Cross River Governor, Ben Ayade has asked the 29 Magistrates who were engaged by the State in 2019 from the private bar to forfeit their two years salary owed them.
This was disclosed in a letter obtained by this Newspaper on Tuesday wherein the 29 Magistrates who were recently directed to stop presiding over cases by the acting Chief Judge wrote the Governor rejecting the offer.
45 Magistrates were sworn in by the immediate past Chief Judge of the Cross River State High Court, Justice Michael Edem on February 3, 2019 and have since worked without pay or due remuneration.
29 were called from private practice while the other 16 were either convertions or transfer of service especially from the Ministry of Justice.
The salaries of the 16 who were already civil servants were paid and never upgraded while the 29 who were from the private bar, are yet to get a dime.
And, following negotiations, Mr. Ayade relied on his old tactic of asking them to forfeit unpaid salaries, a strategy he used for about 3,000 workers delisted from the payroll of the State, staff of the College of Health Technology among others
In their reply, representatives of the Magistrates wrote: “May we appreciate you for your understanding of our plight and the steps you have taken to ensure the resolution of this lingering issue of the non-payment of our salaries through the oral communication we got from the Hon. Attorney-General of our State.
“However, we wish to humbly state that forfeiting our 24 months salaries to enable you pay us from January 2021 will cause us great hardship, owing to the fact that we are heavily indebted to banks, schools, landlords, money lenders and loans from friends and family for our survival in the past 2 years.
“Your Excellency, nevertheless, we are open to accept a one (1) year lump sum payment and thereafter, the balance could be staggered in the subsequent months.”
Some of the Magistrates including Safiyah Ashipu, alongside her two kids, took to the streets to protest.
The Attorney General, Mr. Tanko Ashang is reported to have intervened and after pleading with the Magistrates to shelve their action, claimed that their appointments were fraudulent.
He is said to have attempted to arm twist the Magistrates into accepting that their appointment did not follow due process in a ‘Save Our Souls’ letter dated January 7, 2021. Some kicked against it and that was shelved. But, Mr. Ashang is said to have insisted that two paragraphs be altered.
However, on January 14, 2021, a letter signed by the Registrar of the High Court of Cross River State, Edem Okokon and dated January 4, 2021 said the acting Chief Judge, Justice Effiom Eyo-Ita had directed that the Magistrates sworn in on February 3, 2019 should stop sitting in court until the issue concerning their salaries were resolved.