•Insist on implementation of full financial autonomy for judiciary, legislature
There seems to be no end in sight for the industrial action by the judiciary and legislative workers pressing for the full implementation of financial autonomy for the two arms of government in states as they have vowed not to compromise on their demands for the implementation of the 1999 Constitution as altered.
The workers, who have been on strike for about one month, said yesterday at a meeting with a federal government team, led by Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, that the issue of financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciaries was the constitutional provision that did not warrant any negotiation with governors.
The national leadership of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) also insisted that the governors must fully implement financial autonomy for the two arms of government in the 36 states of the federation as guaranteed by the constitution before the current strike will be called off.
But the federal government pleaded with the unions to consider the efforts being made to resolve the dispute and suspend their strike to enable courts and legislative houses to reopen
Ngige said yesterday in Abuja that progress had been made on about 90 per cent of the issues in dispute.
However, the meeting between the federal government team and the leadership of the unions ended last night with an agreement that the unions should go and study the government’s proposal, while the meeting reconvenes next week.
But earlier, during the opening of talks with the federal government team and representatives of the governors, the Deputy Chairman of JUSUN, Mr. Emmanuel Abioye, said the unions still maintained their stance on the full implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary and legislative arms of government in the states.
Abioye, while responding to the minister’s address, said: “I am happy that when you were talking, you said it is a constitutional issue and so since it is a constitutional issue, I don’t think we should negotiate on it. We are trying to avoid someone somewhere coming to challenge the constitution one day. So, anything short of this is not why we are here.”
Also, President of PASAN, Mr. Mohammed Usman, said the meeting availed them the opportunity to receive the fresh proposals by the governors, adding that the unions resolved to present the proposals to their national executive committees.
He stated that the unions would be reporting their decisions to the government at another meeting next Tuesday, adding that the strike will continue.
According to him, the governors only agreed to shift ground on the issue of ceding money for capital projects to the two arms of government.
“Aside from the ceding of capital projects, there is nothing new in the governors’ position. However, we are happy that the federal government has opened negotiations on the matter but we will not suspend the strike until there is agreement on the implementation of full autonomy,” he added.
Ngige, however, asked the workers to suspend the strike.
While welcoming the parties to the resumed negotiations, the minister said about 90 per cent progress had been achieved in harmonising issues with the governors.
Ngige expressed optimism that the strike would soon end.
He said the government side had made offers to the two unions for them to consult with their various National Executive Committees and revert back.
According to him, a lot of work went into the proposal given by the government side to the two unions, which substantially addressed their demands for judicial and legislative autonomy in the 36 states of the country.
The minister stated that the proposal was produced by the committee of the government side, comprising the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Apata (SAN); the Secretary of the Presidential Committee for the Implementation of Judicial and Legislative Autonomy, Senator Ita Enang; representative of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Director-General of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).
Ngige said: “A lot of work went in. We have exchanged briefs with the JUSUN and PASAN. They have their demands, which they had earlier submitted. The government side has given counter offers and properly addressed the burning issue of financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciary.”
He stated that questions were asked and answered, while observations were made and explained, working on the proposal given by the government side.
Ngige said the meeting had been adjourned with a view to enable JUSUN and PASAN to take back the government proposal to their members for consideration.
We expect them to work on the documents from tomorrow and if they are satisfied, they should inform us. And you know that when they are satisfied, the logical thing is to call off the industrial dispute. So, we are to receive their views on the government offer by Tuesday morning,” he added.
Ngige said the discussions were fruitful, adding that they have moved from the initial position of ground zero, to ground 85.
He, however, appealed to the striking workers to return to work to enable the government to meet the remaining part of their demands.
We cannot do this when the legislatures are closed in various states. We cannot also operationalise them when the courts are closed and heads of courts are not allowed into the courts or their offices.
“We have made documentation and statistics for the state Houses of Assembly to make appropriate laws. So, we plead that you open the courts and state Houses of Assembly.
“Besides, we are menaced by bandits, terrorists and arsonists. With the courts closed, the police cannot tackle insecurity,” Ngige said.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Eta Enang, who also spoke at the opening talks with representatives of JUSUN and PASAN, said the suspension of the strike had become necessary to enable the legislatures to pass legislation needed to ensure the smooth implementation of the financial autonomy.
“I just want to appeal to JUSUN and PASAN that we did not undertake all these efforts in vain and that when we arrive at a certain decision at the end of the technical session, you will be able to hit the ground running. We plead that you call off the strike because we will not be able to pass the necessary laws if the legislative houses remain closed,” he said.
According to him, from the engagement so far with the governors, he believed that the gap was being closed.
Enang stated that President Muhammadu Buhari had told the governors to do what was right to the judiciaries and legislatures in their states just as was being done at the federal level.
“The president is saying to the governors, go and treat the state legislature and judiciary arms the same way we treat the National Assembly and the judiciary at the federal level,” he added.
When asked to comment on the outcome of the meeting, Abioye said they were going back to meet with their National Executive Committees to study the situation and consider the offers made before reverting back to Ngige.