The striking Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has blamed the failure of Tuesday’s reconciliatory meeting with the Federal Government’s representatives on the labor minister, Chris Ngige.
Members of the union have downed tools since April 6 in protest against the non-implementation of the financial autonomy of the judiciary.
The labour minister had, in a statement on Tuesday, said the meeting scheduled to be held with the leadership of JUSUN and other stakeholders was postponed indefinitely to afford the government time to harmonise issues arising from the union’s demand.
But a top national officer of the union, Jimoh Musa, told a source from PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday that JUSUN representatives ”staged a walkout of the venue of the meeting” after about two hours of waiting without any communication from the minister.
“We went for the meeting. We were at the venue before 3 p.m. that was scheduled for the meeting. We were there when 3 p.m. passed, 3.30 p.m. passed, 4.30 p.m. passed, and 5 p.m. passed. We were there for about two hours, while the minister remained in his office, having one meeting after another, and did not have the courtesy of telling us what was happening.
“Our people began to get tired and angry. They started chanting solidarity songs and walked out of the venue,” Mr Musa said.
He said the permanent secretary of the meeting only tried to appeal to the union to return for the meeting after they had already stormed out of the venue.
“While that was happening, the minister too came out and said we would come back to the venue when we finished our ranting. We got angry and left,” Mr Musa added.
He said he later read and heard in the news on Tuesday that the minister claimed to be meeting with other government officials over the crisis while the union leaders were kept waiting.
Mr. Musa insisted that the minister had ”no good excuse” to keep invited attendees waiting without any communication from him, adding that other stakeholders such as the representatives of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), and the parliamentary workers’ union also left the venue in annoyance.
“But even if he was having a meeting, courtesy demanded that he told us that he was having a meeting and that we should wait for him. That was not a good excuse,” he said.
It was the second time the meeting was being postponed within days.
The meeting earlier scheduled to hold on April 15 was called off by Mr Ngige at the last minute, a development that made both JUSUN and NBA to hold separate protests in Abuja and other parts of the country on Monday.
It was then rescheduled to hold on Tuesday, but was again postponed indefinitely.
As of Wednesday, no new date has been fixed for the meeting.
Newsmen had reported how the latest postponement dashed hopes for a quick resolution of the crisis that has now grounded courts across the country for 16 days.
The development had come barely 24 hours after the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Kayode Fayemi, raised expectations with his assurance on Monday that the striking workers’ demand would soon be met.
Speaking with State House correspondents after a meeting with the President’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, and other government officials on Monday, Mr. Fayemi, who is the governor of Ekiti State, had said governors would start implementing judiciary’s financial autonomy in their various states by May end.
The governor appealed to the striking workers to return to work as the plan to meet their demand was already at the final phase.
But the striking workers told newsmen that the assurance by Mr Fayemi was not enough motivation to call off the strike.
“Since the strike started, the governors have not met with us. So how can Mr. Fayemi take a decision behind our back and ask us to go back to work, when he and his colleagues have not even met with us,” Mr. Musa said.
The union is demanding implementation of section 121(3) of the Nigerian constitution which provides that funds meant for the judiciary should be paid directly from the consolidated revenue account of the federation to the various heads of courts in the various states.
A judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja delivered in January 2014 had affirmed the constitutional provision.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in May 2020, issued Executive Order 10 for the enforcement of the constitutional provision but the governors have kicked against it.