By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, LL.M, Notary Public
The late Professor Chinua Achebe was right when he said in his book “The Trouble with Nigeria” that “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership .There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the reasonability, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leaders”. The great literary giant said this about 38 years ago in the dying days of the Second Republic in 1983 to be precise. Since then nothing has changed much. Unlike the set of politicians we had in the First Republic, those of the Second Republic were worse because they refused to learn any lesson from the former who even struggled relentlessly to gain independence for the country.
As a student of history, the idea of workers’ incessant strikes became a culture and was formally institutionalised during the reign of those military dictators that sacked the Second Republic and began to run what they called Military Presidency. It was the waste of resources and the kinds of reckless and flambouyant lives they were living as leaders that instigated the workers to be demanding for more wages and where that was not met, the workers under the auspices of organisations such as Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) among others would declare nationwide strike which often led to negotiations and agreements that were usually half heartedly made and not honoured. We live in a country where workers’ strike has become a culture and that is one of the military legacies. When you have leaders that live like kings rather than live by examples and take reasonable care of the national treasury with wisdom, what do you expect from the workers? Have you ever asked who the real victims of these incessant strikes are?
The victims of the incessant strikes are neither the government as employers nor some people as the employees of government, but the major victims of strikes are the generality of Nigerian populace. For instance, if the lecturers or the doctors in the Federal or States universities or hospitals go on strike; does that affect the emoluments of the employers and employees in those sectors? No, it doesn’t .But who are the people being affected? It affects the ordinary Nigerian students in those Federal/State universities whose parents cannot afford sending them to the private or foreign universities, while those to be affected by the strike in the Federal/State hospitals are the ordinary Nigerians whose sick relatives are abandoned as a result of the health workers abandoning their works as a result of the strike.
While one is not opposed to the workers going on strike when it becomes extremely necessary, but making such strike incessant will not be in the best interest of the Nigerian populace who are the direct victims of such act. Any strike must be rooted in the milk of human kindness. While students in the Federal/State Universities are forced to remain at home indefinitely when ASUU goes on strike, their counterparts at the private universities continue with their studies unhindered. Are our leaders in government scheming to kill the public institutions and the expense of the private schools? Is that the reason why some of our leaders are establishing private universities ?The programmes that are meant to be completed within 4 or 5 years are taking more years to be completed. If we have been having leaders living lives of simplicity rather than flambouyance, I doubt if workers would be demanding for the increase of wages. I have said it somewhere else that “We live in a nation that sits on abundantly endowed natural resources but lack those visionary leaders that are ready to transform that to the advantages of her citizens the way leaders like Lee Kuan Yew transformed his country, Singapore ‘from third world to first’ ”. Where leaders make the economics of life of the nation to be doing well and the citizens are equally doing well, the workers will not be asking for the increase of wages because if that happens and the wages are increased, that means the price of goods and services will equally go up. But what we have here is that when wages are increased as a result of the strike, the workers who are salaries earners only feel the positive impact while the non-workers who are not salary earners will feel the negative impact of the increase as they all patronize the same market. But when you have good and exemplary leaders in government at all levels everything will be normal
The culture of strike in this country is that, if university or other institutions’ lecturers are not on strike today, the doctors will be and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) will be mobilising other workers for another strike tomorrow. The latest in the news is that of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) that has shut down the whole courts in the country clamouring for the financial autonomy for the judiciary in all states as provided by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In a civilised nation, I do not think an association like JUSUN needs to go on strike for the provisions of the ground norm of the country to be complied with by the various state governments. But because we have leaders that do not have respect for the law of the land, the rest of us are paying the price for their failure to do the needful. Since an appeal has been to JUSUN by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, they need to see reason and call off the strike because to remain adamant and continue with the strike will amount to crying more than the bereaved.
Since the shutting down of the courts, the major victims of that action are the lawyers in the private practice and their clients who have no access to the court to carrying on their business to earn their livelihood. When JUSUN closes the gate of the courts and the judges are not allowed to sit, the judges and members of JUSUN will be paid their salaries by those executives arm of government whose actions they are protesting against. In such circumstances, who pays the salaries of the lawyers in the private practice? Can clients pay when they are not getting the services they expect from lawyers? It is not a good thing that the JUSUN are closing the gates of the court when most lawyers and their clients are yet to recover from the blow inflicted on them by the Covid 19 pandemic. This is another reason why the JUSUN must have a rethink and call off the strike.
The clamour for financial autonomy for all the states’ judiciary is call that must be obey by all the states governors as their refusal to heed the clamour will be a flagrant disregard to the Constitution and other court orders related to that. Disobedience to the Constitution or court orders by those in power who ought to lead by example is punishable by impeachment of those leaders. While calling for the financial autonomy for the judiciary, we equally need to make passionate appeal to our judicial officers on the bench for change of attitude to the one that will be beneficial to all the patrons of the courts whether lawyers or their clients. There is this unconcerned attitude often display by some of our judicial officers. Honestly the experience in court in recent time has not been encouraging as to the rate at which the lawyers and their clients are being disappointed in court despite the directive issued by the Chief Registrar on behalf of the Chief Judge of Lagos State to all the Court Registrars dated 21st January 2021 which states as follow:
“The Hon. Chief Judge of Lagos State, Hon. Justice Kazeem O. Alogba, has directed that whenever the Court will not be sitting, all Court Registrar MUST NOTIFY Counsel and Parties involved in the matter via SMS (text)/ email or both not less than 48 hours before the date the matter is slated for. Note that failure to comply with this directive will be met with stern disciplinary action.”
Since the release of this directive there has not been strict compliance with it. I give kudos to the Chief Judge and few other courts that whenever the CJ and those courts are not going to sit I often get text message for a particular matter am doing before the C.J. I was recently in a court which had earlier given us a date after about one or two adjournments on the ground that the judge was probably on an official assignment. We arrived in court as earlier as 9AM and the court was filled to its capacity with lawyers and their clients. We had all hope that the judge would sit that day, but unfortunately, it was not until about to 12PM when the Court Registrar announced that the court would not be sitting. While some lawyers were grumbling, their clients were gnashing their teeth .We had to wait again for close to an hour for our own matter to be called by the registrar for our attendance to be registered and another date given. Does this make litigation practice encouraging?
I thereafter kept asking myself what stopped the judge from informing the Registrar earlier that the court would not be sitting? Since the C.J’s directive, I have tried to ask some court registrars where I have had similar experience why they are not complying with the C.J’s directive on sending messages earlier that the courts would not be sitting. The reasons given by some of them were that the instruction to do that would have to be given by the Hon. Judges and again the recharge card would have to be made available for full compliance. Are some judges finding it difficult to make money or recharge card available for the registrars to comply with the directive? Before the directive came up, the rules of court provides that when counsel are filling suit in court, they must provide in the court process the phone numbers and email addresses. I think we again need to passionately appeal to our judicial officers to be making the sacrifice of making recharge cards available for their registrars to get the messages across when they know they will not be sitting. That singular act will surely safe lawyers and their clients the unnecessary stress of coming when they know already that the court will not sit.
As we are now beating the drums to the hearing of all the states’ governors to comply with provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as to the financial autonomy of all the states’ judiciary without the need for the JUSUN going on needless strike, an appeal also need to be extended to our judicial officers to take their judicial duties very serious. Monday Ubani Onyekachi, a former Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) recently made a post on social media that : “The legal profession should be proud of Ogun State Judiciary, most of the judges sit on time and the most cheering news is that their judgments are usually unbiased and rarely questionable , they are worthy of emulation , thumbs up!”
Several lawyers practicing before the Ogun State judiciary have testified to this fact which has now become a big bonus for that state judiciary .For the judiciary of other States to achieve this fit, I am of the view that the burden is on the Chief Judges who must mobilize other judges in their states’ judiciary to live up to expectation and live above board like the Ceaser’s wife. The system has been very fair to our judicial officers and they also need to reciprocate that gesture by discharging their judicial duties accordingly.
There is the need for the patriotic Nigerians to be speaking out and be working against the incessant strikes that have become a culture and traditional in this country. Our leaders at all levels of governance must lead by example and be advised to embrace simple life style rather than flambouyant life style and waste of the national treasury as these are things that induced unnecessary clamour for the increase in wages by workers and when that is not heeded, they resort to the strike which is not good enough for our country. To again borrow form the words of late Professor Achebe :
“…Nigeria is not beyond change .I am saying that Nigeria can change today if she discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision. Such people are rare in any time or place. But it is the duty of the enlightened citizens to lead the way in their discovery and to create an atmosphere conducive to their emergence .If this conscious effort is not made, good leaders, like good money ,will be driven out by bad.”
Since the collapse of the First Republic, the hope of getting patriotic and visionary leaders seems to have been eluding us in this country. Those leaders that got independence for us in this country were youth that later dominated the First Republic politics, even most of those military guys that eventually aborted that democratically elected government and took over from them were youth. The most unfortunate thing today is that despite the misrule of both the People Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC), there is yet to be an alternative on the ground. Serious and well determined Nigerian Youths who are ready or prepared to form a formidable political party to wrestle power from those two political parties that have been recycling their members are not on the ground. The Nigerian youths rather than using their brains to think on how to form a strong political party that will throw up visionary and honest leaders for the leaderships of this country are unfortunately busy threatening organizing another Endsars# protest while the earlier one had proved abortive. Until most Nigerian people learn to say No to the “bread and butter” politics, the “one- chance” politicians will continue to have their way to the leaderships of this country and with their outrageous life style they will continue to induce more incessant workers’ strikes to the benefit of both sides while the rest of us will continue to be at the receiving end. Let us all use our brains to make positive change in this country.
NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.