There is palpable tension in Kogi State as a result of the death of one of the directors working in the State judiciary.
Mr. Zekery Aguye, a Magistrate and Deputy Chief Registrar (Litigation), died after losing the battle to prostate cancer.
He died at the National Hospital, Abuja, where he was initially being treated before he was forced to discontinue the treatment due to his inability to offset his medical bills.
Asked to confirm the news of the death, the Chief Registrar of the High Court, Mr Yahaya Adamu, who was practically crestfallen, narrated the pathetic and unfortunate circumstances that led to the death of the director whom he described as one of the best hands in the state judiciary.
“I am very sorry to say that even as we subscribe to the will of Almighty Allah, who gives and takes life, you and I know certainly that sometimes there are deaths that are evitable. In this particular one, we feel it may have been further delayed if we had continued to manage his ailment as we were doing in the past before the judiciary was financially grounded.”
Pressed to expatiate further, he said the battle over Mr. Aguye’s life started since two years ago when he was diagnosed of the disease.
He said with quick appropriate response and the concerted attention of the family and the judiciary, the deceased received the right and necessary medical treatment.
According to him, e was taken to the National Hospital where he was treated to the extent that he even started driving his car by himself having survived the critical period of the illness that also affected his spine.
“You see, when it all started, we thought it was one of those usual ailments. But when it became obvious that he needed to be handled by specialists we headed for the National Hospital. You will agree with me that treatment there’s highly capital intensive. So, in conjunction with the family and other well-wishers, he was revived to Allah’s glory.
“He was subsequently placed on drugs and periodic examinations by the hospital which we consistently complied with. This process costs between 400,000 and 500,000 thousand Naira monthly, depending on the result of the tests. By the grace of God and with the cooperation of the family and others we were coping with the management of the illness.
” However, we started having problems with his treatment as from the middle of last year when Kogi State Judiciary started facing funding crises. At this point, his salary, allowances and even the little assistance the judiciary was giving him ceased to come. The care suddenly became the exclusive responsibility of the wife and the family alone.
“You’ll surely agree with me that couple with the children’s demands, it will be difficult for the wife to bear this enormous burden. As a matter of fact, before he finally gave up the ghost, he was withdrawn from the National Hospital for lack of fund! It’s at the critical point of his death that he was rushed back to the hospital by which time, it was already too late.
“So I will like to use this medium to ask well-meaning Nigerians to plead with His Excellency, Governor Yahaya Bello, to save Kogi judiciary and the state from similar calamities by releasing the judiciary funds so we can pay the nine months we are owing our workers. As I speak with you, many others are hospitalized, their children withdrawn from schools and some even homeless resulting from tenancy problems with their respective landlords” the Chief Registrar added.
As he declined to comment on the industrial action declared by the Kogi State chapter of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), DAILY POST sought the views of the Chairman, Comrade Emmanuel Waniko, who also felt that Mr Aguye’s death cannot be entirely divorced from the non-payment of judiciary workers’ salaries since July 2018 which now amounts to nine months.
He said the union was still shocked and mourning the unexpected demise of the director. He said nobody in the judiciary would have contemplated losing him now when he was believed to have survived the critical period of the illness and was recuperating.
Linking the death to the ongoing strike resulting from unpaid salaries, he recalled the content of the affidavit he deposed to in the case instituted against Governor Bello and the state Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Nasiru Ajanah, at the National Industrial Court by the union before this tragic incident.
He noted that he had stated there that “the staff of Kogi State Judiciary are hungry, sick and disillusioned without any hope as to know when the subventions will be released to pay their salaries and emoluments.”
To buttress that, he asked: “So, is this kind of condition not traumatic enough for even the healthy not to talk of somebody just recovering from such a sickness as cancer? Mark you, we have also lost, similar circumstances, Mr. Benjamin Ameloko, an Area Court Judge and Mr. Isah Salifu, a member of the Upper Area Court.”
Continuing, the Chairman said it has come to the right time that the state government realise that no amount of deliberate and systematic depletion of the Magistrates, Judges and workers of the judiciary would make the union succumb to subverting the judiciary, as an institution, to the whims and caprices of a single individual at the expense of the Nigerian constitution, the laws of Kogi State and the responsibilities given to the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.
Recalling the genesis of the three-months-old strike which commenced since December last year and the state governor’s responses so far, he said the union had no other option than to embark on the strike when after non-release of subventions for payment of salaries and overhead costs for six months, workers could no longer go to work and offices were no longer conducive for working due to lack of basic working materials like stationery.
He said the union was surprised to hear the governor mention, during his budget presentation in January 2019, after being owed six months salaries resulting in the declaration of the strike in December, that the issue of table-payment or staff data capturing became conditions upon which staff would be paid their legitimately earned salaries.
He said the state government has refused to pay judiciary its subventions and have demonstrated that neither the plight of judiciary workers nor the citizens suffering from the closure of the courts mattered by blatantly refusing to constitute any negotiation team with JUSUN as obtained in sane climes.
“Instead, the governor chose to further abuse our sensibilities on 8th March 2019, the second time he Will speak on the strike, in the text of his address to the people of Kogi State on the eve of the State’s House of Assembly election.
“To us, it is the peak of insensitivity and man’s psychological oppression and inhumanity to man when you owe somebody his legitimate due and you keep asking the person to tow a particular path before you will pay him!
“This, to us, is unacceptable especially when you know very well that the path you have asked for is illegal and unknown to law. When you are the one that constituted the Judicial Service Commission that is saddled with the responsibility of constantly verifying the composition of the judiciary workers which it is doing periodically, how do you turn around to usurp that power from them?
“If I may ask, if it is not a deliberate and calculated design to punish the judiciary and its workers without provocation, when has it become the responsibility of the state’s House of Assembly to intervene in industrial matters? When we were agitating for N30,000 minimum wage or when ASUU declared strike did the Federal Government resort to the National Assembly or it constituted negotiation teams on the two occasions? That’s sincerity of purpose if I may say.
“But in our own case, and after owing us for eight months and aware that our members are dying of hunger and sickness and cannot pay school fees and house rents, the governor said, just to further torture us mentally, that our salaries are in the bank and if we want it, we must first obey his command. You know what it means if you put some maize in a cocked but transparent bottle and you ask the chicken to feed from it? That’s exactly what he means.
“We are yet to know how our request for unpaid salaries amounts to politicization nor how our insistence on respect for the rule of law and separation of powers translates to “politicization of institution” except there’s something else we don’t know that we’re suffering from” he said.
He also quoted the Kogi State governor saying: His Excellency also said “The refusal of the leadership of the Kogi State Judiciary to forward their staff payroll for the Pay Parade with the collusion of JUSUN leaders is well documented.”
“On our part, we’re in no collusion with anybody but we’re always prepared to abide by any rules or working conditions recommended or stipulated by the Judicial Service Commission of Kogi State which members were appointed by the governor. This is in line with the principles guiding the operations of the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the Legislative Service Commission. Asking for the take-over of our salary payment by agents of the executive connotes a dangerous motive that targets the emasculation of the judiciary which is detrimental to the fearless administration of justice in Kogi State” he said.
Comrade Waniko also maintained that rather than petitioning the National Judicial Council against the Hon. Chief Judge as disclosed by the governor, it would have been better off complying with the provisions of the constitution by releasing the funds of the judiciary to the heads of courts and allowing the Auditor-General of the state to audit the accounts of the judiciary when it is due.
“No law of this country lays any condition precedent to such release. It is, therefore, an illegality for the government to act contrary to the rule of law by keeping the funds accruing to the judiciary in the bank.
“So, as we have buried the deceased and are still mourning, we plead that if truly, “monies amounting to several months salaries due to Kogi State Civil Servants working in the Judiciary are sitting in the banks as said by His Excellency, he should kindly order the payment of judiciary subventions to avoid further agonies” the JUSUN Chairman pleaded.