Judiciary workers in Edo state who have been on strike for over five months defied a directive by the Edo State Government ordering them to resume work on Monday or consider themselves terminated from the civil service.
The workers, under the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), have been on strike since 5 January, 2015, over alleged unwillingness of the state government to implement the financial autonomy granted the judiciary in a judgement delivered by a Federal High Court in Abuja on 13 January, 2015.
Edo State Judicial Service Commission had in a statement signed by its Secretary, Isaac Sanu, last Thursday ordered the striking workers to return to their duty post on unfailingly on 18 May, failure upon which their appointments would be terminated.
The striking workers however described the threat as illegal, and therefore vowed not to sustain the strike action until their grievances were addressed.
The lock on the main gates to the high court was broken under the supervision of the chief registrar of Edo State High Court, Hilary Enemaku, to pave way for members that are willing to resume duty to enter the premises.
Enemaku said his action was in line with the directive of the JSC that the judiciary workers should resume on their various duties, adding that as the chief registrar of the State High Court, it was his responsibility to ensure that workers have access to the premises and their offices.
The state vice chairman of JUSUN, Egbomeade John, however said his members would not be intimidated to call off the strike by JSC when they are being owed six months salaries, just as he insisted that the union will not call off its strike.
He however noted that the leadership of JUSUN are disposed to negotiation if they are called by JSC and the state government.
“To be sincere, the leadership of JUSUN have actually met with that of the JSC, the only thing they could say was just threat that we should resume first before discussing anything about salaries. It was not true that the commission asked us to accept one or two months to call off the strike.
“If they have asked us to take two months salaries we would have called members of the union which I believe the congress will understand with us. But the government is saying it has agreed in principle with judicial autonomy without anything black and white which can be denied any time and any day.
“But for JSC to say they have spoken to us on several occasions to accept some months salaries is untrue. We are angry because the JSC which is supposed to be the commission that is representing the interest of the judiciary threatened us with sack.
“The Chief Registrar of the High Court, H. E. Enemaku, came to break the door and forced the door open, that the workers are willing to come to work. But you can see that even some hours after the door has been broken, no staff is prepared to work.
“So, that is to tell you that they are trying to use intimidation to intimidate the workers to come to work. But the workers are saying there is no going back. So, irrespective of any threat, the strike continues. So, the workers are resolute, undaunted – no going back until our demands are met,” he said.
Egbomeade condemned the directive of the Commission, describing it as “illegal, null and void,” arguing that the matter had already been filed at the National Industrial Court with “suit no: NIC/15/2015,” with the JSC as a party to the suit, as “the third respondent.”
“So, it is very surprising and very unfortunate that a commission headed by a Chief Judge, who is a lawyer and a judge can condescend so low to use its members to break the gate. The workers here are in solidarity with us.
“Our stand is that the strike continues until further directives. As they (JSC) are meeting, we are meeting and we getting in touch with our national body because it’s not just a state strike,” he added.
On his part, the Secretary of the State Judicial Service Commission, Isaac Sanu, maintained that directive of the commission for the striking workers to resume remained effective.
“The stand of the Commission is that all workers of Edo State Judiciary should resume duty today, without which they know the consequence that follow.
On the implication of the refusal of the workers to resume, he said, “Leave that for the Commission; it is not for me to pronounce that here.”
However, the State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Emmanuel Ademokun, assured that strike would be called off “sooner or later,” as the union was making efforts to negotiate with the state government.