Uniform salaries solution for incessant judicial workers’ strikes
In these interviews THE GUARDIAN’S ABIODUN FANORO, the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN) and the President of the West African Bar Association (WABA) and a Lagos-based human rights crusader, Femi Falana, offer the way forward from the debacle. Excerpts:
WHY is the country witnessing the unprecedented strike actions by judicial workers?
I believe it is because of poor conditions of service. When I heard of the strike, I talked to some of those courts that were affected. When I was told their conditions of service, I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. I must say they are not the ones to blame, I sympathise with them. What they earn is not enough to sustain them.
Furthermore, the value of the naira has depreciated over the years, the naira has been badly devalued. Apart from the fact that what they earn is too poor, the purchasing power of the naira is also too low.
In all nations of the world, particularly in the developed countries, if your currency is devalued, then it is index-linked. In other words, your salary is increased in accordance with the devaluation, so that your purchasing power is not affected because money is what it buys. In my view, the court workers deserve about four to five times what they are earning now. It is as bad as that.
What are the implications of the strike for litigants?
Oh! very bad, the implications for the litigants, the implications for the lawyers, the implications for law and order and the implications for the society as a whole are better imagined. They are too numerous to mention. The reality of these implications stare all of us in the face daily.
Government consists of three elements – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. If you paralyse one of the three arms, as the strikes have done, then indirectly, you have more or less paralysed the other two. The courts are responsible for law and order to a large extent. Therefore, if the other two arms, particularly the Executive, allow the Judiciary to be paralysed the way it is, then we are sending a very wrong message to the general public.
In other words, the strike could unconsciously promote criminality in the society.
You have said it all. If you have prolonged strike like this and people could not go to court to get their matters resolved in accordance with the rule of law, they might resort to self-help and that is bad for everybody, that is bad for the society. That is a very slippery terrain, I pray we would not go that route, because the end is total anarchy.
As a lawyer, what are the adverse effects of strikes on you and your colleagues?
Lawyers go to court to argue cases, in many cases, against each other. So when the courts do not sit, neither the plaintiff, nor the defendant, neither the prosecutor, nor the defending counsel in criminal matters could do their work or work to earn their pay. Therefore, the administration of justice is adversely affected. Earnings by lawyers are affected, because if you don’t work, clients may not pay. That is not good for the economy, that is not good for anybody.
What are its adverse impacts on the development of the legal system?
Laws cannot develop if judgments are not delivered. When judgments are delivered at the various levels, they form precedent, they form biding doctrines. Therefore, the strike of judicial workers, directly and indirectly affects the rule of law.
What of the growth and development of judicial manpower?
If they are on strike, they are not paid, it affects their families, the welfare and education of their children. Of course, training and on-the-job skill acquisition by judicial workers would be on hold for the period the strike lasted. All workshop and seminar programmes are put in abeyance. Again, this goes to affect the quality of service they would deliver and the support services they would render to judges at the various levels.
Also indirectly, the quality of judgment from these judges would be affected. It will continue to have ripple effects on the society. It should not have been allowed to happen and I hope and pray that it would not happen again.
As a major stakeholder in both the legal and judicial system and also by the virtue of being a former head of the Justice Ministry, how should this matter be resolved?
I am seriously concerned. The first thing we should do is to have a uniform court rules throughout the country. All the state High Courts should have uniform court rules. The issue of uniformity has been resolved at the Federal High Courts throughout the country. It is the same rules whether the Federal High Court is in Calabar, Maiduguri or Lagos. It is the same rules for all of them, irrespective of location. It is the same thing in the Court of Appeal.
All the Courts of Appeal all over the country use the same rules. The second thing is to harmonise the conditions of service of workers in all the state courts across the country. They can all earn uniform and meaningful wages. One thing that is very unfortunate in this country is that the middle-class has been wiped off. In this, you are either very rich or very poor. Nigeria is one of the very few countries in the world that does not have the middle-class. The middle-class is the engine of any society. India, Brazil and China have the fastest growing middle-class in the world. That is why they are doing very well. A country without the middle-class will not make much progress.
How logical and constitutional is the issue of uniform conditions of service for judicial workers under the federal system?
Well, if they render the same service, then they should have equal pay. It is the same service workers in Federal High Court, Ibadan, render just as their counterparts in Federal High Court in Ilorin, Benin, Asaba, Akure, Makurdi, among others. That is the practice throughout the world and Nigeria should not be an exception. So I don’t see any reason why there should be disparity.
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