By Innocent ANABA
Striking Magistrates in Lagos State, yesterday said they were left with no other option but to embark on the strike action because of the deplorable condition under which they are forced to work.
Lagos State Magistrates, under the aegis of Magistrates Association of Nigeria,Â Lagos Branch, MANLB, on Thursday, embarked on an indefinite strike action, to protest among other things,Â the suspension of the Lagos Magistrate Court Law 2009 by a Lagos High Court.
Lagos Magistrates in a statement yesterday on why they embarked on the strike said, â€œit is a known fact thatÂ Magistrate Courts are in very deplorable abysmal stateÂ with some Courts situated within local government premises, marketÂ and school premises.
Magistrates are subjected to dangerous and harsh working conditions. The court rooms are not habitable. Cracked walls, caved in ceilings, broken doors and window Panes and sewage leakages are common sight.
â€œSome Magistrates are made to sit in containers under severe and unbearable heat conditions. Electricity is hardly available and no provision is made for generating sets.Â Even where generating sets are provided, they are broken down due to lack of service.
To worsen the situation, most of the chambers lack windows and toilet facilities. The following pictures show the terrible state of most of the courts. â€œGenerally, magistrates are compelled to work under very dirty and unhygienic conditions, which constitute threats to their health. Most court premises have been overtaken by weeds with the resultant effect of exposure of Magistrates to attack from snakes, scorpions and dangerous reptiles. Most affected courts are Epe, Isheri-oke and Ejigbo Magistratesâ€™ courts.”
â€œSome courts sufferÂ The Sabo-Yaba courts are situate within a primary school and church environment thereby making court proceeding almost impossible.”
It is a known fact that magistrate courts do not have automatic recording instruments as a result, they resort to long hands in taking proceedings.
While magistrates have managed to cope with this tedious nature of their jobs with the resultant health hazard, it is shocking that the judiciary has failed to provide adequate and qualitative writing materials for them.
â€œIt is no longer news that lawyers and litigants volunteer to provide such essential writing materials, case files, tags, for the courts which ordinarily should not be. It is a fact that Magistrates presently lack any welfare package commensurate with the status and dignity of the office.
Some of theÂ Magistrates are facing eviction threats, while others cannot afford decent accommodation befittingÂ their status. Majority are without functioning cars as the Kia Rio cars given to us five years ago during the administration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu are now in very bad state.
No Magistrate is provided with a driver, considering the job, long hours of sitting, writing and adjudication and end up on the wheels, travelling from one end of the town to another, faced with the erratic traffic, and recklessness of other road users.
â€œA magistrate suffered a severe stroke sometime last year and his family and friends had to put resources together for his treatment abroad. There is no medical package for magistrates and their remuneration does not allow for the attention their health often requires, due to the hazardous working conditions to which they are exposed.
â€œTheir Honours have been exposed to all sorts of attacks by litigants and miscreants in the course of their duties due to the openness of their chambers. No provision is made for Police Orderlies.
There are no provisions for the regular trainings of Magistrates, both locally and internationally. This is a necessary exercise in ensuring better and greater developments at their various levels.
â€œIt is common knowledge that Magistrates perform over 80% of the judicial work loads in the State being the closest to the grassroot and a court of summary jurisdiction. Most magistrates have over 25 years post call experience with not less than 10 years on the lower bench.
Yet they are hardly considered for appointments to the higher bench. Inspite of their competence and qualifications, only 4 magistrates out of the 120 magistrates in the state, were appointed to the High Court bench in the last 10 years.
â€œThis informed the present administrations resolve to professionalize and institutionalise the magistracy, which unfortunately has been stalled by the suspension of the 2009 Law.
Magistrates in Lagos State are poorly remunerated compared to their colleagues in other states in Nigeria, despite the volume of work and other serious challenges faced by them.