The Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Calabar branch, Paul Ebiala, has weighed in on the non-payment of magistrates’ salaries for two years in Cross River State, saying “it is unacceptable to us”.
The affected magistrates are said to be 30 in number.
PREMIUM TIMES 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 the unpaid salary.
“The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Calabar branch particularly, has condemned in its entirety that ugly development, it is something that is unacceptable to us, it is something that is avoidable, it is something that ought not to have been allowed to take place at all because magistrates, like all other judicial officials, are not supposed to be exposed to that kind of situation where they would have to come to the street to protest payment of salary or anything whatsoever,” Mr Ebiala told PREMIUM TIMES, Friday.
Mr Ebiala said the Cross River government has informed the NBA that the non-payment of the salary was caused by “irregularities” in the employment of the magistrates.
But such “irregularities” should have been sorted out by now, Mr Ebiala said.
“If you allow them to be working and they have been given their appointment letters and they have been assigned to courts and they have been sitting in court adjudicating over problems brought to them by citizens then it cannot be heard that because of irregularities they should not be paid,” he said.
“In living memory, I haven’t seen it and I haven’t read anywhere that judges or magistrates would march to the streets to protest for anything, for that matter. It is novel, it is unprecedented and we shouldn’t be in the news for the wrong thing, especially taking the lead for the wrong thing.
“No, it is not proper, at all. It is the first time I am seeing that, having put in about 20 years in practice. Even before I became a lawyer I haven’t heard, not to talk of it, since I became a lawyer and now the chairman of the bar.”
The chairman said it is dangerous for the dispensation of justice, for the magistrates not to be paid their salary.
“If his or her welfare is not properly taken care of, the danger is that you are going to expose such a person to corruption, fraud and, of course, compromise and bribery. And that’s the danger for the common man. It means simply that anybody who has the money can just go there and tell them, ‘take this and give me judgement’. That is why it is an ugly situation that should not be allowed to exist at all.”
Mr Ebiala the condition that prompted the protest by the magistrates would not have existed if the executive in various states obeyed certain provisions of the Nigerian constitution.
“If what the constitution of this country provides has been obeyed by chief executives across the country I am not sure we will be where we are today. If you look at Section1 of the constitution it clearly states that any amount that stands to the credit of the judiciary should be given to the National Judicial Council for disbursement to heads of courts. And if you go to Section 121(3) it replicates that position in respect of the state judiciary.
“If that constitutional provision has been obeyed, I am not sure the judiciary would go cap in hand to the executive to ask for money to pay salary, to take some developmental steps and things like that.
“You recall recently that the president of this country came out with executive order 10 to give some kind of teeth these provisions of the constitution to enable the governors in the entire country hand over the money that is meant to the judiciary to them (judicial officers),” he said.
The President of the NBA, Olumide Akpata, has also threatened that the association would sue the Cross River government over their ill-treatment of the magistrates.
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