From Godwin Tsa and Benjamin Babine, Abuja
Aggrieved members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) on Tuesday walked out of the planned reconciliatory meeting scheduled with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige for what they described as an act of disrespect on the part of the minister who allegedly kept them waiting for several hours.
Also following the part of JUSUN were members of Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASSAN) who were equally invited for the meeting which was to conciliate on the current national industrial action.
JUSUN said they had discontinued the meeting after it failed to commence at the scheduled time of 3 pm.
Both members of JUSUN and PASSAN who were seated at the venue by 3pm however staged a walk out after waiting for two hours with nobody attending to them.
The aggrieved judiciary workers said they waited for the minister and others from the government side to show up but to no avail.
Not even pleas from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Peter Yerima Tarfa, could pacify them.
Speaking with newsmen, JUSUN national Public Relations Officer, Comrade Koin Selepreye said it was wrong for the minister to keep the workers for that long , when the invitation sent to them clearly started that the meeting was for 3pm.
She said the union would always aveil her for meetings , but won’t take it when the fix for the meeting is not respected.
In like manner, the National President of PASAN, Comrade Mohammed Usman barrated the minister for what he described as unfair treatment melted on the workers.
He said the workers respect time and won’t accept been kept for a meeting which should be taken seriously considering the important of the issues astake.
Despite effort by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Peter Yerima Yarfa and the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Niger Affairs, Ita Enang to prevail on the unions to return for the meeting meet a bricks wall as the they entered their cars and left.
Also at the botched meeting were the representative of NBA, inspector general of Police, NJIC, and head legal team of the Nigerian Governor Forum.
But in a press statement later in the day, the Minister of labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige explained that the meeting with the combined unions of Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria( JUSUN) and the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria( PASAN) has been postponed to enable the Federal Government negotiating team harmonize all issues from the Memorandum of Understanding reached at separate meetings with tiers and arms of government.
The Minister said this was necessary to ensure that the meeting with the unions come with a Memorandum of Action which is implementable with time lines.
The statement which was released by Charles Akpan, a Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations reads: “ There is no point rushing to do a meeting that will be fruitless. The Judiciary, the Governors Forum and even the Presidency are involved in this negotiation because the meeting held yesterday was at the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President .
“The arising documents are not yet properly harmonized. It will therefore not be fruitful to hold a negotiation where people speak from irreconcilable positions. It won’t help us and it won’t help the unions either.
According to Ngige, “ the reason is to ensure that the agreement reached at the end of our meeting here is put into action , with timelines for implementation. So if we don’t have a paper that is ready to go, then there will be no point for the talk shop.
The Minister explained that the members of the unions were in a hurry even as they were properly informed of the little time needed for him to round off a meeting with the government team, comprising the Solicitor General of the Federation, Mr. Dayo Apata, the Director General of the Governors Forum, Asishana Bayo Okauru and the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Senator Ita Enang .
He said the meeting will continue at a date to be announced soon. “ It is better done properly so that the Governors can implement whatever agreement we enter into . The governors hold the ace because they hold the sovereign in their respective states, even though they are sub-nationals but they run the government of those states.
He added that the Federal Government believed in autonomy but utmost patriotism and tact have to be exercised to sift the issues in contention.
“ Today , fund management committees have been proposed and there is also executive Order 10. This means there is problem and we must be very careful not to create more problems than what we are out to solve.
The leadership of JUSUN, had directed its members on Friday to hold peaceful rallies nationwide along with the ongoing industrial action which had led to the shut down of courts across all states in protest against government’s failure to grant financial autonomy to the judiciary.
The action of the striking workers has the backing of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), which staged a peaceful march at the National Assembly, yesterday, in solidarity with the judiciary workers. Lawyers also hold solidarity rallies across the 36 states.
President of the association, Olumide Akpata, had directed branch chairmen to lead ‘visits’ – which are more like peaceful protests – to government houses in their states over the 36 governors’ alleged unwillingness to implement judiciary’s financial autonomy.
President Muhammadu Buhari had signed an Executive Order granting financial autonomy to the judiciary and State House of Assembly in May 2020, after several agitations.
However, the gazetting of the order was suspended after Buhari met with governors, who later expressed concern over its constitutionality.
General Secretary of JUSUN, Isaiah Adetola, who announced the suspension of the rallies said the Federal Government through the Ministry of Labour and Employment had invited the union to a meeting today.
“We will honour their invitation and be at the meeting, hear what they have to say. If the meeting is favourable, we may suspend the strike. But if it’s nothing to go by, we will continue our action,” he said.