From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
A legal practitioner, Anighoro Mathias, has faulted the judgment of the National Industrial Court, ordering the immediate upward review of judges’ salaries on the ground that it was delivered out of the jurisdiction and should be voided forthwith.
Justice Osatohanmwen Obasaki-Osaghae had in her judgment held that the minimum monthly salary of N10 million should be paid to the Chief Justice of Nigeria ( CJN) and N9 million be paid to each justice of the Supreme Court.
The judgement followed a Suit marked NICABJ/142/2022 filed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Sebastine Hon, who argued that since 2008 when judges’ salaries and allowances were last increased, inflationary trends and current socio-economic realities have rendered such pay inadequate.
In the suit, Hon stated that as a legal practitioner, “who has practised in all the levels of courts in Nigeria, I know that poor pay for judicial officers is seriously affecting the quality of judgments and rulings those officers are delivering and the discharge of other functions associated with their offices.
In her judgment, Justice Obaseki-Osaghae, directed the National Assembly (NASS), the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Attorney-General of the Federation & Minister of Justice (AGF) and National Judicial Commission (NJC), to comply with the directive of the court to ensure immediate compliance with its order.
However, picking holes in the judgment, … said the plaintiff, Mr Sabastine Hon, lacked the requisite locus standi to institute the case and the court was duty bound to have declined its jurisdiction and dismissed the case.
“Does the plaintiff, Mr Hon, who is a very senior member of the inner bar, have the legal capacity to institute or commence the action before the court. My answer is no. What injury did he suffer or stand to suffer by the low income of judges? He did not demonstrate before the court that his case was not heard in any of the courts on account of judges’ low income.”
What is his interest that is far and above any other person on the issue of judges’ welfare package?
It is trite law that if a plaintiff does not have locus standi to institute an action, the court would have no jurisdiction to entertain the case and the appropriate order to make is to dismiss the case.
Jurisdiction is fundamental and a threshold issue in a proceeding. It is the life wire, the bedrock and the foundation of all judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings.
“Any decision taken by court that lacked jurisdiction, no matter how well sound, becomes a nullity and its invalidity can be challenged on the doctrine of “Coram non-judice,” and such a judgment or decision is liable to be set aside.
He further argued that the court has no powers to fix the salaries of judicial officers as such powers reside only with the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), as provided under paragraph 32(a-e) of Part 1 to the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution(as amended).
In addition, the judgment violated the principle of natural justice (Nemo Judex in Causa Sua), which provides that no person can judge a case in which they have an interest.
“Justice Obaseki-Osaghae, being a judicial officer who will benefit from the judgment, cannot be a judge in her own case. The legal effect of a breach of natural justice is normally to stop the proceedings and render any judgment invalid, or quashed or remitted for a valid hearing.”
The National Industrial Court had equally held that by the combined interpretation of the provision of section 4 (1) (2) of the 1999 constitution as amended and the first schedule of 6 (1b) of the RMAFC Act 2004, that the first and second defendants did not have the power to neglect, by failing or perform their constitutional and statutory duties of reviewing judges’ salaries since 2008.
Obaseki-Osaghae further declared the act unconstitutional and said that the current salaries of judges were embarrassingly too low given the present socio-economic realities and other factors such as the value of the naira against the currencies of some countries.
She further made an order of mandatory injunction compelling all the defendants to forthwith, put in place or activate legal and administrative machinery to begin payment to the justices.
The minimum monthly salary of N10 million, she said should be paid to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and each justice of the Supreme Court, a minimum monthly salary of N9 million.
She said a minimum monthly salary of N9 million should be paid to the President and Justices of the Court of Appeal.
The court also ordered a minimum monthly salary of N8 million for the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, and N7 million for each of the justices of the same court.
As for the president of the National Industrial Court and each of the judges of the same court, a minimum monthly salary of N8 million and N7 million respectively was ordered by the court.
The court ordered that the Chief Judge of each State High Court and each judge of the same court should be paid a minimum monthly salary of N7 million.
The judge in addition stated that the Chief Judge of the FCT’s minimum monthly salary should be N8 million and N7 million for each judge of the same court.
As for the Grand Khadi of Sharia Court and the Khadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the FCT, the court said that a minimum monthly salary of N8 million and N7 million should be their take-home pay.
The court as part of its decision ordered that the president of the Customary Court of Appeal of the FCT minimum monthly salary should be pegged at N8 million and N7 million for each judge of the same court.
The court also made an order of mandatory injunction compelling the second defendant, RMAFC, or any other body that will be subsequently charged with the duties of reviewing judges’ salaries, to perpetually review in conjunction with the third defendant, on a yearly or two years review of judges’ salaries.