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Meager Remuneration of Judicial Officers: Where Do We Go From Here?

Posted: Mar 27, 2016 at 3:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Section 84 (1) of the 1999 constitution, as altered, provides that the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) has the power to determine, fix, review upward or downward the remuneration package of political, public and judicial office holders whether elected, appointed, or both, including the legislature at the Federal, State, and Local Government levels; by s. 84 (3), thereof, such remuneration package should not be altered to their disadvantage.

The meager salaries and dismal conditions of service for judicial officers are appalling, to say the least. Yet, the same judiciary has become the whipping child of the executive that accuses it of corruption, without any scintilla of evidence to that effect. It is a deliberate attempt to annex the judiciary to the apron strings of the executive.

 

Ridiculous salary scale for judges

 

Can you believe the following salary scale for judicial officers?

Justices of the Supreme Court, N700,000.00 per month; Justices of the Court of Appeal, N600,000.00 per month; Chief Judge, Federal and states High Courts, N530,000.00 per month; High Court judges, N500,000.00 per month; Customary Court of Appeal judges, N500,000.00 per month; Khadis, Sharia Court of Appeal, N500,000.00 per month, and National Industrial Court judges, N500,000.00 per month.

A permanent secretary (PS) in any government ministry earns about N1 million per month. The Secretary of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and Secretary, Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) and who are at par with a permanent secretary earns N1 million per month much higher than their ‘ogas’, Justices of the Supreme Court, who wade and ache through tons of appellate briefs to dispense justice to manners of people, without fear or favour.

 

No accommodation for retired judges

 

For retirement accommodation, only Chief Justices of Nigeria retire to a house built for them by government. All other Justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and Federal, High Court and Sharia Courts retire to no homes. Many occupants of these hallowed citadels of justice are forced to become tenants in decrepit apartments in city suburbs such as Lugbe, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Keffi, etc. Luckier ones who are aided by their rich family members find themselves owning apartments in the same estates as people they probably tried or judged their cases, while on the bench, thus subjecting them to indignities, ridicule and danger. Yet these selfless, hardworking judges are again daily insulted, abused and tongue-lashed like primary school pupils over alleged poor performance, corruption and miscarriage of justice by politicians who lose their cases no matter the demerit of such cases.

That the executive has joined in this arm-twisting, brow-beating, intimidating, unconscionable and abusive antics of politicians leave a sour taste in the mouth. This is calling on the presidency, the RMAFC, the National Assembly and all those responsible, to better the lot of judicial officers, increase their salaries and allowances and provide retirement homes for them. It is indeed incredible for one to hear that a High Court judge receives N500,000 per month, a sum not enough for a minister or senator to fuel his generator sets and vehicles in a month. Poor remuneration and bad conditions of service should be President Muhammadu Buhari’s headache, not the judges themselves.

Everyone wants justice, but no one is willing to pay for it. Judges constitute the judiciary, the third arm of government. They have wives, school children, dependants, etc. How are they expected to live on N500,000 per month?

 

Now this comparative analysis

 

The Chief Justice of the USA earns $223,500 annual basic salary, ie, N78.22 million per annum if converted to naira over seven times more than what the Chief

Justice of Nigeria earns as his annual basic salary, going by the provisions of the Salaries and Allowances of Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders Act, 2008. Also, whereas an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the USA earns an annual basic salary of $213,900, ie,  N32.08 million, his Nigerian counterpart earns N10.8 million per annum. From 1987, the basic salary of a USA District Court Judge is $174, 000 per annum, ie, N60.9 million, which is N52.5 million higher than the N8.4 million earned by a Justice of the Supreme Court. A USA magistrate earns $160,000, ie N56.02 million per annum. Thus, a US magistrate earns more than a Nigerian Supreme Court Justice by over N51 million. In Canada, the Chief Justice receives an annual basic of $370,000, while a Justice of the Supreme Court receives basic package of $342,800, which rates are even higher than those in the USA. That amounts to N129.5 million and N119 million, respectively.

Again, till now, the 15 Justices of the Supreme Court, the 85 Justices of the Court of Appeal, the 88 Judges of the Federal High Court and the 19 Judges of the National Industrial Court have not been paid their January and February salaries. Yet, the government expects angelic and saintly justices from the bosom of Christ, and Arch Angel Michael to come down and dispense justice in Nigeria, while government officials from the president down, and their numerous aids are flying across continents of the world, and criss-crossing Nigeria, drawing huge estacodes in hard currency, and local currencies in allowances.

I cannot fathom why a Justice of the Supreme Court should not earn at least N5 million per month, Justice of the Court of Appeal, N4 million per month, Judges of the Federal High Courts, and Khadis of Sharia and Customary Courts, N3 million per month. Justification for this is simple. Inflation, security of office, avoidance of temptation and the fact that the small number of Justices, Judges and Khadis is a drop of water when compared to the humongous billions of naira paid to 109 senators and 360 House of Representatives’ members, or the elephantine sums paid to the president, vice president, ministers, special advisers, personal assistants, thousands of civil servants, all within the executive.

We should respect the allowed doctrine of separation of powers propounded by great philosophers, such as Aristotle, Jean Calvin, John Locke, and mostly popularized by the French philosopher, Baron de Montesquieu, in 1748, that each arm of government is separate, with checks and balances, so that no one arm can overwhelm or terrorise the other.

This is precisely what the executive is doing to the judiciary.

 

Chief A. A. Ozekhome (SAN) writes from Lagos.