One of the front line legal practitioners in Nigeria, respected Jibrin Sam Okutepa, ( SAN ) has decried the state of helplessness and hopelessness of Nigerian Judiciary.
Okutepa disclosed his feeling while reacting to the current situation in Cross River state where Governor Ben Ayande has said to have denied some magistrate chief judges their salaries running to about thirteen months.
Okutepa who frown at the ugly development made it abundantly very clear that the said Governor does not have the right in the first place to appoint Chief Magistrate Judges as that is supposedly suppose to be the function of cross River State Judicial Service commission.
Okutepa who quoted relevant sections of 1999 Nigerian constitution as amended to back up his stand has this to say:
” The legal profession is in the state of helplessness and hopelessness in Nigeria.
The profession seems to be heading towards total extinction in terms of relevancy, independence and the awe for which it was previously known.
On 5th January 2021, learned magistrates who were duly employed and in the employment of Cross River State judiciary staged a peaceful demonstration demanding for payments of their legitimate salaries and allowances, which the state Government has refused to pay them for job done.
They had worked for the past 13 months or so without being paid.
Today the Acting Chief Judge of Cross River State, Hon Justice Ita E. Eyo is reported thus: “The Cross River State Acting Chief Judge, Justice Eyo Effiom Ita has confirmed the non-payment of salaries of over thirty Magistrates in the state.
Justice Ita who spoke with newsmen in Calabar said he was aware of the situation but he did not know for how long the Magistrates had been owed.
“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 appointment and so will not pay them.
The Acting State Chief Judge explained that there was nothing anyone could do to change the situation until Gov Ben Ayade changes his disposition.
He said all interventions had been made but the Governor insists he never approved their employments”.
This statement credited to the Ag. CJ if true clearly shows how the judiciary in Nigeria has been emasculated and independence taken away from it.
What does the Ag. CJ mean by the statement.
Under what law does the Governor of Cross River State derive the power to give approval for appointments of Magistrates in the State.
Under the 1999 constitution as amended the 3rd schedule thereto, item 5 (C) thereof is clear on the point.
It gives the power to appoint and discipline Magistrates amongst others in Cross River State to the Cross River State Judicial Service Commission.
It states that: (c) to appoint, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over the Chief Registrar and Deputy Chief Registrar of the High Court, the Chief Registrars of the Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Court of Appeal, Magistrates, Judges and members of Area Courts and Customary Courts and all other members of the staff of the judicial service of the State not otherwise specified in this Constitution.
There is no where the constitution gives power to the Governor to approve the appointment.
The Ag CJ is the Chairman of the Cross River State Judicial Service Commission.
How did his lordship feel when he spoke to the press about approval. I was expecting the Hon Ag CJ to have told the world that the Magistrates were not appointed by the Cross River State Judicial Service Commission.
In all these absurdities the professional body of lawyers in the State and the national levels are on leave. Nothing is being done.
The absurdities in Cross River State should not be swept under the carpet. What is going in that state is sad.
No justification for the Magistrates not to be paid. Did they forge their letters of employment which from impeccable sources they are in possession of.
The inhumanity being visited on these learned gentlemen should not be tolerated.
I call on NBA to stand up to its duties and responsibilities and take action on this matter.