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Nigeria's Court Strike Paralyses Underfunded Justice System

Nigeria's Court Strike Paralyses Underfunded Justice System

In Nigeria, the justice system is paralyzed due to the  nationwide strike of court employees , resulting in prolonged jail remands for those awaiting trial or sentencing and prolonged delays for everyone else.

For alleged armed robbery, Taiwo Ebun*, 27, was arrested in Lagos in March last year and he has been detained since then.

He was detained at a police station before being transferred to Kirikiri, a maximum-security prison just outside Lagos. His first court appearance was two months ago, one year after his arrest. The trial was scheduled for April 2, 2021  by the magistrate  court, but it was postponed to May 5,2021. 

However, each dates have handed with none motion within the case resulting from weeks of strike motion by court employees belonging to the judiciary staff union of Nigeria (JUSUN). 

The union stated that the commercial motion was to demand monetary autonomy for courts as an alternative of relying on the frequently corrupt system of funding from state governors, who are frequently accused of misusing funds and have been convicted of fraud.

Nigeria’s Constitution  grants the judiciary monetary autonomy from state governors and heads of courts entry to a federal fund. But the federal government did not adjust to this provision within the 1999 Constitution till the union took motion in 2014 – the second in three nationwide strikes by Nigeria’s court employees.

 Nigeria's president, Muhammadu Buhari, signed an executive order   last year to implement the supply at the state level. Governors, on the other hand, have refused to conform and have threatened authorised motion.

According to the union, the justice system's reliance on the executive for funds has hampered its day-to-day operations.

Shobowale Kehinde, chair of JUSUN's Lagos Department, said, 

If the executive arm of the government still pockets the [funds of the] judiciary, that means that for every piece of paper we have to buy, we have to go cap in hand to the executive arm of the government,”.

Despite the fact that the strike was primarily about the refusal of state governors to follow the law, Kehinde stated that the welfare of the court employees was also a union grievance.

“It is our right as employees to champion the cause of making our workplace a better place if it is not conducive. When we have our autonomy, we will be able to better discuss the welfare of the staff with the heads of the court.”

As the strike dragged on, Ebun and thousands of other people awaiting trial were imprisoned.

For protesting government corruption , Juwon Sanyaolu, 29 , a political activist based in Lagos, was  arrested in Abuja along with several others in January and were detained for 11 days. 

He was granted bail, but the  charges were filed against him and the other protesters by the government. On May 5,2021, he was scheduled to appear before magistrates  but the court's closure has put him in jeopardy.

He told the Guardian that , "I have just been stuck in Abuja since that day. I stay in Lagos, and this is affecting my work".

“The closure is a painful but necessary action that had to be taken because, in the long run, if the judiciary is not functioning independently, access to justice will suffer,”, Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer and an activist said.

“We cannot continue with the current arrangement, in which state governors regard the judiciary as an extension of the ministry of justice, and chief judges serve at their pleasure. They deny the heads of the courts the money to which they are entitled.”

Due to the growing backlog of cases, the lawyers and defendants are becoming increasingly worried. Even before the strike, getting a court date could take months. The strike has placed additional strain on an already underfunded and overburdened judiciary.

To deal with the backlog of cases, Effiong expressed his  hope that the court's leaders would find a way to deal with such cases. However, for those incarcerated awaiting their day in court, each day adds to their ordeal.

" It is frustrating knowing that I am inside for what I did not do, and it is more frustrating that I cannot even know my fate, " Ebun said. 


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