LAWYERS4CHANGE

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

'Probe Our Chief Judge Now' Lagos Jusun Leaders Tell NJC

On 9th May 2006, men of the Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences stormed the Ikeja High Court headquarters of the Lagos State Judiciary. Of special interest to the ‘invaders’ was the registry of the High Court. Like bees, the task force men, many who came armed, swarmed the registry and forcefully interrupted “proceedings” by overturning tables and arresting cashiers and some other staff of the judiciary there. Some other persons including one or two lawyers who were in the registry to file papers suffered the fate of being arrested and taken off to detention.

The actions of the Task Force men did not go down well with most of the judiciary workers who believed it was a gross harassment and humiliation of their colleagues in their very offices. The workers quickly organised themselves to embark on what they called a peaceful protest against the certainly brutal invasion of their offices but what the judiciary authorities considered an act of insubordination and confrontation.

At the end of the day, five members of staff including the chairperson of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, Lagos State branch Alhaja F. A Oshodi and the Secretary Mr. Olusegun Omoboye had their appointments terminated. Other affected staff are Mrs. S. M Jagun, Mr. B.A Lawal and Mr. Babatunde Adelenu.

The termination of the appointment of the five workers came as a rude shock to them and their union. Courageously however, the affected staff marched straight to the court of law in suits number ID/1216/06, ID/1217/06, ID/1218/06 /ID/1219/06 and ID/1220/06 to challenge their dismissal.

The hope of the “JUSUN 5” to get a speedy determination of their matters did not materialise. It took more than a year after instituting the actions, to clear the hurdle of pre-trial stage of the cases. For trial, the matter is now before Honourable Justice Oyefeso of the Ikeja High Court.

In a petition dated the 8th October 2007 to the National Judicial Council, four of the affected staff, alleged the Chief Judge, Honourable Justice Adetula Alabi to be the brain behind the slow adjudication of their cases.

According to the petitioners, his Lordship irregularly took special interest in their cases slowing down the pace of their assignment to judges at the pre-trial and trial stages by stagnating files assignment action for more than two months. According to them, the necessary assignments were done only after they fired letters of protest to the Chief Judge. Copies of the said letters were sent as annexures to the petition to the NJC. See Cover Story Exhibits.

In their petition, the petitioners stated their conviction that the Honourable Chief Judge wanted them out of the system because of their persistent demands as leaders of JUSUN that the Lagos Judiciary should surrender her Union dues in its custody to JUSUN, since JUSUN has now become a bona fide Trade Union.
According to the JUSUN leaders, the Chief Judge was unwilling to accede to this request. On this issue, the petitioners claimed inter alia in their petition:

Having registered Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria {JUSUN} as a Trade Union, we wrote to inform the Chief Registrar and the Chief Judge and copies of the registration documents and the gazette were attached for their information and necessary actions, but nothing was done.
We also made several demands that the Union dues should be paid to the coffers of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, Lagos State branch, the Chief Judge also refused. Annextures “D” and “E” were some of the letters written to demand for union dues this year aside from the demand made during the year 2005 and 2006.

The only reply we had from the Chief Registrar was the letter with reference No 308640/vol. 9/099 dated 20th February, 2007 where we were told to make clarification between Judiciary Staff Association of Nigeria {JUSAN} and Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria {JUSUN} in which we did. In our response, we wrote that we actually applied for registration with the name “Judiciary Staff Association of Nigeria”, {JUSUN} but the Registrar of Trade Unions approved the name of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria {JUSUN} and that all documents remain valid. This was clearly indicated in the registration papers sent to the Chief Judge and since then no response again.

It is important to note that recognition of Trade Unions by an employer is compulsory and automatic by the combined effects of Section 5 {7} and Section 24{1} of Trade Unions Act, 1990 as amended by Decree No. 1 of 1999 and Section 5{3}{a} and {b} of the Labour Act 1990.
This is the reason why he will not allow the terminated officers to be absorbed back into the Lagos State Judiciary Staff.

Another allegation leveled against the Honourable Chief Judge is that he does not want the progress of his workers. According to the petitions, once in power as Chief Judge, Honourable Justice Adetula Alabi stopped Lagos State Judiciary workers from attending courses and programmes at the Lagos State Public Service Staff Development Centre, Magodo like their other colleagues in the Civil Service, thereby preventing Senior Officers like Assistant Chief Registrars in the Judiciary from climbing the ladder of promotion in their employment.

A more serious allegation against the Chief Judge was the accusation of him of the twin evils of nepotism and corruption. According to the petitioners, the Chief Judge has for more than two years now prevented the investigation of one Jimi Alabi alleged to be his “blood brother” over an allegation that the younger Alabi, formerly a bailiff, collected a bribe of N180,000.00 from a judgement debtor at the scene of the execution of a judgement of the High Court, “whereas if it were another person involved, it is instant dismissal.”

The petitioners gave specific instances and details of what they considered corrupt practices against the Chief Judge, who they claimed set up a particular committee, the FUND ALLOCATION COMMITTEE ostensibly to promote transparency and accountability but which had become the very opposite.

Quoting figures to back their contention that the Chief Judge was not clean, the petitioners, “for the avoidance of doubt, implored that the National Judicial Council investigate the veracity of all that we have mentioned in this petition from all the appropriate quarters.”

As at press time, it is not known whether the Honourable Chief Judge had sent in a reply to the petition which some observers described as “simply hot.”

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