On 1st February 2019 a total of 46 new Magistrates were duly appointed and sworn into office by the then Chief Judge of Cross River State, Hon. Justice Michael Edem (now retired).
The appointment followed due process involving thorough screening, interview, and necessary documentation exercises conducted by the State Judicial Service Commission, being the body statutorily empowered to employ and exercise disciplinary control over judicial officers of the magistracy cadre in Cross River State.
Since then all the Magistrates have undergone necessary professional training including a two months attachment to courts and a mandatory induction course at the National Judicial Institute (NJI), Abuja. Also, magistrates have since been posted/assigned to various Magistrate Courts across the State where they are still working and discharging their responsibilities till date, yet none of them has been paid!
According to insider information, the reason for the non payment is because the appointment allegedly exceeded the number authorised by the governor. (But how exactly is that the fault of those employed/engaged?).
It is important to note though parenthetically that the JSC is created under section 202 of the 1999 Constitution and also its independence is statutorily guaranteed.
Therefore, in exercising its power to appoint Magistrates and exercise disciplinary control over them, the JSC is not subject to control by any other authority or person including the governor. With reference to Section 9 of the Judicial Service Commission Law, Cap J2 Vol.3 Laws of Cross River State of Nigeria 2004.
Another twist is that out of the total of 46 new Magistrates, only about 30 are fresh appointments, the rest were already civil servants whose names were already on the payroll but merely transferred their services to the Judiciary as Magistrates, (my source said this is very much allowed and has always been done in the past, this is not the first time).
In April 2020, the State Judicial Service Commission in a bid to pander to the yearning of His Excellency conducted a screening exercise where they attempted to reduce the number of the new Magistrates to 19 and further recommended the return of all those on transfer back to the various MDAs where they came from. Yet the governor has refused to pay even one person till date.
In September, 2019 the governor acting on advice of his SA Payroll, Mr. John Odey (who has now been compensated with appointment as auditor general), illegally, unjustifiably and unceremoniously removed the names of over 2,000 civil servants from government payroll.
According to John Odey, the removal was to enable the governor authenticate the process of employment of the affected staff and restore only those who were genuinely employed. The governor has refused to call for the so called verification exercise till date.
Those removed from the payroll include about 40 law officers (State Counsel) from the Ministry of Justice and some of the Magistrates appointed under the category of transfer of service. Note that these are staff who were properly employed in 2016, issued with letters of appointments and after two years of satisfactory and meritorious service they were further issued with letters of confirmation of appointments, only for their salaries to be stopped unceremoniously without any established case of misconduct neither are they issued with disengagement letters.
A group of six Magistrates among those whose names were removed from the payroll have since filed a case at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Calabar Division in Suit No. NICN/CA/46/2019 where they are challenging the wrongful and illegal removal of their names from government payroll. About 33 law officers from the Ministry of Justice are also in Court challenging the wrongful removal of their names from the payroll.
It has become imperative and pertinent to draw His Excellency, Governor Ben Ayade attention to the deprecating economic survival of these cross riverians, Just last week, a Magistrate was dragged by his landlord before another Magistrate for inability to renew his rent!
May I also draw the attention of His Excellency to his promises in 2015/2019 campaigns that “He will not sleep if a cross riverians is not sleeping and he’ll not eat if a cross riverian is hungry.”
Your Excellency Sir, the survival of these people and many other category of persons who have not been paid their salaries, pension, gratuity, etc, is being threatened daily.
While you’re trying your best to put food on the table of many cross riverians through appointments, do not take away food from the table of civil servants. As these will translate to “rubbing Ayade to pay Frank”.
Your Excellency Sir, imagine the impact or consequential effect of this issue on justice delivery and general justice administration in the Cross River State.
Please act appropriately! “A stitch in time, they say, saves nine!”
Chief Ifere Paul is a good governance advocate. He writes from Abuja.