Abuja—His Lordship, Hon. Justice A. N. Agbakoba of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, sitting in Abuja has declared the deliberate non-payment of salaries to Kogi Judiciary workers as inhuman and degrading treatment, ordered the State government to pay the sum of N1.529b to the judiciary being the outstanding amount due from July 2018 to March 2019.
The court held that the refusal of the Executive to release the amounts standing to the credit of the Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State to the Heads of Courts in the State violates the clear and provisions and intendment of section 121(3) of the Constitution.
The defendants in the case are: the Governor of Kogi State, Attorney-General, Commissioner of Finance, Accountant-general, Auditor-general, Chief Judge of the State, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal, President Customary Court of Appeal and Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and 4 others.
The case was instituted by way of originating summons on 21st March, 2019 in which seven questions were proposed for determination, prominent among which was, whether or not the 1st – 5th defendants have the power to withhold the monthly salaries of the members of the claimant, by withholding the amounts standing to the credit of the 6th-9th defendants in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State and payable to the Heads of Courts under section 121 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) among others, and none of the defendants appeared in court.
Upon reviewing the relevant provisions of the Constitution relating to the doctrine of separation of powers amongst the three arms of government, the powers and roles of the Auditor-General of a state, Heads of Courts and the National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Agbakoba, relying on some judicial authorities, held that the doctrine of separation of powers means that the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary are independent arms of government with their respective functions, subject to checks and balances. According to the Judge, each arm must not encroach on the functions of others as any such invasion must be regarded as unconstitutional.
It was part of the findings of the court that the Nigerian Judiciary is constitutionally guaranteed to be financially independent of the Executive arm of government.
On the question of power control over staff of Kogi State Judiciary, Justice Agbakoba held that by virtue of Paragraph 2(1) Item C Part II of the Third Schedule to the Constitution, since all staff of the Judiciary of Kogi State are appointed by the Judicial Service Commission, who controls their employment, the 1st – 5th defendants are excluded from dealing with their matters. In the light of this fact, the court held that the 1st – 5th defendants have no constitutional power to interfere in the direct payment of workers of the Judiciary, acknowledging section 125 (2) of the Constitution which authorizes the Auditor-General to audit the accounts of the Judiciary as a check on the Judiciary.
As regards the demand of the 1st – 5th defendants that members of the claimant subject themselves to table payment of their salaries for data collection, Justice Agbakoba held that any attempt to pay members of the claimants over, under or on the table, would not only constitute an unfair labour practice but downright illegal as it offends section 1(2) of the Labour Act, 2014.
On the whole, Justice Agbakoba ordered the 1st – 5th defendants to pay, forthwith, the arrears of salaries, allowances, and emoluments of the members of the claimant standing to the credit of the Kogi State Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Kogi State to the Heads of Courts since July 2018.
The Judge also ordered a perpetual injunction, restraining the 1st – 5th defendants from continuing to withhold the salaries, allowances and emoluments of the members of the claimant standing to the credit of the of Kogi State Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Kogi State.
Justice Agbakoba finally restrained the 1st -5th defendants from interfering with the mode of payment of salaries to staff of Kogi State Judiciary, that collection of their salaries by hand from the Executive is illegal and breaches the principle of separation of powers, unconstitutional, null and void.
A consequential order was made directing payment of all payments, including a cost of N200, 000, and 10% interest within 30 days from the date of the judgment.
The court specifically ordered the State government to pay the sum of N1.529b to the judiciary being the outstanding amount due from July 2018 to March 2019.