No thanks to the uncharitable posture of the governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the justice administration system in the state is yet to pick up almost two weeks after the suspension of the over four months strike declared by the state’s branch of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to demand for payment of ten months’ salary arrears.
There are indications that the governor has refused to the relevant agencies in the state to release any fund to the judiciary for it to reopen the courts and also prepare its staffs for the anticipated data capturing or screening exercise which the governor had repeatedly said was responsible for his withholding funds due to the judiciary.
Governor Bello had also said, during the presentation of his 2019 budget before the state’s House of Assembly last year, that the salaries of judiciary workers were lying idly in the banks the union’s strike action had hindered payment of salaries owed judiciary workers.
Stakeholders in the state are worried at the unenthusiastic reaction of the executive arm towards realising the much-flogged objectives of the data capturing exercise after JUSUN has suspended its strike.
More also, those on the side of the executive are already disturbed that that the sympathy the governor said he had for the striking judiciary workers may soon become a ruse if nothing is being seen done to demonstrate that.
However, investigations conducted by our correspondent show that virtually all the courts in the state are not fully-functional and are therefore not performing their duties as majority of the staffs are yet to resume work.
Asked why the situation is like that, one of the few staffs seen around who craved anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter, said the reason is not unconnected with lack of fund on both the parts of the office and the workers.
“You know the offices have been shut down for some months now and they will require thorough cleaning and even extensive fumigation to be conducive for staffs’ she said.
These offices must have been reptiles-infected now I am sure. On thr other hand too, I am aware that even before JUSUN went on strike, the offices could no longer afford to buy common stationery any more. So how do you expect the offices to function or the people who have not been paid ten months salaries to come to work?” he asked.
A legal practitioner in the state who said he had rushed to file papers at the high court headquarters Lokoja after the suspension of the strike said he met disappointment.
He confirmed that the courts in the state were yet to regain momentum.
Pressed for his view on the likely cause, he said he learnt reliably that the strange lackadaisical attitude of the workers was due to financial constraints.
He went further to say that it was already in public domain that the judiciary had made overtures to the governor through ythe Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Mrs. Folashade Ayoade Arike, without any tangible response from her noting that the situation is not helpful to the judiciary and the state.
Speaking on the implications of what is happening in the state, he said in the first place, contrary to the directive of the National Judicial Council (NJC), that the two arms should work together to quickly resolve the impasse by agreeing on the modality to adopt in conducting the data capturing or screening of judiciary staffs, the executive arm is acting in such manner that connotes a wrong notion that the NJC has asked the judiciary to submit itself to the whims and caprices of the executive completely.
In the same vein, a source in the judiciary also confirm that the judiciary has since constituted a 19-man committee which was expected to interface and work with its counterpart from the executive but it got its first shocker when the joint committee was to have its inaugural sitting.
He said the SSG insisted on meeting with only the Chief Registrars and Directors of finance of the three courts.
It was also disclosed that the judiciary has since requested the executive for the release of one month subvention without any positive response.
This was intended to be used to pay workers one month salary so as to get them prepared for the exercise and to also allow the judiciary make its offices ready after been shut for over four months. All these have met a brick-wall as the request appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
We gather that rather than address issues raised in the request, the SSG said the governor has insisted on the conduct of the data capturing exercise before any other thing; which means all judiciary workers must first make themselves available for the screening if they want to be cleared for their salaries.
In addition to this, when told that the judiciary is also finding it difficult to procure necessary office consumables like stationery and computer accessories that would even help the cause of the exercise, she directed that the judiciary should move all its computer systems to her office while also offering to make five thousand naira available to purchase duplicating papers to get the judiciary payrolls printed out as complained by the judiciary.
Aside saying this was personal magnanimity, she said her only instruction was to only take the steps necessary to clear thise judiciary staffs who would be lucky to be paid and not payment of any subvention for salary.
In our bid to cross check with the SSG who was unfortunately unavailable, a source close to the development reveals that the NJC may have played the judiciary and its workers into the hands of the executive as the institution and its workers were now being intimidated and pushed around by the SSG who is coordinating the reconciliation process on behalf of the state government.
Another source in the same office said the many meetings that have been held in her office seem to have produced nothing concrete.
Rather, he said there is a semblance of a concerted effort to either humiliate or force the judiciary to submission which, according to the highly placed source, undermines the peace initiative of the NJC.
Referring to the communications between the two arms, the source said the response of the SSG to the letter written by the judiciary to plead for the release of one month subvention to enable its workers prepare for the data capturing was not palatable.
He said whereas the judiciary pleaded for the one month subvention to be able to pay workers’ one month salary, the SSG only noted that the data capturing exercise was meant to ensure probity and accountability in the state while also stating that the government was prepared to bear this cost of the exercise without showing any concern for the one month workers’ salary requested.
“To me as a civil servant, this does not show any desire for truce or interest in the welfare of workers” said the source.
Now that it has become notable that the SSG’s response is not commensurate with the turned-down appeal for the release of one month subvention to pay judiciary workers, it is uncertain which path the judiciary will take considering its earlier stand on self-verification through the Judicial Service Commission before the intervention of the NJC.