Is the proposed new pay for judicial officers enough?

When President Bola Tinubu hosted judicial officers to iftar at the State House last Tuesday, he said they had “one of the most unrewarded responsibilities” in the country.

At the event were Chief Justice Olukoyede Ariwoola and his predecessors Walter Onnoghen and Mahmud Mohammed.

Tinubu said: “I recognise that the judiciary has one of the most unrewarded responsibilities. They are yet to modernise equipment and recordkeeping, and their progress towards improvement is slow.

“When you look at the career path of a judicial officer, they cannot practise the vocation for which they were trained after retirement.

“While the framers of the law may have their reasons, I perceive this differently and see this from a fair compensation angle that should benefit all.”

Backing words with action

The President had earlier forwarded “A Bill for an Act to Prescribe the Salaries, Allowances and Fringe Benefits of Judicial Office Holders in Nigeria and for Related Matters 2024”.

The House of Representatives, on March 20, passed the bill, with a total monthly package of N5.39 million for the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), including allowances.

In the executive bill, other justices of the Supreme Court are to earn N4.21 million monthly, while the President of the Court of Appeal is to earn N4.48 million.

The bill seeks to amend Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) Act, No. 6, 2002 (as amended) by deleting Section 2(b), Part II of the Schedule to the Act.

When signed into law, the legislation will take effect from January 1, 2024.

A breakdown of the bill shows that the CJN is entitled to N13.46 million annual basic salary or N1.12 million monthly basic salary.

The CJN, by the provisions of the bill, is also entitled to N51.16million annual regular allowances or N4.26million monthly regular allowances.

The CJN is also entitled to non-regular allowances of a N6.73million leave allowance (when applicable), N142,500 Duty Tour Allowance (per night); $2,000 estacode (per night), N80.78million severance gratuity (after successful completion of tenure) and N53.85million as vehicle loan (to be repaid before expiration of tenure), while professional development assistant is to be paid from the NJC pool.

Other justices of the Supreme Court are to earn N9. 91million annual basic salary or N826,116.19 monthly salary.

The justices are each entitled to N50. 56 million annual regular allowances or N4.21 million monthly regular allowances.

Each of them is also entitled to non-regular allowances of N9.91million rent (annually), a N4.96million leave allowance (when applicable), N100,000 duty tour allowance (per night); $1,300 estacode (per night); N29.74m severance gratuity (after successful completion of tenure), N29.74million furniture allowance and N39.65million as motor vehicle loan (to be repaid before expiration of tenure), while Professional Development Assistant is to be paid from the NJC pool.

The Court of Appeal president is to earn N9. 91million annual basic salary or N826,116 per month.

He/she is entitled to N53million annual regular allowances or N4.48m monthly regular allowances; non-regular allowances of N9 91m rent (annually); N4.96million leave allowance (when applicable), N100,000 duty tour allowance (per night); $1,300 estacode (per night); N29.74million severance gratuity (after successful completion of tenure), N29,74million furniture allowance and N39.65million as motor vehicle loan (to be repaid before expiration of tenure), while professional development assistant is to be paid from the NJC pool.

Each of the Justices of the Court of Appeal will earn N7.99 million annual basic salary or N665,475 monthly salary and will be entitled to N44.72million annual regular allowances or N3.73million monthly regular allowances.

They are also entitled each to non-regular allowances of N7.99million rent (annually); N3.99 million leave allowance (when applicable), N85,500 duty tour allowance (per night); $1,100 estacode (per night); N23.96million severance gratuity (after successful completion of tenure); N23.96million furniture allowance and N31.94million as motor vehicle loan (to be repaid before expiration of tenure), while professional development assistant is to be paid from the NJC pool.

Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, President of the National Industrial Court, Chief Judge of FCT High Court, Grand Khadi of FCT Sharia Court of Appeal, Resident FCT Customary Court of Appeal, Chief Judge State High Court, Grand Kadi State Sharia Court of Appeal and President State Customary Court of Appeal are entitled to the same salaries, allowances and fringe benefits.

Judges of the Federal High Court, National Industrial Court, FCT High Court, FCT Customary Court of Appeal, State High Court, State Customary Court of Appeal, Kadis FCT Sharia Court of Appeal and Kadis State Sharia Court of Appeal are entitled to the same salaries, allowances and fringe benefits.

Each of them is entitled to N7.22 million annual basic salary or N601,880 monthly salary; N36.84million annual regular allowances or N3.07million monthly regular allowances; non-regular allowances of N7. 22million rent (annually), N3.61million leave allowance (when applicable), N57,000 duty tour allowance (per night), $600 estacode (per night); N21. 68million severance gratuity (after successful completion of tenure), N21,68million furniture allowance and N28.89million vehicle loan (to be repaid before the expiration of tenure), while professional development Assistant is to be paid from the NJC pool.

The bill, according to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), proposes a 300.3 per cent increase.

The President did a similar thing in 1999 as governor of Lagos State.

Highlighting the stagnant state of judges’ salaries and emoluments since 2007, Fagbemi said: “It takes a man with a great heart, determination, and consideration to do what the President did.

“More than 300.3 per cent salary increase has been given to the judges. The President has done his part.”

What judges earn elsewhere

There had been concern over the welfare of judges, which some observers feared could make them susceptive to financial inducement.

In September 2013, former CJN, Aloma Mukhtar, during a new legal year ceremony, bemoaned the judiciary’s steady budgetary decline from N95 billion in 2010 to N67 billion in 2013.

Since 2014, however, the budget has climbed from N68 billion to N110 billion in 2019 and remained so in 2020 and 2021.

Worried by the stagnation in the salaries and allowances of judicial officers, a retiring Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Ejembi Eko, at a valedictory session held in his honour in May 2022, called on the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) and the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to “synergise and introspect and tell the world why the dereliction since 2007”.

Justice Eko said there had been several calls for the review of the salaries of judicial officers and nothing had been done to remedy the situation.

Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad, who retired from the Supreme Court on October 27, 2023, in his valedictory speech, also made a similar case.

According to Justice Dattijo, the salary of Supreme Court Justices had remained static at N751,000 for 15 years without the graduation that occurs in public service.

He said Supreme Court justices’ salaries had not only remained stagnant, but the value had depreciated so much due to galloping inflation over the years.

Justice Dattijo said if the judges cannot pick their bills, they can more easily succumb to the monetary temptations dangled by the political class.

“It is as simple as that. They should earn salaries comparable to those of ministers or more,” he said.

What Justices earn in other climes

South Africa

In South Africa, the salary of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is reviewed periodically.

As of September, last year, the Chief Justice earns R3,072,480 per annum (about N210 million) while that of the Deputy Chief Justice is R2,765,159 per annum (about N189.7 million).

The President of the Supreme Court of Appeal earns R2,765,159 per annum (about N189.7 million) while the Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal earns R2,611,589 (about N178 million).

A judge of the Constitutional Court and a Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal earn R2,458,019 (N168.8million). A High/Labour Court judge earns R1,997,130 annually (about N137.2million).

Ghana

The majority of judges in Ghana earn a salary between GHC 936 and GHC 6,663 (about N656,000) per month.

A monthly wage for entry-level Judges ranges from GHC936 to GHC3,039.

After gaining five years of work experience, their income will be between GHC1,512 and GHC4,804 per month.

Kenya

The Supreme Court of Kenya is composed of seven judges. As of 2021, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Kenya is entitled to a basic maximum salary of Ksh 990,000 (about N9.7million) with an allowance of Ksh 375,000.

When all allowances are factored in, the CJ’s total monthly salary is set at a maximum KSh 1.3 million in consolidated pay, according to Kenya’s Salaries and Remuneration Commission.

The Deputy Chief Justice, on the other hand, is entitled to a monthly consolidated pay of KSh 1.23 million

Other Supreme Court judges earn a monthly consolidated salary of KSh 1.218 million (about N12 million). They also earn KSh 250,000 as a special responsibility allowance per month, in addition to a sitting allowance of Sh40,000 for every special court sitting.

They are entitled to a maximum of eight sittings bringing the amount to KSh 320,000 in a month.

Lawyers: proposal a good start

Wahab Shittu (SAN), Dr. Fassy Yusuf, former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL), Dr Monday Ubani, Dr Adewale Kupoluyi and a former Commissioner of Ogun State Judiciary Service Commission, Abayomi Omoyinmi welcomed the new bill.

Shittu described the development as salutary.

He said: “Our judges remain stellar in the sub-region, Africa, commonwealth and the rest of the world. Regrettably, the salaries paid in return for these sacrifices are peanuts and not commensurate.

“Enhanced salary/welfare packages for our Judicial officers, including an increased budgetary allocation to the justice sector will deliver access to justice and enhanced performance in the critical areas of infrastructure, justice delivery, respect for constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, rights protection, zero tolerance for corruption and good Governance. We neglect the judiciary to our collective peril.”

Yusuf said any salary increase should be holistic.

“We need to look into the welfare of other people who are assisting our judicial officers in the dispensation of justice. I am talking about the registrars, the research assistants and other people in the judiciary,” he said.

“Being a federation, the states should be able to fashion out their own. Lagos State has been doing this for long. The remuneration of judicial officers in Lagos is not the same as others. So, I would expect other states to follow suit.”

Yusuf also called for more support beyond salary increases.

“We are talking about technolog. Most of our courts are not technology-driven. They have archaic and anachronistic methods of operation. When you get to the Supreme Court, they are still using a manual system of writing.

“We should operate the way others operate in developed countries like Britain, United States, Canada. Other jurisdictions have gone beyond this manual way of writing. They have developed a system of dispensing justice using technology.

“The power supply should be improved upon. The environment generally should be improved upon and the security of our judicial officers should be guaranteed. As I said, an idealistic welfare package and improved environment should be embarked upon,” Yusuf said.

‘Higher salaries will insulate judges’

Ubani hopes the new proposal, when passed to law, will enhance judicial independence.

He said: “Higher salaries will help insulate judges from financial pressures, potentially reducing susceptibility to corruption and ensuring decisions are based solely on the law and fact.”

He also believes it will attract highly qualified practitioners to the bench.

“Competitive compensation is essential for attracting and retaining highly qualified legal practitioners to the judiciary.

“This is crucial for maintaining high standards of justice in the country and so must be pursued vigorously from now onwards,” he said.

Ubani noted that increasing judges’salaries and allowances reflects the huge responsibility they perform in the judicial sector.

According to him, the responsibilities borne by judges, including making decisions that can deeply affect individuals’ lives, communities, and the interpretation of laws, justify reasonable salary and allowance commensurate with these significant responsibilities.

Ubani said: “We all know how judges in Nigeria write in long hands and their daily cause list is something that is suffocating.

“They are certainly overworking themselves and therefore deserve adequate remuneration commensurate to their volumes of output.

“An increase for judges’ salaries to say the least is a necessity.”

He said the adjustments will reflect inflation or the cost of living, ensuring that judges’ real income which has decreased for several years due to stagnation in salary increase does not remain the same.

“Ultimately, the decision to leave the present increase or add more to it should be made to promote an efficient, independent, and fair judiciary, balanced against the need for fiscal responsibility and public accountability,” Ubani added.

‘Strengthen institutions to make corruption impossible’

Kupoluyi said judges deserve to be paid well given the enormous work that they do.

“The economic situation also makes it imperative for judges and workers to get an upward review of their remunerations.

“Naturally, it is expected that when the bill is passed into law, it would address the issue of corruption often ascribed to the judiciary because our judges would be more comfortable to do their work without fear or favour,” he said.

Kupoluyi noted that as desirable as the plan is, allegations of corrupt practices against judges may not go overnight because corruption is not caused by poor wages and salaries alone.

“As human beings, it is possible that some judicial officers live flamboyant lifestyles that cannot be changed even with the new payment regime.

“We should not also forget that when we say that judges are corrupt, some people are guilty of this, who serve as conduits. Hence, both the giver and receiver of the bribe are culpable.

“Therefore, our democratic institutions should be strengthened to make it extremely difficult to engage in graft.”

He called for the introduction of stiffer penalties for those found guilty, and tightening of loose ends in the apparatus of justice administration that makes it possible for the legal system to be manipulated, as it were.

‘Full autonomy needed’

Omoyinmi, while commending the proposed salary structure, said it was long overdue, considering the enormous work that judicial officers do.

He ascribed this to the number of cases in their dockets and the lack of adequate tools to enhance the quick dispensation of justice.

Omoyinmi lamented that for long, judges have been made to operate under very harsh unreliable conditions.

He said: “It is essential that the remuneration of our judges is proportional by way of salary and other emoluments to the enormous work being put into the administration of justice to reflect what Judges earn in the most advanced legal system country.

“The full autonomy of the judiciary will also go a long way in improving the remuneration for our judicial officers in the justice system like ours.”

Omoyinmi was of the view that the emoluments should be structured within the Judiciary’s budget instead of relying on the executive.

“I believe that what President Tinubu has proposed as salary and allowances will significantly go a long way in improving the administration of justice.’’


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