Our attention has been drawn to both the press release from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Imo State Branch signed by its Chairman, Bar L.U.N Nwakaeti, and a shallow response from the Imo State Government issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo.
Both press releases clearly justify the truthful claim of His Excellency Dr Ikedi Ohakim that the Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, is owing the Judges of Imo State their 16 months salary.
And whereas Dr Ikedi Ohakim does not pursue vainglory or claim vindication, even though it is obvious that he has been vindicated, he is glad that once again only the truth can survive.
We had expected that the intervention from the NBA would make the Governor sober and act accordingly, but characteristically they are playing on semantics to deceive the gullible and absolve themselves of the blame of owing Judges and the responsibility of paying them.
Government is an oracle and should not be run by deceit, like what is going on in Imo State under Governor Okorocha.
It is absurd that the Imo State Government seems not to know what salary, remuneration or emolument means. We are not surprised therefore that the civil servants in the state and pensioners have continued to suffer all kinds of maltreatment due to clear misconception of what the civil service is and what their salaries are.
Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment or managed a corporate organization knows that there is something called Basic Salary and Allowances. Both the Basic Salary and Allowances come on monthly basis and form what is called worker's salary, remuneration or emolument.
If Okorocha has any corporate environment experience he would have known that the worker's pay slip clearly states the components of his salary, emolument or remuneration. They are not distinguishable. Otherwise, we would ask Governor Okorocha to tell the public how Imo State civil servants are paid, whether their salaries are different from the allowances, and whether they are paid separately.
It is a shame that the Okorocha government does not understand what primary school pupils already know, that allowances are portions, parts or components of the salary, and that Basic Salary and Allowances make the whole sum called Salary, even when the NBA went the extra mile to explain it in elementary terms by naming the specifics.
For emphasis, we quote generously from the pending suit against the Governor on the matter in suit no NICN/OW/58/2017, where the NBA on behalf of the Judges asked the court "Whether the practice whereby the respondents withhold funds from the CONSOLIDATED REVENUE FUND meant for the payment of PART of the REMUNERATIONS and other ENTITLEMENTS of sitting Judges of Imo State High Court and the Judges of of the Customary Court of Appeal of Imo State is not in breach of the Oath of office of the 1st respondent as the Governor of Imo State who swore to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria".
The NBA went on to pray the court for: "A declaration that the practice whereby the respondents withhold or refuse to pay to the sitting Judges of Imo State High Court and the Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal of Imo State that PORTION OF THEIR REMUNERATION released for that from the CONSOLIDATED REVENUE FUND for that purpose is illegal, unconstitutional and constitute a barrier to the proper administration of Justice in Imo State.
"A declaration that the practice whereby the respondents withhold or refuse to pay the sitting Judges of the Imo State High Court and the Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal that PORTION of [their] REMUNERATION released to the respondents from the Consolidated Revenue Fund as a derogation to the intendments of section 4,5,6,81 and 84 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, the Imo State Appropriation Law, the Imo State approved budget for 2016 and 2017 and other judicial authorities".
It is absurd, therefore, that in the light of the truth and the NBA intervention, instead of being remorseful and apologizing to Imo people and taking quick actions to pay the Judges, especially when the money has been released from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, Governor Okorocha is living larger than life and behaving like a god and drawing the Honourable Judges and the sacred temple of Justice to the mud.
It is equally absurd that the state government said it would consult its record to confirm whether it owes the Judges or not, even though the NBA had dragged the Governor to the Industrial Court 6 months ago, and government lawyer had entered appearance with a preliminary objection. Moreover, the Governor had a meeting with the Judges lasting more than 3 hours on the same matter last week, with the Governor talking down on the Judges and bullying them. If the payment of the Judges' salaries was not the agenda of the meeting the Governor should avail the public the agenda of the meeting with the Judges.
To exhibit the level of ignorance of not knowing what constitute the salary of a worker or to try to play on semantics is shameful, sheer mischief and playing to the gallery.
Okorocha is not the first Governor of Imo State and he is not the only one that knows how the Judges are paid, and what constitute their salary. The Judges perform very critical functions not only for the survival and growth of democracy but also for the peace and stability of the society, and they deserve to be paid.
It is worthy of mention, however, that while His Excellency Dr Ikedi Ohakim was Governor of Imo State between 2007 and 2011 no Judge was owed any portion of his salary; same way the civil servants enjoyed their full salary regularly and on time. Pensioners too got their pay on time and regularly, and Dr Ikedi Ohakim did not have to resort to the illegality of slashing pensioners pension, even though that government operated during the time of world economic meltdown. He kept all his obligations, including those with contractors. That was why no contract failed and no contractor ran away with state fund during his tenure.
Imo Judges do not deserve to go through the pains of going to the court to get their emolument paid to them. A worker deserves his pay and it is wicked to withhold any worker's salary under any guise.
His Excellency Dr Ikedi Ohakim restates that no matter the nomenclature the Governor finds convenient, if by the end of March the Judges are not substantially paid he will mobilise Imo people to a protest to press home the urgent need to pay the Judges.
Chief Press Secretary to Dr Ikedi Ohakim.