“We have been surviving through loans we obtained from banks, money lenders, friends and family. We also get assistance from some family members and friends who are already weary of carrying our burdens in addition to theirs.
“For me, I got bank loans and borrowed from people. We have been embarrassed several times. I got a loan to pay for rent, now my rent is due again. I am indebted to Sterling Bank, where I borrowed some money from in December 2019 to pay rent. I owe banks and people over N3million.
“We have been working without a salary for 24 months. We have our family members to cater for. The effect of this lingering issue on our families is better imagined than experienced.
“Our children suffer the humiliation of being driven from school because we cannot pay their school fees. Feeding our families has been very difficult and humiliating.”
Those were the lamentations of Chief Magistrate Solomon Abuo of Court 15 and spokesman of the 29 new Magistrates in Cross River State, who, for the past three weeks, have been having a running battle with the state government over their two years unpaid salaries.
Finding it difficult to cope with the situation, the Magistrates took to the streets between January 4 and 6, urging government to pay their salaries, given the sufferings they are passing through.
As a result, the state government has asked them to stop coming to work, pending when their matter is resolved. But most of them believe the ‘stop work’ order is part of strategy by government not to pay them the two years arrears when the matter is resolved.
Abuo, on behalf of the affected Magistrates, said government’s order on them to stop work until the issues are resolved is not the solution to the problem, but rather adds to it, as they are lots of cases pending before them. “We have lots of accused persons we sent to prison on remand. What is their fate? They are also suffering as a result of this problem.”
Asked of their next line, he said: “We are waiting till the end of this month. If salaries are paid and we are not paid the current month’s salary and our two years arrears, we would resume our protest.
“Our employment was not illegal or fraudulent. The state Judicial Service Commission (JSC) advertised for the vacancy for the magistracy. When we saw the public notice, we bought the forms and we applied. We were screened, interviewed and those of us who were successful were sworn-in by the Chief Judge of Cross River State, who is also the Chairman of the State JSC.
“After our swearing-in, we were sent for training by the state judiciary for about three months and that included a one-week induction course in Abuja and we were issued certificate of participation by the National Judicial Institute (NJI). Upon returning to the state, we were posted to different courts and we resumed sitting.
“To my knowledge, what was expected of us was done. Ours was to follow the process, apply for the job and make ourselves available to be screened. When we were not paid, we wrote series of letters to the government, we wrote to the office of the Secretary to the State Government, the JSC and the House of Assembly, and they are all aware of it.”
“For about three times, the state government had set up different screening exercise and we participated. If there were anything, they would have made it public since.”
Regarding the effect of judgments they had delivered in the last two years on the people and judiciary, the Magistrates spokesman stated: “Our judgments are valid and still subsisting until they are upturned on appeal.
“But if government continues to say that our employment was fraudulent, then they would incur lots of suits from lawyers who will go to court to have all our decisions reversed and ask for compensation for their clients.”
On some of his colleagues trying to sabotage their collective effort, Abuo said: “It has been brought to our notice that a colleague, in collusion with the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, is scheming to write a letter with the name of at least 20 of us and send same to the governor as representing those who have accepted to forfeit their two years salaries.
“We wish to set the records straight by stating that on Tuesday, January 19, this year, we held an emergency meeting where we resolved that we were not going to forfeit our 24 months salaries as proposed by the attorney general.
“Sequel to this, we wrote a letter, dated January 19, this year, to the governor through the Attorney General, where we clearly refused to accede to that request, but rather stated, inter alia, that nevertheless, we are open to accept a one year lump sum payment and thereafter, the balance could be staggered in subsequent months.”
“However, the attorney general refused to receive and transmit this letter to the governor.
“Thus, we are notifying the press and the general public to disregard any statement or documents expressing a different position from that which we hold, unless it is duly signed by my humble self and/or my colleague, Arit Edem, the only recognised representatives of the 29 Magistrates appointed from the private Bar in February 2019.
“However, we are having meetings with such persons to make them see reasons why they should not sell us out. We will only achieve our goals if we are united. We are sorting those issues as we speak.”