The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has threatened to sue the Cross River government over the non-payment of magistrates for two years.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported that one of the magistrates, Richard Bassey, on Tuesday, collapsed at the gate of the governor’s office in Calabar during a protest over unpaid 24 months’ salary.
In his statement on the development on Friday, the NBA President, Olumide Akpata, described the “excuses” offered by the Cross River State Government for not paying the magistrates as unfortunate.
Mr Akpata said he had been interfacing with the Attorney-General of the state before his emergence as the NBA President on how to resolve the problem to no avail.
He also said he held a meeting with some of the 30 magistrates in January 2020, assuring them of his support towards the resolution of the matter.
He added, “The NBA therefore expects that now that the unfortunate situation has become an issue of public knowledge, reason will prevail and the Cross State Government will see its way clear to resolve this issue in the interest of the State, the legal profession in Nigeria and the Magistrates concerned.
“In the meantime, this situation has reinforced the need for the NBA to activate its public interest litigation machinery to institute actions to address situations like this, if only as a last resort and the NBA will do so imminently.”
He said other specific cases “of this nature across the country” which the NBA could be taking up in court included “financial autonomy for the Judiciary and true independence of the Judiciary in matters concerning it”.
“While this appears to be a tall order, the NBA will continue to deploy every resource available to it to ensure that this ultimate objective is achieved sooner rather than later,” he said.
Mr Akpata described as “disgraceful and completely unacceptable” the situation “that resulted in about 30 magistrates resorting to public but peaceful protests to demand the payment of their salaries”.
According to the NBA President, the Cross River government headed by Governor Benedict Ayade said it refused to pay the magistrates because it did not authorise their appointment.
Mr Akpata maintained that the excuse was not genuine as the state government lacked the constitutional powers to appoint magistrates.
He said aside the fact that only the Cross River State Judicial Service Commission (SJSC) headed by the Chief Judge of the state had the power to appoint the magistrates, the state had been utilising the services of the magistrates for more than two years.
He stated, “The NBA assures all concerned persons that it will continue to do all that it is legally able to do to ensure that the issue of non-payment of the Magistrates is also resolved.
“The excuses reportedly provided by the Cross River State Government as the basis for non-payment (being the fact that the Governor of the State did not authorize the employment of the Magistrates) is rather unfortunate considering that the constitutional power to appoint the said Magistrates is not vested in the Governor but in the Cross River State Judicial Service Commission (which duly appointed them), and the state has, in any case, continued to utilise the services of the magistrates for upward of two years.”
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