Last Monday was hectic for governor Douye Diri as members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) barricaded entrance of Bayelsa state Government House in protest of financial autonomy for both arms.
As early as 8:am, placard carrying members of JUSUN and PASAN numbering over four hundred had staged a peaceful protest in the state capital and took over the busy Melford Okilo Expressway, chanting solidarity songs.
Led by chairmen of both associations, the aggrieved workers, who grounded vehicular movements and caused serious gridlock, matched from the state judiciary complex and terminated at the entrance of Creek Haven.
The executive committee and members of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) later joined the protest in solidarity to drive home their demands for financial autonomy for the judicial and legislative arms of government.
All efforts by the state commissioner of Police, Mr. Mike Okoli and his team as well as the Chief of Staff, Government House, Chief Benson Agadaga to pacify the unionists to open part of the entrance for vehicles to move in and out of government house were rebuffed.
The protesters ensured that all government activities were crippled for several hours unless the governor came out in person to address them and so it was.
Presenting their demands to the governor when he finally came out, chairman of JUSUN, Mrs. Selekepre Koin said they came to demand for financial autonomy which, according to her, had been approved by president Muhammadu Buhari but yet to be implemented by the 36 governors of the federation.
She also demanded immediate reversal of alleged illegal deduction of JUSUN members’ salaries since June, 2020 till date.
“The autonomy we are looking for started sometime 2011 and in 2012 we went to court, and by January, 2014, by the grace of God, we obtained a judgement to our favour.
“When the judgement was given, none of the 36 governors who were defendants to the suit appealed the judgement. 2014 to now is seven years.
“Since they did not appeal, the federal government thought it necessary to setup a presidential committee for the implementation of the autonomy and the two unions were represented, including the Governors’ Forum. Speakers of the House of Assembly Forum, the SGF and Attorney General and Accountant General of the federation were also there.
“The autonomy has been given by constitution. The president has given the Executive Order 10, 2020 and asked the governor to do same but the state governors are foot-dragging. If the judiciary which is the hope of the common man cannot get autonomy, I don’t think the common man has any hope.
“What we have here in Bayelsa state is partial autonomy. The autonomy where we need to get to the Head of Service and the Attorney General before any thing is done is not an autonomy,” she said.
Responding, the governor who thanked the protesters for their peaceful disposition promised to look into their complaint of salary deduction and see if it was legitimate based on tax or not and reach back to them.
On the autonomy, the governor was diplomatic in his response, adding that it was a national issue involving all the governors of the federation.
“While I am in silk with your plight, we are running a federal system of government. Let us not be deceived, in a federation, arms and levels of government are coequal. Let us not be deceived to moving into an authoritarian unitary system of government.
“The basis of a constitutional government is the constitution itself and let us be guided by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“In your address, you said we are giving partial autonomy and we should clap your Bayelsa state government. If in other states there is no autonomy and in Bayelsa state, there is partial autonomy, we will move towards full autonomy.
“This struggle is not for you alone but for us to have a seamless working relationship. I am one person who believes in the independence of the judiciary and the legislative arms of government,” he said.
“Please, don’t be deceived, there is no place in the world where there is a total autonomy of the three organs of government. We will not fail you in what you are requesting for but let’s look between the lines.
In every month l have decided to do what you are asking for over the period. Was is duet the judiciary has always been given to the judiciary. The same goes to the legislature. It may not be adequate.
“I am sure that is why you captured your own as partial but I believe that which you say is partial is actually the full depending on what comes into the state government,” he said.