Nigerians will suffer if judges are not well paid – CJN

CJN, Ariwoola

By Haruna Salami

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Olukayode Ariwoola has said Nigerians will continue to suffer from the nation’s judiciary system until salaries, allowances and official benefits of judges are increased.

The Chief Justice stated this on Monday at a public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary Human Rights and Legal Matters on “a bill to prescribe the salaries allowances and fringe benefits of judicial officers”.

“When judges are well compensated, yes, they do their best, but actually, as clearly demonstrated, the real interest that is being looked at is the interest of these citizens, because they will be the ones who suffer the consequences of a deprived judiciary”, the CJN said.

Mr. Ariwoola, while analysing salaries of Nigerian judges, equated it to a patient under intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital who needs serious medical attention.

“Distinguished senators, in a nutshell, what we are saying is this. The situation of judges across Nigeria is like one on a critical condition in the ICU

“The schedule to the bill would stabilize the patient. The one captain in the appropriation door would have him moved from the ICU to the general ward. When a patient is in that condition, you don’t start physiotherapy at the ICU.

“You make sure he is stabilized, move to the general ward, gain some strength, and then you now look at physiotherapy and all other therapists. And that is the nutshell of our presentation to distinguished senators as we have already exhibited.

“Do quickly move the patient out of the ICU to the general ward and then we will come. In fact, our starting point will now be a reference to the chairman’s very own observation. But for now, let’s stabilize the patient, move him out of ICU and then we can talk about the rest later.

The CJN was represented by Hon Justice Kashim Zannah, the Chief Judge of Borno State.

He said “the salaries were last reviewed in the year 2007. It has been 17 years earning the same amount despite the tumultuous depreciation in purchasing power, while other sectors have theirs reviewed several times over the period.

Judicial officers as have been in silence.

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“As a simple illustration, the exchange rate of the US dollar was 130.25 as at the time the salary was fixed in 2007 and this exchange rate can be found at page eleven of the June 2009 Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission review report that is the source of the exchange rate as of the time it was fixed.

“Therefore, as of 2007, when the salaries were fixed. For example, Ajali’s monthly gross pay before tax 661,738 divided by 130.25 equals $5,080. Today, divided by just 1500, it is $441.

“A salary of $5,080 has now dwindled to $441 only when it was fixed. In today’s terms, the value is equal to 7,000,600 2789.

“This is what judges across that area have been enjoying. The bill on the floor prescribes N3 million, when it should be N7.6m.”

However, he said “by the historic instrumentality of the 10th National Assembly and the noted and unequalled disposition of Mr. President to enhance the administration of justice, the current appropriation law captures an anticipated equivalent of the above example at a gross monthly salary of N3.2m. The tables captured in the appropriation law are attached herewith as our proposed replacement for the schedule to rebel on the floor.

“Now, notwithstanding the foregoing, we note with profound appreciation to the RMAFC that the bill on the floor is still structurally and conceptually a marked improvement that foretells a future of fair and just compensation for judicial work in this country.

“Great effort was manifestly made to move from generic public officer compensation principles to include an acknowledgement of the peculiarities of the judicial office that impel compensation.”

Therefore, he noted that even the appropriated salary package is less than half the value of the salaries that were fixed in the year 2007.

“The one in the bill on the floor is lesser still; judges across Nigeria endured 17 years of depreciation and consequent deprivation.

According to him, their prayers are that the 10th National Assembly passed the bill with the herewith attached terms reflecting the appropriation law which was passed by the instrumentality of the House and the Senate itself and with the conquerors and instruction of Mr. President that that be reflected as the increase for the judicial office as a replacement to the schedule to the bill.

Secondly, that the National Assembly continues to extend its irreplaceable support to addressing some still subsisting issues on the subject. And I’m glad when the chairman of this committee finished his prepared speech, he already raised one observation and these are some of the issues that are still subsidizing.

He said they were not talking out of vacuum with concern as it was very easy for the chairman to see that “there are more gaps too, which we refrain from raising now in order to allow for the expeditious grant of the above prayer, because judges across the length and breadth of Nigeria are expectantly enduring the pain on a daily basis and it is not wise to deal”.

In this presentation, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, (SAN) said the efforts to improve the remuneration of our judicial officers has a chequered history.

However, he said sometime in July 2023 the National Judicial Council forwarded a Proposed Review of Consolidated Salaries and Allowances for Judicial Officers for consideration by the President adding that the NJC proposal was a revision of the remuneration package earlier proposed by Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), which was not consummated before the end of the previous administration.

Fagbemi said “the instant NJC proposal for a 300% increase was informed by: prevailing economic realities of increasing headline and core inflationary trends. putting in place an enabling working environment that engenders professional development and efficiency for judicial officers.

He expressed the readiness of President Bola Tinubu over matters of improving welfare and standards in the judiciary, promoting capacity, independence and confidence in the Nigerian judiciary, which informed his recommendation of the NJC proposal for the President’s consideration on 19th October 2023.

However, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun said the present government is making attempt and an initiative to improve the lot of the judiciary.

He said he was very pleased to have been part of this effort and concurred with the Attorney General as he cannot but follow him since he is the authority in government law.

“I cannot but follow him in commending this bill and requesting its swift passage to the benefit of the judiciary in particular and Nigerians in general”.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Tahir Monguno in his welcome address said it is their responsibility to ensure that the Nigerian Judiciary is equipped with the resources and support it needs to function effectively and efficiently, adding that by increasing the salaries and allowances of Judicial officers, we would be demonstrating our commitment to strengthening the independence and integrity of the Judiciary, and sending a clear message that we value their vital role in our democratic system”.

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