By: Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
The judiciary is taken as the last hope of the common man but the judiciary has been befallen by a lot of challenges from: poor welfare for judicial officers (including the Magistrates and the Area Courts and Customary courts judges). Also, the public get disappointed in the judiciary as a result of some alleged misconducts or improper use of judicial powers to the detriment of the administration of justice by some judicial officers or inferior courts such as: the Magistrates and the Area Court judges, among others. corruption is another allegation against the judiciary and lack of transparent and all inclusive appointment of judicial officers on the merit. The currently staged #ENDSARSNOW is a protest geared towards correction of some alleged ills in the Nigerian government especially to bring down the SARS operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, which has lasted for some few days. However, I have continued to have some nightmares on the likelihood of this protest falling back on the judiciary hence, this call for a better judiciary.
The Nigerian government and the National Judicial Council need to set up committees urgently to investigate some of the ills in the entire judiciary and to properly render supports towards resolving all these challenges. No doubt that some officers of the Nigeria Police Force have many times abused the privilege or power or right of seeking court’s remand order against any least suspected suspect including in the case of fabricated allegations of commission of crimes against some innocent Nigerians before some registered or allied Magistrates or Area Courts in a way of dealing with the alleged suspect. This inordinate detention and or arrest is what section 35(1) and (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)-herein after referred to as the Constitution- has made unlawful. Some of these Magistrates and Area Courts judges must be regulated in this regard of granting remand order unjustifiably though, I understand that the judiciary or a court of law is to be an umpire and not intervene in the facts before the courts which have arisen between or among the parties before it, yet, there is need to be just and honest in the use of this judicial powers or discretionary powers of courts.
Furthermore, I had read a publication published by Leadership online of the 6th day of May, 2019, titled ‘Nigeria: Concerns As Judges’ Salaries Remain Static for 12 Years’ in the course of my research, then, I wondered what exactly does the judiciary commit as offence to warrant low and poor emoluments compared with the emoluments of the other two arms of government (i.e. the executive and the legislators)?! These judicial emoluments are even worst for those Magistrates and Area Courts/Customary court’s (inferior courts of records) as they could barely survive the economic hardship. Also, I humbly call for an immediate review upward of the salaries, allowances and other emoluments of all judicial officers (including the inferior courts of record) in Nigeria by the National Assembly (and the State Government where applicable) as the legislators can not claim ignorant of these low emoluments even where their own emoluments, with due respect to them, have severally been reviewed upward and I humbly submit humbly therefore that the “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) (Amendment) Act of 2008” is overdue for an amendment and or repeal and re-enactment to the advantages of judicial officers in Nigeria, and so that it does not amount to an assumption that the judiciary is under a punishment for a particular offence or the other that it has committed that warrant the National Assembly (or the other two arms of government) to mete out such devastating punishment on it. For instance, the following were published by Leaderhsip online news By Ahuraka Isah, on the 6th day of May, 2019, titled ‘Nigeria: Concerns As Judges’ Salaries Remain Static for 12 Years’ ‘A compilation of the annual remunerations of all the 1,067 judges in Nigeria revealed the sum of N8.7billion, the least earned by any of three arms of government. The figure is also, a sharp contrast of the N24billion voted in the 2019 budget as severance package for members of the outgoing 8th National Assembly members.
With the recent resignation of the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen and Justice Sidi Dauda Bage of the Supreme Court, the total number of judges in the country may have dropped to 1,065. While Justice Bage resigned after his appointment as the new Emir of Lafia in Nasarawa State on March 25, 2019, Justice Onnoghen took his exit on April 4, 2019 following the recommendations of the National Judicial Commission (NJC) on April 3, 2019 to President Muhammadu Buhari to compulsorily retire him. Impeccable judicial sources disclosed to LEADERSHIP that the last time the judges’ salaries and allowances were increased was in 2007 following the enactment of the “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) (Amendment) Act of 2008” which came into force on February 1, 2007. The law had repealed a similar Act of 2002 to create room for the increase of judges’ basic salaries, allowances and fringe benefits in 2007. From that time till date, there has not been an upward review of the earnings of judges, the sources said. LEADERSHIP recalls that there are no senior, junior or probating judges within the same court of coordinate jurisdiction. Judges are only promoted from a lower to a higher court, like from the High Court to Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court if there are vacancies occasioned by retirement, resignation or removal. Under the “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) (Amendment) Act, 2008”, the CJN’s annual basic salary is N3,353,972.50 (or N279,497.71 monthly), while other Justices of the Supreme Court and the President of the Court of Appeal receive N2,477,110 as basic annual salary or N206,425.83 monthly. The Justices of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court and President of the Industrial Court, Grand Khadi of State and FCT Sharia Court of Appeal, President FCT and State Customary Court of Appeal earn annual basic salary of N1, 995,430.18 each. Also, judges of the Federal, State and FCT High Courts, National Industrial Court, Khadi Sharia Court of Appeal in the FCT and State; and FCT and State Customary Courts also earn an annual basic salary of N1,804,740 each. The Act also specifies the allowances and fringe benefits payable to judicial officers at the federal and states which are predicated on the annual basic salaries on a percentage basis. The law lists such allowances as accommodation, utilities, domestic staff, entertainment, medical, security, furniture, personal assistance, motor vehicle loan, severance/gratuity and retirement benefits. Others are leave allowance, motor vehicle maintenance and fuel, hardship, newspapers, estacode, duty tour, outfit and special assistant allowances. The Act states that the accommodation, medical, security and special assistant allowances and benefits won’t be paid but provided by the NJC. While the furniture allowance is paid every four years, the leave allowance is earned yearly. The car loan facility is optional; it is a benefit noticed more on paper than what actually gets to the beneficiaries, according to a serving judge, who did not want to be mentioned. While the CJN earns $2,000 estacode when he travels abroad, other Supreme Court Justices and the President of the Court of Appeal earns $1,300 of estacode each. Other judges earn between $600 and $1,100 estacode each. In the event of retirement, the judges’ benefits from CJN down the line are based on the scheme of service. These earnings, according to the Act are exclusive of tax. When the basic salary, allowances and fringe benefits are computed and posted, the CJN and other Justices of the Supreme Court receive a monthly salary of N480, 766.89 and N751, 000 in their bank accounts respectively. The CJN’s net monthly salary is lower than his brother Justices because of deductions made on account of other monetary and material provisions such as food items, which are provided for him by the federal government. Contrary to reports on the nation’s judicial officers’ earnings annually, LEADERSHIP discovered from NJC records that all the judges in the country receive a gross income of N8, 654,954,541.97 or N8.7 billion. While N2, 256, 351, 435.33 ( that is N2.3billion) was paid to the 248 federal judicial officers including the CJN in 2018, the sum of N6, 398, 303, 106.64 (N6.4billion) was paid as salaries and allowances to 819 state judicial officers. This brings the total pay for both the federal and state judicial officers to N8.7billion yearly. A further breakdown showed that the 248 federal judicial officers comprise the CJN, other Justices of the Supreme Court; President of the Appeal Court, other Justices of the appellate court; Justices of the Federal High Court, FCT High Court, National Industrial Court, Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Court of Appeal, and their heads. Also, the 819 judicial officers in the 36 states comprise 70 heads of the courts (that is 36 chief judges, 17 grand khadis and 17 presidents of Customary Court of Appeal); and 744 judicial officers. In 2015, N7 billion was appropriated for the Supreme Court by the National Assembly, of which N304, 137,542.21 was allocated to “consolidated salary of the Justices” of the apex court, N1,122,909,366.76 , N2,795,953,091.03 and N2,777,000,000 were voted for the Supreme Court staff salary, overhead and capital respectively. In other words, the Supreme Court staff salary appropriation was almost four times those of the Justices of the apex court. In the same year, the Appeal Court got N11.10billion, comprising N1.214billion consolidated salary for the Justices of the appellate court, N2, 699billion for personnel, N4.699b overheads (including election tribunal) and N2.496billion capital expenditure. For the Federal High Court, FCT High Court, National Industrial Court and Customary Court of Appeal (FCT), these are disbursements during the period under review: N12.1billion, N7billion, N5.6billion, and N3.05billion respectively. In a cross-country appraisal of the salaries of judges, LEADERSHIP discovered that the salaries and purchasing power of Nigeria judges and their counterparts abroad and even in some African countries are wide apart. For instance, in the United State of America (USA), while the Chief Justice John Roberts earns $255,500 (or N118, 807,500) per year, the eight associate justices earn a healthy pay raise to $244,400 (N113, 646,000). The current salary for the US Supreme Court justices is significantly higher than the average salaries earned in related occupations. The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Lord President of the Court of Session and Master of the Rolls make up Group 1.1 of the scale on £214,165 (N128,070,670), below only the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, who earns £239,845 (N143,427,310). In South Africa, according to the latest report of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, the judges in the high and labour courts earn annual salaries of R1.4-million (or N46.9million). Judge-presidents (heads of court) pocket R1.6million (N53.6million) a year, Constitutional and Supreme Court judges get R1.7-million (N56.9million and the chief justice earns R2.3-million (N77million). The package of the president of the Supreme Court is just over R2million a year. When they retire, judges are entitled to continue drawing their salary and other benefits, which continue to qualify for an annual increase.’.
Furthermore, the Nigeria judiciary requires a true independent judiciary, the truth be told!
Finally, I humbly call on all relevant authorities of government to see this protest as an opportunity to reform and better the judiciary as this is good for the administration of justice in Nigeria rather than wait till this protest is extended to the judiciary as this has a lot of negative impacts on the judiciary and the administration of justice..