[From CHINEDU NWAFOR, Abakaliki]
Sittings on Civil and criminal cases involving Ebonyi State Government were on Tuesday stalled following the indefinite boycott announced by the leadership of Ebonyi State Chapter of Law Officers Association of Nigeria (LOAN) over what it described as government’s inability and unwillingness to take care of their welfare.
The State Law Officers were present in the Court were seen protesting over what they described as gross and unwholesome neglect of their welfare by the Ebonyi State Government.
The indefinite boycott of court sittings, it was gathered, was part of their strategies to compel the state government to address issues bordering on poor remuneration, non funding of government cases and government refusal to accommodate them in the payment of the National Minimum Wage.
Speaking with Journalists in Abakaliki, the Chairman, Law Officers Association of Nigeria, LOAN, Ebonyi Chapter, Barr. Ogbuinya Ndubuisi, explained that lots of memos and correspondences on the subject matter had been written and sent to the State Government but had not yielded the desired result.
Ogbuinya who is also the Principal State Counsel in the State Ministry of Justice noted that their contemporaries in Enugu, Abia, Anambra and Imo States were being treated better in terms of welfare packages, and appealed to the State Government to look into the welfare of Law officers in the State.
He called on the State Government to urgently look into the issues raised by LOAN as the boycott on Government cases would continue indefinitely till their requests were addressed holistically.
“The Law Officers have been doing their best to conduct Government cases to the best of their ability and won a lot of cases.
“If you go to Enugu Correctional Centre, over 60% of inmates are from conviction secured by Law Officers from the Ministry of Justice, Ebonyi State but the problem is that we do this work with our own resources.
“We virtually take care of everything that has to do with prosecuting Government matter ranging from paying official witnesses to come to court and give witnesses, ranging from paying transportation to different jurisdiction within the state to do Government cases even outside Jurisdiction.
“Most times, when you embark on this journey and come back and write facts about the expenses, you don’t get anything from it but the worst is that there is a document that harmonizes the condition of service of Law Officers and that of Magistrate and Judiciary that took effect from the first Executive Governor of the State.
“That document emanated from the Attorney General of the Federation, wherein our welfare is harmonized with that of the Magistrate and it has been like that until 2 years before Governor Martin Elechi left office. He approved N200,000 to the Magistrate outside allowance, leaving us behind; we have written several Memos to that effect all to no avail.
“The most recent is the 2020 Minimum Wage where every Civil Servants got their stake but we all at the Ministry of Justice were outrightly excluded, not even a kobo was added to us. We used to have two (2) domestic servants but somewhere along the line, they removed one (1) even the remaining one that survived it, it is not worth the circular provided that we are being paid for.
“It may surprise you that in the entire State, we are only 30 Lawyers covering all the Magistrate Courts, all the High Courts, Industrial Courts, all the Federal High Courts, Court of Appeal and so on; the workload is much but there is no commensurate remuneration to that effect.”
When contacted on phone, State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr. Cletus Ofoke said he won’t be able to speak, as he was his way from Enyibichiri village where he went to settle a land dispute.