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Nigeria’s  Chief Justice Ariwoola Warns of Judicial Decline Without Salary Increment For Nigerian Judges

Nigeria’s judiciary stakeholders have backed a bill proposing a 300% increase in salaries and allowances for judicial officers.

The Chief Justice of the Federation and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, Olukayode Ariwoola, on Monday, warned Nigerians would continue to suffer from the nation’s judiciary system until salaries, allowances and official benefits of judges were increased.

This was as stakeholders in the nation’s judiciary in Abuja, threw their weight behind a bill being proposed by the National Assembly to increase the salaries and allowances of judicial office holders by 300 percent.

They spoke at a public hearing for shareholders and the general public on a Bill for an Act to prescribe the salaries and allowances and fringe benefits of judicial office holders in Nigeria and related matters bill 2024.

The public hearing was organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights And Legal Matters.

They demanded a yearly increment in their annual salaries and a four-year periodic review of their salaries and emoluments in accordance with international standards.

They also lamented that the last time their salaries and emoluments were reviewed was in 2007, noting that the development had forced some judicial officers to be involved in acts not expected of a learned silk, in the last 17 years.

Apart from Ariwoola, the stakeholders included the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN); President of the Nigeria Association, Yakubu Maikyau; the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mr. Wale Edun and some senators.

Ariwoola, who was represented at the hearing by Justice Kashim Zannah, the Chief Judge of Borno State, said the salaries were last reviewed in the year 2007.

The CJN added: “It has been 17 years, earning the same amount despite the tumultuous depreciation in purchasing power, while other sectors have theirs renewed several times over the period.

“Judicial officers have been in silence. As a simple illustration, the exchange rate of the 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 Mobilisation 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, a Judge’s monthly gross pay before tax of 661,738 divided by $130.25 equal to $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.

“But, however, by the historic instrumentality of the 10th National Assembly, 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 of N3.2 million.

“Now, notwithstanding the foregoing, we know to profound appreciation the table capture that we are bringing is what the Honourable Attorney General said the President approved as the 300 percent increase, and which by the instrumentality of this distinguished and Senate was already captured.

“Our prayers, therefore, distinguished senators. It is evident from the foregoing that even the appropriated salary package is less than half the value of the salaries that were fixed in the year 2007.

“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.”

Ariwoola, while analysing the poor pay of Nigerian judges, equated it to a patient under intensive care who needs serious medical attention.

He said, “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 proposed Bill would stabilise the patient. The 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 stabilised, move to the general ward, gain some strength, and then you now look at physiotherapy and all other therapists. That is the nutshell of our presentation that distinguish senators as we have already exhibited.

“Do move quickly, move the patient out of the ICU to the general ward and then we will come. For now, let’s stabilise the patient, move him out of ICU and then we can talk about the rest later.

“The Chairman (of the Senate Committee), National Judicial Council reiterates its appreciation and gratitude to you and your committee for your tireless effort at removing all obstacles in the work of Nigerian citizens for justice.”

Edun, while speaking, stressed the need to improve the salaries and emoluments of the judicial officers to guarantee a speedy administration of justice.

He expressed confidence that President Bola Tinubu would continue with the legacy he left behind in Lagos where he improved the standard of lives of the judicial officers.

Edun added that, “It is a continuation of that tradition that is now coming into effect and an attempt and an initiative to improve the lot of the judiciary.

“So I’m very, very pleased to have been part of this opening ceremony. Listen to the Attorney General. 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.”

Fagbemi, on his part, said the NJC proposal for a 300 percent 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 said, “Based on the foregoing and the expressed concerns of His Excellency, the President over matters of improving welfare and standards in the judiciary, promoting capacity, independence and confidence in the Nigerian judiciary; I recommended the NJC proposal for the President’s consideration on 19th October 2023.

“On 20th October 2023, the President granted an unprecedented approval of a 300 percent increment in the remuneration of judicial officers.

“Consequently, the President directed RMAFC to review its previous May 2023 recommendation to reflect the NJC proposal.

“This culminated in the present Executive Bill that was forwarded to the National Assembly in furtherance of a cardinal part of the President’s Renewed Hope for a Better Nigeria which is deepening Judicial Reforms to promote sustainable socio-economic growth.”

Sunday Aborisade

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