Monday, 18 January 2021

Cross River Government Withdraws 29 Protesting Magistrates Amid 24-Month Unpaid Salary


The Cross River State Acting Chief Judge (CJ), Justice Effiom Eyo-Ita, has suspended from his seat the 29 magistrates who took to the streets of Calabar on Monday and Tuesday last week to protest Governor Ben Ayade's failure to pay their two-year salary.

 It should be recalled that on Monday, 4 January, Senior Magistrate Safiya Iyeh Ashipu of the Odukpani Magisterial Division led her two sons to the Government House, Calabar, with placards of different inscriptions, requesting the Governor to pay her unpaid 24-month salary. 

Following her actions, 28 other of her colleagues joined her at the governor's office in outrage protest against the non-payment of their salaries for 24 months.

Wearing their full regalia. One of them, Richard Bassey, collapsed during the protest and was revived by his other peers. While Governor Ayade, through his media assistant, Christian Ita, said that the magistrates were irregularly recruited into the judiciary as he (Ayade) did not sign off on the final engagement order, State Attorney General and Commissioner Tanko Ashang, had announced their recruitment into the state judiciary during and interaction with the representatives of the protesting magistrates.

The fourth acting chief judge, whose tenure expires within five days, had argued that the fate of the 29 magistrates could only be decided by Ayade, as all the appeals for the governor to pay them had failed. As at press time, no clear provision had been made to pay off the 24-month salary arrears of the magistrates affected who have now been suspended from their respective divisions. 

This was just as no one could volunteer information about what will happen to Justice Eyo-Ita, the fourth Acting Chief Judge to be named by Ayade, who after the former Chief Judge, Justice Michael Edem, retired on November 29, 2019, has declined to name a substantive Chief Judge for the state. 


While Edem had declared Justice Akon Ikpeme upon his retirement, Governor Ayade had rooted for Justice Maurice Eneji to succeed Edem in breach of the order of seniority in the state judiciary, the next in rank to him as Acting Chief Judge. However, justification prevailed and Ayade later swore in Justice Ikpeme for a period of three months in the capacity to act. The governor, having reconstituted the State Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on November 27 in an effort to make Justice Eneji the Chief Judge, named Justice Agbojo Ogar (rtd) as chairman instead of the then sitting Chie Judge, Edem, who walked out of the inauguration in protest. 

Eventually, the commission suggested Eneji, but the whole state stood up against it.  In the order of Justices AKon Ikpeme, Maurice Eneji (twice) and the new Effiom Eyo-Ita, who has five days left as Acting CJ, Governor Ayade has named other Acting Chief Judges at the end of the three months, while the right successor, Justice Ikpeme, is still in service. 

The Nigerian Tribune found that although Ikpeme is originally from Akwa Ibom State, she is married to a man from the Cross River. Her father had served in the Cross River State civil service and retired as a Permanent Secretary. In all its operations, the trend has prompted the National Judicial Council (NJC) to blacklist Cross River State, maintaining that the order of seniority must be strictly observed.