By Anietie Akpan (Guardian)

The Calabar, Cross River State Division of the National Industrial Court (NIC) has ordered Governor Benedict Ayade to pay magistrates 19 months salary arrears within 60 days.

About 30 magistrates, who had not been paid their two years salaries have been protesting against their unpaid salary arrears, arbitrary removal of their names from the payroll, and others, which led to their sack.

However during the crisis, 13 of the 30 affected magistrates resolved to sue the state government and four others to the Industrial Court of Arbitration in Calabar, and on March 29, 2021, they secured judgment in a suit marked: NICN/CA/46/2019.

The claimants, who are serving magistrates in the Cross River State Judiciary, filed the suit on December 5, 2019, to challenge the whimsical and unceremonious removal of their names from the government payroll.

They were later restored into the payroll in October 2020, but without corresponding payment of accrued arrears.

But in his judgment, Justice M. N. Esowe, granted almost all the reliefs sought by the claimants, including payment of their salary arrears from December 2016 to May 2017 and September 2019 to September 2020, amounting to 19 months.

The court further deprecated Governor Ayade’s removal of the names of civil servants and the claimants from the payroll, saying their employment with statutory flavour was not based on the governor’s wishful thinking.

The court also condemned the defendants for making unauthorised deductions from the claimants’ salaries under the guise of purchasing laptops to improve their efficiency.

The court ordered the defendants to refund all deductions earlier made and a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, their servants, or privies from making further deductions from the claimants’ salaries under the guise of purchasing computers or other deductions without the consent or authorisation of the claimants.

The court, however, declined to award general and exemplary damages as sought by the claimants and 20 per cent post-judgment interest but instead ordered the defendants to comply with the judgment within 60 days.

Co-counsel to the claimants, James Ibor, congratulated his clients and stated that the judgment was a well-deserved victory.

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