Nigeria: Courts, Assemblies Move to Relist Cases, Bills Stalled By Workers' Strike

21 June 2021

With the resumption of activities in courts and state Houses of Assembly, the judiciaries and the legislatures in states of the federation have begun to relist cases and bills that were stalled as a result of the strike by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) called off after two months.

THISDAY investigations showed that the industrial action, embarked upon to press home the workers' demands for financial autonomy for the two arms of government in the 36 states of the federation, stalled proceedings in over 100,000 court cases, some of which were in the judgment delivery stage, in 16 states.

The strike also stopped the passage of 49 important bills in six states, while debates on many other legislative bills were halted.

According to the investigation, the passage of five bills was affected in Edo State; four in Bauchi; three in Ondo; one in Cross River; 15 in Nasarawa and 21 in Niger State.

Also, proceedings in 880 court cases were halted in Ekiti; over 100 cases in Sokoto; and over 100,000 cases in Katsina, mostly in sharia and magistrate's courts.

To reduce the burden on lawyers and litigants, Lagos and Plateau states' courts have waived the default fees on cases that were not filed at the appropriate time.

THISDAY also gathered that the strike may have plunged the Niger State House of Assembly into a constitutional crisis as it sat for only 176 days before it entered a new legislative year last Thursday against the mandatory 181 days stipulated by Section 104 of the 1999 Constitution.

Investigations showed that to avert such a constitutional crisis, the Ekiti and Imo States' Houses of Assembly were sitting at the official quarters of the speakers since they were public buildings recognised by the House rules.

In Edo State, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly. Hon. Marcus Onobu, told THISDAY that about five bills critical to good governance could not be passed due to the strike embarked by the legislative workers.

He said: "The assembly has five outstanding bills at various stages of passage before the strike by legislative began."

On the judiciary, THISDAY's investigation revealed that the judicial workers in the state did not embark on any strike.

It was gathered that their refusal to join the national body was borne out of the experience they had when they participated in such strike during the administration of Mr. Adams Oshiomhole and were not paid for the period they were on strike to date.

In Ekiti State, no fewer than 880 cases were stalled in different hierarchies of courts as a result of the strike, which commenced on April 6 and ended on June 14.

The Public Relations Officer, Ekiti State Judiciary, Mr. Oba Olayiwola, told THISDAY that a total of 880 cases were paused by the industrial action.

He said: "Out of these cases, 600 were in the Ekiti State High Court, Ado Ekiti, while the magistrates and other high court divisions had 280 pending cases.

However, the Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, Hon. Funminiyi Afuye, said the strike didn't affect the legislature much because the lawmakers were meeting at his lodge regularly to attend to legislative issues.

Afuye, however, agreed that the industrial action affected the passage of some bills, which he assured would soon be passed to make up for the lost period.

The Chief Registrar of Sokoto High Court, Mr. Bashir Ibrahim, told THISDAY that over 100 cases filed in the state high court were stalled due to the strike.

He lamented that many lawyers complained that their clients who were awaiting trials suffered unnecessarily due to the strike.

The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Nasarawa State Judiciary, Mr. Enoch Ali-Maku, also told THISDAY that many cases that were on the cause list could not be heard while fresh ones filed shortly before the commencement of the strike could not be listed.

He, however, said he did not have the exact number of the cases whose proceedings were disrupted by the strike.

The Clerk of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Ego Maikeffi, also said 15 bills were not passed into law by the legislature as a result of the parliamentary workers' strike.

In Bauchi State, the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon. Garzali Wunti, said the lawmakers had only four bills pending, which would have been considered and passed if not for the parliamentary staff strike.

In Taraba State, the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Mr. Bashir Bape, who represents Nguroje State Constituency, told THISDAY that some bills that were at various stages of passage were affected by the industrial action.

In Katsina, the Chief Registrar of the state High Court, Mr. Kabir Shu'aibu, told THISDAY that there were over 100,000 outstanding cases, whose proceedings were stalled as a result of the strike.

Shu'aibu, in an exclusive interview with THISDAY, said Sharia and magistrate's courts had the highest number of pending cases.

He said: "We have over 100,000 pending cases because of the strike. Sharia and magistrate's courts are the courts with the highest number of these outstanding cases. The police have even called us that they have about 400 inmates and that some of the inmates were dying in their cells because of the congestion during the strike."

The spokesman for the Kano State High courts, Mr. Baba Jibo, told THISDAY that he could not tell the number of pending cases since they were still been compiled.

Chairman, Plateau State House of Assembly Committee on Information, Hon. Peter Dasun, said a backlog of bills and motions were stalled but added that he could not give an exact figure.

Also speaking to THISDAY, the Chief Registrar of Jos High Court, Hon Ladi Madaki, said the judges were currently 'calling over' cases that should have been heard during the strike, and assigning them new dates.

According to her, there is a timing for filing of cases, and defaulters are expected to pay default fees, but the state chief judge has issued a circular that default fees should not apply between April 2021 and June 15 when the courts opened to avoid burden on litigants and their counsel.

She feared that judges' annual vacation, which begins by July ending and will last through August, may further constitute a delay, but said it was statutory for judges in superior courts.

But Plateau State NBA chairman, Mr. Yakubu Bawa, said his association was already meeting the state Chief Judge, Justice Yakubu Dakwak, to appeal to the judges not to go on the six-week annual vacation.

In Lagos State, the strike had minimal effect on the workings of the state House of Assembly as it carried on its business normally.

Within the period, the assembly suspended six local government and development councils' chairmen for breaching rules and regulations guiding the operations of council areas.

It also approved the executive branch's request for the purchase of operational vehicles for ministerial and extra-ministerial departments.

However, the same cannot be said of the judiciary where all activities were crippled throughout the strike.

Following the resolution of the strike, a memo was sent to all heads of department and registrars of court by the state Chief Judge, Justice Kazeem Alogba, waiving default fees in the state from April 6 to June 14, 2021.

In Niger State, the House of Assembly is now in a dilemma over how to comply with Section 104 of the constitution, which provides that Houses of Assembly should sit for 181 days in a legislative year.

The Clerk of the House, Alhaji Abdullahi Kagara, confirmed that the assembly is thinking about how it will solve the constitutional crisis the strike has plunged it into, as a result of its inability to meet for the number of days it should sit in a legislative year.

Kagara said: "This is a problem we are trying to solve but since it is not deliberate and it is a national issue, we will get over it."

In Ondo State, efforts to ascertain the number of cases stalled by the strike from the Chief Judge, Justice Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, was unsuccessful.

Speaking with THISDAY, the Chairman of the House of Assembly Committee on Information, Hon Gbenga Omole, said the passage of three important bills were stalled.

He said: "Anti-Open Grazing Bill; Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill; and the Public Fund Committee Bill of the Judiciary and Legislative Autonomy were stalled by the strike.

"Apart from these three bills, there are other bills at different stages of debate and legislative actions, which were affected by the strike."

In Cross State House of Assembly, the Cross River State Mining and Quarrying Bill (2020) is the only outstanding Bill whose passage was stalled by the strike.

Speaking with THISDAY, the Clerk of the Abia State House of Assembly, Sir John-Pedro Irokansi, said that with offices shut down, it was impossible for legislative activities to continue during the strike.

For Imo State House of Assembly, the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon. Johnson Duru (representing Ideato South State Constituency), told THISDAY on the telephone that the activities of the house was not badly affected by the strike.

He stated that members were meeting at the official quarters of the Speaker, Hon. Paul Emezim, which is a public building in line with the rules of the House of Assembly, to deliberate on matters concerning the smooth running of the state.

Speaking yesterday, the spokesman of the Osun State House of Assembly, Mr. Kunle Alabi, told THISDAY that the state legislature used the period of the strike to increase its oversight functions since the assembly complex was shut.

But the state Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Femi Akande, said the strike stalled all court proceedings in cases as far as hearing of both substantive and interlocutory matters were concerned.

The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in Kwara State, Alhaji Mumin Jimoh (SAN), told THISDAY that thousands of cases that were supposed to be adjudicated upon at the various courts in the state were affected.

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