Magistrate Collapses as Mates Angle for Unpaid Salary

Magistrate Collapses as Mates Angle for Unpaid Salary

…As Protest Over Unpaid 24 Months Salary Takes a New Turn …Say they Can No Longer Afford to Pay Rents, Children’s School Fees …Many Judicial Officers Complain of Poor Welfare, Salary Last Reviewed 13 Years Ago …Magistrates Need to Fight for Right to Join Union…Human Rights Lawyer The protest embarked on by 30 magistrates in

…As Protest Over Unpaid 24 Months Salary Takes a New Turn

…Say they Can No Longer Afford to Pay Rents, Children’s School Fees

…Many Judicial Officers Complain of Poor Welfare, Salary Last Reviewed 13 Years Ago

…Magistrates Need to Fight for Right to Join Union…Human Rights Lawyer

The protest embarked on by 30 magistrates in Cross River State, over unpaid 24 months salary, sign posting a likely nationwide outburst from the entire country’s judicial officers, who are quietly complaining about abysmally poor welfare, took a dramatic turn on Tuesday when one of them collapsed in front of the office of Governor Ben Ayade in Calabar, the state capital.

The Magistrate, Mr Richard Edet was later revived by his colleagues who served him milk, soft drink and water. The magistrates numbering over 20, who donned their full regalia, were among the 30 persons freshly employed by the Cross River State Government two years ago.

The protest kick started on Monday by Ms Safiya Iyeh Ashipu, a Chief Magistrate of the Court in Odukpani, as a “lone man protest” which later culminated into a full-fledged protest involving other aggrieved Magistrates in front of the Governor’s office in Calabar.

Drawn from the 18 Local Government Areas of the state, the Magistrates who are demanding payment of their two years unpaid salaries, came out dressed in their full regalia to douse insinuations that they were not who they claimed to be.

According to them, they have not received a dime since their employment into the State Civil Service by the Ayade led administration. They claim a total of 45 of them were employed including 30 from private practice while 15 others were drawn from the Ministry of Justice.

The obviously angry magistrates bore placards with inscriptions like “We have right to employment’’, “Magistrates in Cross River are thrown out of their rented apartments’’, “Ayade, pay us.’’

Speaking on behalf of the group, Mr Solomon Abuo, Chief Magistrate to the government of Cross River said the protest was their last resort.

Abuo said they had continued to discharge their duties to the state government to date in spite of non-payment of their salaries.

“We have courts that we are heading and we have been working for the state government to bring about peace and tranquillity to the society.

“Yet the Governor does not dim it fit to pay us our salaries in spite of our entreaties, pleas, letters, correspondences, screening after screening.

“After our employment and swearing in, we went through four screenings; in each of them, the Governor will ignore the report requesting him to pay us our salaries, so this is our last resort.

“Right now, we have 30 magistrates affected across the 18 local government areas of the state; funny enough, the Governor’s local government has the highest number and the state does not care.

“Is it wrong for one to serve the state as judicial officers? Are we supposed to go through this kind of humiliation? Those are the questions to which we want answers.

“We are all family men with children in schools; we cannot pay children’s school fees.

“Last year, one of the magistrates was arraigned before a fellow magistrate for inability to pay house rent. Most of us can’t pay our house rents; we are squatting with colleagues and all that.

“Our prayer is that our 24 months’ salary be paid with immediate effect, otherwise we will continue this protest and stop sittings in courts until we are paid,’’ he said.

Justice Eyo Effiom-Ita, Acting Chief Judge of Cross River, said he was aware of the situation, but did not know for how many months the magistrates had not been paid.

“I was appointed Acting Chief Judge two and a half months ago and I heard that some magistrates were appointed, but the Governor said he did not give clearance for their appointments and would not pay them.

“Until Governor Ben Ayade changes his disposition, there is nothing anybody can do.

“Otherwise, all representations have been made, but the Governor is holding firm that he never approved their employment,’’ Justice Effiom-Ita said.

Magistrates are not under the National Judicial Council (NJC) which pays judges. Magistrates are employed and paid by States. NJC has no role in their employment and welfare. Throwing these unpaid magistrates to the streets to fend for themselves also makes fiddlesticks of the anti-corruption stance of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“What is playing out in that State is a total disgrace. Definitely, some of them would have had to compromise their positions to make ends meet in the period they’ve not been paid. And we talk of judicial corruption,” miffs a High Court Judge in one of the states who prefers not to be named.

“I won’t be surprised that this is happening in other states too. Even high court judges are badly treated in many states. In my state, our vehicles are due for change every 4 years, but our vehicles are now going to 8 years this year. Govt says no money. So, you find judges vehicles breaking down on the road.

“NJC only pays salaries, other things are provided by states. Only a few states are treating the Judiciary well like Lagos, Rivers, Bayelsa, and a few others. Our salaries have not been reviewed in the last 13 years. So, even NJC is not living up to expectation as such, but at least, we get paid. What these magistrates are being put through is a total disgrace.

“So, when they talk of corruption, you can see some of the root causes. Those judges who forge dates of birth are afraid to retire early because they have nothing to show for it, so they want to keep working as long as they can even at the risk of their health, he says.

Human Rights Lawyer, Mr Femi Aborisade, posits that, “The protests by magistrates in Cross Rivers State for payment of unpaid salaries for the past two years represents a major contradiction in Nigeria’s capitalist system.

“Hitherto, the general perception was that judges, including Magistrates, belonged to a privileged caste to prop up the capitalist status quo against the rest of the marginalised society. It was therefore expected that as a privileged segment serving the cause of the establishment, they would be given special treatment, being paid huge salaries with robust terms and conditions to socialise them into the elite worldview and prevented from experiencing the pains, pangs and vagaries of life caused by unpaid salaries.”

According to him, “The experiences related by the placards carrying magistrates in Cross Rivers State have now brought out the stark realities that even Magistrates belong to the working class and their interests and aspirations are tied up with the working class. The illusions of being part and parcel of the ruling class must now be disappearing. It shows that the elite system cannot even sustain the traditional privileges of appendages of the ruling class such as magistrates.

“The magistrates must now begin to agitate for the right to form and join unions. At the upswing phase of the capitalist system, magistrates and other appendages of the ruling class might endure the perception that magistrates could not form or join unions and/or embark on strikes and street protests. The downswing phase of Nigeria’s capitalism has confirmed the magistrates can only enjoy their employment rights only if they are allowed to enjoy the benefits of section 40 of the Constitution which allows every person the freedom of association and action for the protection of one’s interests. This is the key lesson of the Magistrates’ protest for payment of two years’ unpaid salaries.”

“Unless the magistrates draw the necessary lesson from their experience, then, the alternative is to succumb and fall prey to the trap of the executive arm of government which may be interested in using poverty, hunger and want to corrupt magistrates for material existential wellbeing and survival. But that is no option for the magistrates, majority of whom are of the finest quality, ethical, honest conscientious and conscionable.

“The organised labour must rise and support the Magistrates in Cross Rivers State who are being humiliated, unable to pay rent and play their parental responsibilities for the health and education of their children due to non-payment of salaries.   Labour laws must be reviewed to recognise the right of Magistrates to form or join trade unions of their choice. Organised labour should be ready to embrace magistrates into the fold of the working class.

“This is the new reality, as the system appears incapable of sustaining the privileges of a section of the Judiciary, which administers laws to maintain the status quo. This is a major contradiction and realization we must all relate to appropriately.

“But the Cross Rivers State magistrates represent the experience of many segments of judicial officers who suffer in silence in the face of deprivation of their employment rights. The judicial officers, particularly the Cross Rivers State magistrates, therefore deserve our support. Their demands must be met,” Aborisade says.



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