this industrial action. We will take the report of what we have heard together to the House Leadership and we believe that the leadership of the House, leadership of the National Assembly as a whole, will engage the Governors Forum, stakeholders, so we can have financial autonomy for the Judiciary at the state level. ‘’But let me emphasize that we should not punish some for the sins of others. Let us not in a bid to show solidarity punish litigants in federal courts for the sins of those at the state level. Let us place the blame squarely on the doorsteps of those who should take the blame,” he said.
Earlier, the National Assistant Secretary of the union, Mr. Sheu Magaji, said JUSUN was fighting a noble cause for all Nigerians.
He said there was a subsisting court judgement on the issue which had not been appealed, adding that governors were part of the Executive Order for the release of funds to the judiciary.
He revealed that the seeming grouse of the governors against the Order was the provision that empowered the Accountant General of the Federation to deduct from source in case any state defaulted.
“Please, I’m begging, the National Assembly should do something if you can, if you can’t, allow us to do something. Strike is the only thing that this country understands, strike is the only language the government of this country understands.
“That is why they don’t want this Executive Order to see the light of the day because they don’t want anybody to touch their money. Is it their personal money? Is it not public money? Did they print this money from their own houses? Is it not for Nigerians? So what are we saying? Magaji queried.