Magistrates: Who wants to die for Nigeria?
Magistrates: Who wants to die for Nigeria?
By Lillian Okenwa
Magistrates: Who wants to die for Nigeria
No school day passes without Nigerian children lustily singing the national anthem during morning assembly.A very significant part of that song is the line which says: “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain;” a persuasive call to patriotism.
But how Nigeria’s past heroes who have shown topmost heroism have fared is a question that requires little or no answer. To public affairs analysts and average Nigerians, the answer conspicuously stands out. They maintain that heroes have been ridiculed, shamed and humiliated so much that patriotism is nearly synonymous with stupidity.

Only recently the internet was awash with news of a senior Nigerian police officer who resigned his job, on account of being denied promotion three times. This officer was said to have once rejected a bribe of N864 million.
Though he has since explained that he only contemplated the action on account of injustices he experienced in the force, this goes to show the level of frustration honest Nigerians go through in the course of their jobs.

The officer, Francis Erhabor, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), headed a division of the police in Akwa Ibom State, South-south of Nigeria.

Igbere TV, an online media quoted him as saying, “I have wasted 30 years serving my fatherland.” He said many of his juniors have been promoted above him and that “it hurts deeply.”

A pained Erhabor in the report said: “I once had a dream about the Nigeria Police Force becoming the people’s force, the country’s pride. So sad, I no longer believe in the system as a noble one, but one where mediocrity, nepotism, and all other ignoble acts are given higher preference.

“I am sorry I let all my fans down. I am deeply sorry for not finishing where you all expected me to finish. Thanks for your strong and relentless faith in me. I remain forever grateful to you all.”

When another media outfit eventually spoke with him, he explained that he actually contemplated resignation but changed his mind. He further disclosed that he did not grant any interview to Igbere TV but had a “discussion with a friend” about the ill treatment.

“I feel so irritated by the injustice in the system, I switched off (my phone) after sharing my thoughts with him. I never knew he was trying to reach me to get permission from me before he could publish it.”

Succour according to him came after listening to a devotional from Nigerian pastor, Enoch Adeboye, of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in the morning of last Saturday.

“I think I have accepted my fate,” the officer said, when Premium Times told him that his “discussion” could put him into trouble with the police authorities. I am in thank-you mode. I have accepted my fate. For posterity, I think it was also not a bad idea that they knew how I felt.

“Hopefully, we pray the system could correct itself. I know the system might come against me. I meant no harm.”
Presently, Magistrates in Cross River State are protesting the non-payment of salaries for 24 months. Among the photos trending online is that of Safiya Iyeh Ashipu, of the Chief Magistrate Court Odukpani and her two sons holding placards in front of the state governor’s office. Her sons’ placards bore entreaties for the governor to pay their mum’s salary.

It beggars imagination that a system will allow a woman holding such a sensitive position to work without pay for two years. She is a single mother of two kids. Sadly, the authorities appear not to have contemplated the danger and possibility of magistrates selling judgments in other to feed.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that 30 magistrates dressed in their full regalia embarked on the peaceful protest on Monday. The jurists, including 11 from Obudu, where the State Governor Ben Ayade comes from, were drawn from the 18 council areas of the state.

Speaking to journalists, Chief Magistrate, Solomon Abuo said the protest became imperative over what he described as a failed dialogue while engaging with the relevant arms of government.

“As we speak, we are all sitting magistrates manning different courts in the state, dispensing justice for the peace and tranquillity of our state, Cross River. We kept on waiting for the state government to pay us our salary and some persons will be asking why are we protesting.

“We decided not to protest all this while in order to give peace a chance by dialoguing with the government. Dialogue has failed.

“We have written to the executive arm of government through the Secretary to the State Government, the Attorney General of the state.

“We have written to the legislative arm of government through the Speaker, Cross River State House of Assembly on this matter, up till now no salaries,” he said.

Meanwhile, Magistrate Richard Bassey on Tuesday collapsed at the gate of the governor’s office in Calabar during the protest.

As condemnations trail the non-payment of magistrates salaries in Cross Rivers and the enthronement of mediocrity in the polity, Mr. Jibrin Samuel Okutepa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) has said the legal profession may be heading towards extinction.

Okutepa, in a statement said the judiciary is no longer independent. He also faulted Governor Ayade who said he would not pay the salaries as he did not give approval for their appointment.

According to the Senior Advocate, Ayade lacks powers to approve appointment of magistrates as such powers lie with the State Judicial Service Commission.

“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.

“Yesterday 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 30 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. ”

But Okutepa held: “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 nowhere 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.”
Mr. Okutepa then called on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), to take action.

“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.” he said.

Last month a military court martial in Abuja convicted a former Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Major-General Olusegun Adeniyi, over a leaked video which showed poor conditions of soldiers and challenges advancing into the dreaded Alagarno forest area of Borno State.

The tribunal also found him guilty of violating social media guidelines and ruled he be demoted by at least three years. It also sentenced him to 28 days in jail with hard labour.

It has been said that rather than strive to perfect the works of our heroes past, Nigeria tramples on the memories of these men and women and even spit on their graves. Who will make sacrifices for Nigeria?
Ms Okenwa, a lawyer, journalist, film maker, is the editor-in-chief of ‘Law and Society magazine.

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