IMO JUDICIARY AND MINIMUM WAGE

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The Judiciary is an arm of government that is charged with the responsibility of interpretation of laws and settlement of disputes. It is commonly called ‘the last hope of the common man’. It also performs some other functions like probate matters, authentication of documents etc.

 

Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigerian (as Amended) vests Judicial Powers of the Federation in the courts. In Imo State, Judicial Powers is accordingly vested in the Imo State Judiciary made up of the High Courts, Customary Court of Appeal, Magistrate’s Court, Customary Courts and the Judicial Service Commission. While the courts among other functions adjudicate matters, the Judicial Service Commission among other things is saddled with responsibility of seeing to welfare of Judicial Officers and staff of the judiciary.

 

Not too long ago, in order to improve the working conditions of staff of the judiciary in the country, the Body of Chief Judges in Nigeria met and reviewed the conditions of service of staff in the nation’s judiciary. (The staff herein referred to are non-judicial officers). In its communiqué, the said Body of Chief Judges recommended a Consolidated Salary Structure for Judiciary Staff (CONJUSS) in the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory. However, state chapters of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) were given the privilege to go to their different states and territories to negotiate the implementation of the CONJUSS.

 

It should be noted that already, judicial officers which include Judges, Magistrates, Deputy Registrars and above etc are already enjoying a consolidated salary structure nationwide.

 

Accordingly the Imo State Chapter of JUSUN met with the Imo State Government during the Ohakim Regime for the implementation of the CONJUSS in the state. After series of negotiations, the then Ohakim Administration agreed to pay Imo judiciary staff what was called Enhanced Welfare Conditions of Service for all Staff of Imo State Judiciary. Enhanced Welfare Conditions of Service for all Staff of Imo Judiciary is 50% of the benchmark as nationally provided by CONJUSS. It includes allowances for hazard, medical, tools, leave bonus, uniform, outfit and entertainment. Consequently, it brought the minimum wage of judiciary staff in Imo to =N=17,736.25k. Nevertheless, Ohakim’s Government then agreed to upgrade this Enhanced Condition of Service as time and economic convenience would permit.  The agreement was signed and implemented in 2010. Incidentally it is still in force till the time of this write-up.

 

Flowing from the latest =N=18,000.00 Minimum Wage benchmark for public servants in the country enacted into law by the nation’s National Assembly, the Rochas Okorocha-Led Administration in Imo State ironically promised to pay =N=20,000.00 as Minimum Wage to civil servants in the state as against the =N=18,000.00 Minimum Wage provided by the Federal Law. Interestingly, the Okorocha Administration went ahead to implement this =N=20,000 accordingly. But unfortunately, it has not implemented it in the State Judiciary.

 

However, feelers from some quarters in the state judiciary is saying that not too long ago, the =N=20,000 Minimum Wage was reflected in the emoluments of some staff of a particular arm of the state judiciary but its remittance was stopped because it was not reflected in the emoluments of the entire staff of the state judiciary.

 

AGITATING ISSUES

 

I have earlier noted that the Ohakim Administration implemented what was called Enhanced Welfare Conditions of Service for all Staff of Imo State Judiciary which is half of the benchmark as nationally provided by CONJUSS and agreed to upgrade it ‘as time and economic convenience would permit’. Unfortunately, Ohakim’s Administration that struck this deal in 2010 with Imo JUSUN is no longer the present administration in Imo State. Since government is said to be a continuum, does it mean that it is not yet time to implement CONJUSS fully for staff of Imo State Judiciary? Or in the alternative can’t the present government implement the =N=20,000 minimum wage being enjoyed by other civil servants on staff of the State Judiciary?

 

WHAT IS IMO JUSUN DEMANDING?

From investigations, the union is demanding any of the above from the Imo State Government.

 

IS IMO GOVERNMENT AWARE OF THIS DEMAND?

From good authority, I heard that the present government in Imo State has been severally briefed through the Chief of Staff Chief Emma Madumere and the Head of Service that just retired, Mr. Evans Uzokwe.

 

HAS ANYTHING BEEN DONE?

The staffers of Imo Judiciary are in a better position to answer this.

 

THE GATERING STORM

For non-compliance with the above stated demands, the Imo State JUSUN is said to have already exhausted the 21 days and 14 days statutory notices for industrial action without any reasonable positive action by the Imo State Government. Consequently, it is said that the workers are now on the neck of Imo JUSUN for a lock-out.

 

It is very unfortunate that in this part of the world, workers welfare cannot be taken care of without industrial actions. Industrial action is not good because at the end of the day, there will be a lot of casualties which will also include the government. Justice delayed is justice denied. If the JUSUN goes ahead to embark on its threatened strike, the courts will not sit and justice will be delayed accordingly. The lawyers also will be drastically affected because that will amount to ‘embargo on the “all important” transport money’. The general effect will be the continuous loss of confidence of people in the judiciary and the integrity and sanctity which the judiciary is supposed to be known for.

 

WAY FORWARD

 

The Okorocha Administration claims to be a high responsive government to the welfare of Imo citizenry. It has buttressed this by using the cliché ‘My People, My People’. The poser now is, are the staff of Imo Judiciary not included in ‘My People’. Tension is already high among the staff of this arm of government. Therefore, since the Imo State Government has already started good work by implementing the =N=20,000 Minimum Wage, let the ‘merry go round’ because ‘eme nwanyi ka emere ibe ya, obi a diya nma’.

 

1.       Let the Imo State Government create a very sincere and responsive negotiation table to settle the crisis and should not play politics and hide and sick with the issue when possible agreement is reached.

 

2.       JUSUN should also be liberally minded to accept whatever threshold the government can reasonably get at

 

3.       The Chief Judge, Chief Registrar, Nigerian Bar Association and other stake holders in the judiciary should join in the settlement bid with dedication and sincerity and should not leave the whole issue in the hands of JUSUN alone.

 

4.       Agreements if reached should be faithfully and judiciously implemented.

 

It is my belief that if the above and other positive approaches not mentioned here are adopted, the impending doom the proposed industrial action by Imo JUSUN would cause the Imo State Judiciary will be averted