New Telegraph

As JUSUN strike takes toll on vulnerable persons in Osun State

Background

Courts across Osun State were shut down on November 22, 2023, as a result of the strike action embarked upon by the members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), in the state. The strike was declared by the Chairman of JUSUN in the state, Oluwagbenga Olakunle Eludire. This was on the heels of the protest staged on Monday, November 20, and Tuesday, November 21, 2023, by the Osun JUSUN over allegation of maladministration against the embattled Chief Judge of Osun State, Justice Oyebola Adepele Ojo. The JUSUN members also accused her of unduly persecuting some members of staff and denying their entitlements, ranging from the restoration of training exercises, arrears of wardrobe allowances between 2021 and 2023 to the reinstatement of judiciary staff in the state suspended by Justice Ojo. Eludire declared that: “Regularisation and promotion exercise without further delay should be effected. Also, other benefits that members of JUSUN are entitled to should be effected without further delay.” Eludire directed all judicial workers in the state to stay away from the courts and their offices and withdraw their services over the alleged attacks against its members by some personnel of the Nigeria Police Force during the protest. He accused the police of firing teargas at his members.

Implications for the vulnerable

It has been over three months now since the strike action commenced and this action of JUSUN, many say is impacting negatively the state especially the most vulnerable group of persons who among others are denied access to justice. There are several pending cases, such as that of the royal tussle in Iree, Ikirun, and Igbajo. Survivors/victims of SGBV: Sexual Gender-Based Violence which should be treated with a sense of urgency, are left unattended to as a result of the strike. With the knowledge of this fact, survivors of SGBV find it difficult to report cases of violation, impeding the efforts that have been put in place towards eliminating SGBV in Nigeria. Alleged perpetrators are often arrested and released within two days, this is according to the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This development has added to the psychological woes of the victims as perpetrators return to the same space as the survivors. At the moment, pre-trial inmates in detention who, by the provisions of the constitution, are presumed innocent until otherwise proven are still locked up without access to the court to seek bail. Those who were granted bail before the strike but are yet to process the same are equally locked up. This has led to prison congestion as there are inmates awaiting trial who are at the correctional centres in the Maximum Prison in Ilesa and Medium Prison in Ile-Ife, whose trials have been delayed and jail terms extended. The strike action has also made the enforcement of fundamental rights unattainable. There is a total blackout (absence) of justice in the state and something needs to be done as quickly as possible. Crime is equally on the increase with no court sitting to prosecute the perpetrators.

Rights activists, legal practitioners react

Residents of the state have expressed displeasure over the protracted strike action by the judiciary workers in the state. Some of the people, who spoke to New Telegraph in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, lamented that the action had a negative effect not just only on the state but on the inmates who should have regained their freedom within the period of the strike and other businesses that have suffered as a result of the crisis. Chairman of the Committee in Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), in Osun State, Comrade Emmanuel Olowu, said: “I wish to express the fact that number seven of the agreement signed by Mr. F.I. Omisade, the Registrar of the State High Court; the National President of JUSUN, Comrade Marwan Adamu; and the Justice Commissioner, Hon Wole Jimi Bada, reflects the level of pettiness within the Osun State Judiciary. “The part of the agreement stated that there shall be no victimisation of any form against any judicial officer, or any member of JUSUN for participating in the strike or as a result of the strike. “If within the judiciary, where the sword represents impartiality and its officers are now sceptical that they will be punished or victimised for participating in an industrial action, then the poor and uneducated man on the street must understand that fundamental human rights are up for sale in Osun State. “However, the industrial action has a negative effect not just on the state but on the inmates who should have regained their freedom within the period of the strike and other businesses that have suffered as a result of the crisis. “I will therefore use this medium to advise the stakeholders in the judicial system to learn the act of acting without impunity, while the state government should see the judicial arm of government as an independent body that cannot be arm-twisted.” Also, a legal luminary, Adebisi Kayode, said the ongoing strike has a serious economic impact on the state. The Osun-based legal practitioner urged JUSUN to call off the strike and continue to pursue their matter at the Judiciary Service Commission since the issue has been brought before it. He said: “Before the declaration of the strike on November 22 last year, there was no notification from the part of JUSUN that they would go on strike because the strike caught everyone by surprise. “The investors, whether we like it or not will have people who are doing business in the state, they would be thinking about how they would get justice if there is any dispute in the business arena not to talk of so many suspects, defendants in the police, who are yet to be brought to court and those who have been remanded in prison, they have themselves been locked continuously in the prison environment so even now, anybody who is aggrieved. “Look at the Obaship issues in Osun State, so many issues of obaship are on the ground and some are already in court to seek justice. Government on its part, in terms of Internally Generated Revenue, they are also losing because the judiciary also contributes to the revenue of the state.”

Lamentations of the Police

The Osun State Police Command has expressed displeasure over the prolonged closure of courts, noting that it is affecting its operations. The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Hope Okafor, stated this in Osogbo, recently while parading suspected criminals. Okafor said the police could not grant administrative bail to some suspects because of the strike action of the judicial workers. She said: “I hope you all know that Osun State Police Command has nothing to do with the situation (closure of the court). We are feeling the brunt. We have some suspects whose allegations bother on capital offences and you all know that we have no power to grant bail. So, you can imagine the effect that has.”

APC takes Adeleke to task

The Osun State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has wondered why Governor Ademola Adeleke is contemptuous of the judiciary despite benefiting hugely from it. According to the state chairman of the party, Sooko Tajudeen Lawal, in a statement issued by the party’s Director of Media and Information, Chief Kola Olabisi, there is no way that Governor Adeleke and his co-travellers can wash off their remote involvement and sponsorship of the lingering judicial workers’ strike as there hasn’t been any record of the government’s deliberate efforts to end the strike either by way of condemnation or persuasion. Lawal observed that the approach of Adeleke to the intractable workers’ strike has plausibly been based on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy automatically becomes my friend.”

Security expert on state of emergency

Following the failure of the Osun State Government to end the strike, a security expert, Mr. Akin Adeyi, has enjoined President Bola Tinubu to come to the aid of the people of the state by declaring a state of emergency. Adeyi, who made this appeal to the presidency while speaking with our correspondent, stated that there is a need for the invocation of the relevant portions of the constitution that empowers the President to protect the people of Osun State as the lives of the citizenry have been hellish since the judicial workers shut down the courts in the state over three months ago. The security expert stated that it is a constitutional anomaly that Adeleke has been governing the state illegally without the judicial arm of the government in operation since the beginning of JUSUN’s strike. “It is worrisome that Osun State has become a haven for undesirable elements in the society who are fugitive to justice as the police who have overstretched their facilities and have no option other than setting free hardened criminals in their protective custody,” he noted.

Resolution committee

Worried by the protracted strike action, Governor Adeleke, on February 11, 2024, set up a seven-man committee to resolve the industrial dispute. The governor also forwarded a letter to the Attorney General of the Federation and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, calling for support to resolve the dispute. In the letters, the governor briefed the top judicial officials on his efforts so far to get the crisis resolved, even though the bone of contention is purely on judicial staff matters. The new intervention by Adeleke followed his previous efforts, which included the payment of withheld salaries of some judicial staff, negotiations on wardrobe allowances, and the recent hosting of the national leadership of the judicial staff union. Adeleke said he was setting up the committee with a direct mandate to get this dispute resolved, whatever it takes, noting that his action is to restore normalcy and not interfere in the judicial arm of government. “We are being careful all along not to be accused of meddling in judicial matters. But it is now almost an emergency. We must get the issues ironed out,” he said.

Adeleke pays staff wardrobe allowance

In a recent development, parties to the crisis have finally signed an agreement just as Adeleke effected the payment of wardrobe allowance to the judicial officials. This is one of the key demands of the striking workers. The resolution panel set up by the governor described the agreement reached among the parties as in pursuance of the seven-day ultimatum issued for the resolution of the strike by Adeleke. The agreement was signed by Mr. F.I. Omisade, the Registrar of the state High Court; the National President of JUSUN, Comrade Marwan Adamu; and the Justice Commissioner, Hon. Wole Jimi Bada. The agreement reads as follows: “That the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) meeting should be called to reinstate all the suspended staff as soon as possible; “That the necessary promotion and regularisation of all qualified members of staff will be affected by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) without further delay; “All instituted court actions against the judicial service commission (JSC), JUSUN, its members (by signatory to this agreement, their privies or their sympathizers) and the Hon. Attorney General must be withdrawn forthwith; “That the government has agreed to pay the 2023 staff regulation dress allowance/robe allowance, as same was captured under the budget of the judiciary for 2023; “The government will contact all relevant governmental agencies to look into all the past activities regarding the 2021 and 2022 staff; “That the government’s robust scheme of service for all categories of staff in the judiciary shall be fashioned out and implemented by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) without any further delay; “There shall be no victimisation of any form against any judicial officer, or any member of JUSUN for participating in the strike or as a result of the strike; “That this agreement is without prejudice to whatever step being taken by the National Judicial Council and in no way meant to overreach, overtake or stop such steps; “That this agreement is made in consideration of the need to enable JUSUN to call off its strike and resume duties accordingly in the interest of the state and general public.”

When will the courts open?

This is one question that no one can provide an answer to including the parties at the centre of the crisis. However, speculation is rife that with the recent agreement reached and the payment of wardrobe allowance to the judicial staff by Adeleke, there might be a closure to the matter in the coming days. This development is also confirmed by a letter emanating from JUSUN in which it stated that resolution of the crisis is in sight.

Resolution in sight

Following the visit of the National President of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to Osun State on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, to meet with all relevant stakeholders in a bid to amicably resolve the issues that led to the indefinite strike, members of the Osun judiciary workers extended their sincere gratitude to the national president for embarking on mission aimed at finding solution to the crisis. A statement signed by Idris Adedayo Adeniran and made available to New Telegraph, said: “In this way, we implore members of our Union and the general public to expect a total resolution of the issues that caused the strike action once the legitimate demands of members of JUSUN are addressed, especially as it relates to the Regulated Dress and Robe allowances, which caused the strike action. ‘‘Once the legitimate demands of members of JUSUN are addressed, especially as it relates to the Regulated Dress/Robe allowances, which the Judiciary of Osun State has failed to release/ pay to judiciary workers since year 2021 and also recall the unjustly suspended staff for five years now, despite been absolved of all wrongdoings by a court of law. “We are, however, pleased to further inform members of our Union and the general public that there is light at the end of the tunnel concerning calling off the strike, as a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had been drafted, following separate meetings held by the National JUSUN President with the Governor of Osun State, Senator (Dr.) Ademola Adeleke, the Chief Judge of Osun State, Hon. Justice Adepele Ojo,, and members of the JUSUN Osun Branch. “However, the agreement has been forwarded to the National President JUSUN for further review and approval, especially about the fact that the Osun State Government has demanded an alteration in the agreement stating that it will only be paying the 2023 wardrobe allowances of Judiciary workers (duly budgeted for), and not the 2021 and 2022 allowances, which the Judiciary of Osun State failed to release/pay to workers. “Members of the public will be promptly informed once all necessary corrections/amendments are made by the National JUSUN. Please note that there are also cases in courts against JUSUN that are being attended to so that JUSUN will not be found guilty of contempt by any court of law. “We also want to assure all JUSUN members that all processes to effect the payment of wardrobe allowances are at the peak and that the payment will be effected any moment from now. Thank you all for your understanding and cooperation. God bless you all.”

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