By Yekini Jimoh
The Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) put in place by the Acting Chief Judge of Kogi State, Hon. Justice Josiah Joe Majebi has received 216 complaints from aggrieved staff and former staff of Kogi State High Court.
The committee was inaugurated in July this year by the Acting Chief Judge to look into staff complaints arising from appointments, promotions, and seniority.
The Chairman of the committee, Hon. Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye, while submitting the report to the Acting Chief Judge said the 6-man committee painstakingly and critically looked into complaints by staff and came up with recommendations for the CJ and members of the Kogi State Judicial Service Commission to study and implement.
He noted that the committee of the state’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was saddled with the responsibility of evaluating and appropriately recommending the performances of Magistrates and Area Court Judges in the state.
Justice Ajileye said the committee received complaints from 216 aggrieved staff and former staff of the High Court.
In the Final Report submitted which consisted of five volumes, the committee observed a high level of resentment amongst staff and commended the CJ for taking interest in the matter.
“The sheer number of such complaints received (216) suggests the level of agitations, resentments, grievances, and grudges prevalent amongst the staff of the court over the subjects of promotions, appointments, and seniority.
“The setting up of this Committee to address the complaints, therefore, is the right step in the right direction. We commend Your Lordship for being sensitive to the complaints of your subordinates and taking a proactive step towards addressing them so soon upon your appointment as the Ag. Chief Judge of Kogi State,” said the Chairman.
He noted that the executive summary of the report indicated that the committee treated each complaint individually, and recommended “as considered appropriate for each case in the interest of service” even as the committee “strove to be fair, consistent, and transparent in treating each complaint on its merit and used the same parameters to treat similar cases.”
The report which categorized cadres of the institution, with various observations peculiar to each, noted that Magistrates in the state were traumatized by events of promotion and seniority leading to distrust.
“It’s a Magistracy overwhelmed by wranglings, complaints, and agitations over promotions, placements, appointments, supersession, and seniority. There were also complaints of unequal treatment or lack of uniform treatment of similar complaints. This factual setting has brought about distrust amongst the Magistrates” he said.
Giving further insight into these complaints which he classified as a “class action”, he said new Magistrates were appointed to supersede their colleagues without recourse to years of service which also erroneously made them superior to some Area Court Judges despite their performing the same functions of adjudication at the lower courts.
“We received complaints from Magistrates over appointment of Magistrates from the Registry, or outside the service, who were made to supersede their colleagues in service with the same qualifications and who were called to Bar at the same time or even in later years, without regard to the latter’s years of service.
“We found Magistrates who have stagnated on the same Grade Level for upwards of ten years, on account of a change of cadre from Registry to the Area Court bench and later to Magistracy. We found no justification for this. It is often forgotten that Magistrates and Area Court Judges perform the same function – adjudication – at different levels.
“Magistrates are not equally treated. We found that there exists a selective treatment of complaints of Magistrates. Some Magistrates were found to have had their complaints attended to while the complaints of others remain ignored. This kind of preferential treatment is detrimental to the system” he added.
While recommending “that such matters relating to seniority list be handled by a professional body with experience in the Magistracy and application of service rules, in the appointment of Magistrates from outside or within service, due consideration should be accorded the dates of Call to Bar, which shall be streamlined along the date of entry into the service in order to minimize complaints of supersession. New appointees within the same categories of Call to Bar years should be made to queue behind the Magistrates in service” according to the committee.
The report also observed amongst the Area Court Judge, complaints bordering on areas that resulted in dissatisfaction when he said:
“There was a class of Area Court Judges who were stripped of their status and financial benefits as Area Court Judges. Over time, some of them were restored to their positions, but others were not.”
Relatedly too, “there is another class of Area Court Judges holding LLB and BL qualifications and are performing the functions of Area Court Judges but are not being accorded the benefits of Area Court Judges.”
Aside from these, and on general observations, the Committee said it “found many cases in which appointments or promotions of officers made or confirmed by the JSC (were) reversed by letters written by the Chief Registrar of the High Court (and) considered this action as an anomaly. It is the view of the Committee that the Chief Registrar of the High Court lacks the power to write to reverse appointments made by the JSC.”
Furthermore, on selective promotions and normalization of appointments of staff, the committee said it appeared there was no established standard followed in promoting and normalizing staff appointments as it “observed arbitrary promotions and selective normalization of staff appointments without regard to seniority.”
Likewise, it received “a plethora of complaints of non-payment of annual increments and recommends the restoration of payment of the annual increment in salaries of staff as a way of motivating the staff.” It also recommended that “a class of retired officers who were due for promotion before their retirements (that) complained to the Committee on compassionate grounds (should) be granted their promotions which became due before their exit from service for the purpose of pension.”
The exclusion of some staff from the 2020 promotion exercise also received the attention of the committee which observed that quite a number of staff were excluded from the exercise and suggested that “all such staff entitled to promotion and so omitted should be promoted and paid arrears.”
Hon. Justice Ajileye concluded in the course of submitting the report that there was evidence of favoritism and partiality in the appointments and promotions done in the past but however expressed confidence in the ability of the Acting Chief Judge to right the wrongs as a fair-minded person especially after the committee had applied the principles of fairness, equity, independence, and transparency.
“There is no doubt that the 216 complaints treated, in many cases, evince the existence of unfair treatment, cheating, partiality, favoritism, and influence of godfathers.
“My Lord, we have absolute confidence in your capacity and disposition to right the wrongs, as a fair-minded person (and) hope that with the Committee’s application of principles of fairness, equity, independence, and transparency, Your Lordship will ensure the implementation of the Committee’s Recommendations,” he concluded