Govt, judiciary workers’ face-off delaying justice in Enugu | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Govt, judiciary workers’ face-off delaying justice in Enugu

Posted: Apr 30, 2015 at 2:46 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Emmanuel Nzomiwu,  Enugu


In legal parlance, there is a saying that, “Justice delayed is justice denied”.

This saying aptly captures the situation in the justice system in Enugu State since judicial workers in the state resumed their indefinite strike on March 15.

The strike had paralysed activities in all the courts under the Enugu State Judiciary.

Following the industrial action, numerous criminal and civil cases have been pending in the state high courts, magistrate and customary courts scattered across all the judicial divisions of the state.

Sequel to this development, many awaiting trial suspects who ought to have been charged to court are languishing in various prisons within the state, while fresh suspects, who ought to have been charged to court within 48 hours, are stranded in police cells.

The strike has also hampered the operations of the Election Petitions Tribunal in the state.

Although the tribunal has set up its secretariat at the Enugu High Court premises, it has not been able to fully take off as a result of the lock-up of the court premises by the striking judiciary workers.

Election petitioners and other interested parties find it very hard to access the secretariat of the tribunal, which has 120 days to complete its job.

The state government and the state chapter of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) have been trading blames over the strike.

Entertaining questions from journalists in Enugu, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Enugu State, Anthony Ani, condemned the strike action by JUSUN which paralysed activities in all courts, describing it as mischievous and uncalled for.

Ani said the strike must have been deliberately designed to embarrass the state government as it neither owed judicial workers nor was it withholding any funds due to the judiciary in the state.

According to the attorney-general, the state government has accepted the judgment of the Federal High Court on the constitutional provisions for the independence and financial autonomy of the judiciary which is in line with the state’s judiciary self accounting laws which have been operational since 1991.

Ani observed that JUSUN flouted the agreement reached with the state government by failing to nominate a bank and furnishing a bank account where the fund would have been paid into by the Accountant General after it had been separated from the Consolidated Account.

According to him, various arrangements made for the union and government to meet with the state Accountant General to work out modalities to enhance bulk payment proved abortive, as the union did not comply with such arrangements.

Frowning at the speed with  which some labour unions embark on strike in Nigeria not minding the importance of their services to the societ, Ani described the locking of the state high court gate “for no discernible or just reason” by the union as embarrassing and condemnable.

He lamented that union took the action without seeking or heeding the advice of monitoring committee it had set up on its own to ensure the full implementation of the agreement reached with the state government.

“The statement credited to the Chairman of JUSUN, Enugu State branch, Chinedu Mba, that the government of Enugua State has failed to comply with MoU reached with the association on February 15 is false and malicious.

“Let me say it was a national issue. The national body of JUSUN went on strike on the basis of a judgment which they said, not only the state governments, even the Federal Government failed to implement. The judgment said judiciary should be self accounting and also that the state government should implement that judgment. “At the national level it was resolved that the states should go and resolve with their various state branches of JUSUN. Based on that arrangement, on my won, I invited them on behalf of the Enugu State Government before the 15th of January and we held several meetings.

“The branch chairmen of the NBA in Enugu State were all in attendance. And at the end of the day, we agreed and we put our agreement into writing, which we signed. The chairmen of branches of NBA also signed that MoU,” Ani said.

The attorney general said implementation of that judgment means that whatever is due to the judiciary

in Enugu State in terms of recurrent expenditure should be given to them direct, which Enugu State Government has been doing.

Ani disclosed that as soon as they signed the agreement, he set up a monitoring committee headed by the Chairman of NBA, but almost immediately, JUSUN sent a letter to the chairman of the committee, saying government was not complying with agreement.

The commissioner said he invited them to a meeting alongside the NBA chairman who chairs the monitoring committee to clear with accountant general of the state on March 9, but they were not there.

“We saw Accountant General who advised that we should tell them to give him a letter, advising him to now pay in the money due to them into an account selected by them. That he cannot just pay in the money without being advised as to the bank where that money should be paid into. We went back and reported to JUSUN. The NBA chairman who is chairman of monitoring team reported back to JUSUN.

“I have the letter which is dated 9th of March, addressed to the chairman of JUSUN that he should advise the AG as to the account where this money will be paid to. As I speak with you, no account has been sent to the Accountant General, advising him on the account where this money will be paid into,” Ani said.

Ani reiterated that membership of a union is voluntary, saying that some member of JUSUN want to come to work, but stay away in order not to be seen as flouting the strike directive by their union. Reacting, the state Chairman of JUSUN, Chinedu Mba, said Ani was being economical with the truth, instead of presenting the facts the way they are. “We got the judgment on 13th January 2013. National JUSUN sued the 36 state Governors and AG. We got judgment and served them. From then, they refused to comply until this year when we went on strike,” Mba said.

The union leader recalled that they entered into an agreement with Enugu State Government on February 13 and the government agreed that it would comply and they called off the strike.

Mba disclosed that JUSUN instantly furnished the state government with the amount due to judicial workers.

On the claim by the AG that JUSUN did not furnish the state government with its account, Mba said: “Judiciary has an account for overhead. They said we should furnish them with account with recurrent and capital expenditure. We did that last Monday. But, they didn’t pay February and March. They didn’t complain about account until strike started and they said we didn’t submit account. If they comply now, we will resume work immediately.”

Efforts to speak with the state chairman of the NBA who is heading the monitoring committee yielded no fruits as at press time.