In a bold move to significantly improve the working conditions of Nigerian judges, the National Industrial Court (NIC) recently ordered the immediate review of salaries of all Nigerian judges. In the judgement delivered in Abuja, Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae directed the National Assembly (NASS), the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the National Judicial Commission (NJC) to comply with the order. The judge also ruled that the refusal of the government to review the salaries and allowances of judges for 14 years was unconstitutional and unlawful, hence the order compelling it to do so.
The court held that the embarrassing low salaries of judges persisted despite their increased workload. According to the judge, “by the combined interpretation of the provision of Section 4 (1) (2) of the 1999 Constitution and the First Schedule of the 6 (1b) of the RMAFC Act 2004, the first and second defendants did not have the power to neglect by failing to perform their constitutional and statutory duties of reviewing judges’ salaries since 2008.”
The judge, therefore, ordered that a minimum monthly salary of N10 million should be paid to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), while Justices of the Supreme Court should each be paid a monthly salary of N9million. She also ruled that President and Justices of the Court of Appeal should be paid a monthly salary of N9 million. She also increased salaries of Court of Appeal Justices, Chief Judges, President of the Industrial Court, Grand Khadis and President of Customary Courts to N8million, while other judges should be paid a monthly salary of N7million. The NIC ruling was sequel to a suit filed by Sebastine Hon, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Considering the low salaries paid to Nigerian judges, the judgement should be seen and interpreted as a needful intervention to give the ministers in the temple of justice a befitting wage. Moreover, the rising inflation and soaring prices of food items have considerably eroded the value of the naira and by extension the monthly salaries of Nigerian workers, including those in the judiciary.
While the NIC has the powers to mediate on industrial disputes, other parameters should be duly considered before arbitrarily fixing the monthly salaries of judges in the country. The salaries of other judicial workers ought to have been considered as well. The judgement might not have taken account of the dwindling revenue of the government, which has made it to resort to binge borrowing.
However, granted that judges’ salaries are nothing to write home about, the raise should have gotten the input of RMAFC and other relevant agencies. The increment of judges’ salaries in isolation of other workers in the judiciary will not engender industrial peace. Other judicial workers may embark on strike as a result of the selective salary increment. Agreed that the low salaries of judges might have tacitly encouraged corruption in the system and led to issuance of questionable court orders, the relevant agencies should have been consulted before the order. In 2016, the residences of some judges were raided by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) under the cover of a sting operation, on account of alleged corruption.
Recently, a petition by 14 judges of the Supreme Court over corruption allegations and other welfare matters led to the resignation of former CJN, Justice Tanko Mohammed. Unfortunately, the court-sanctioned pay raise is coming at a time many states have not demonstrated enough will to pay the new national minimum wage of N30, 000. Adding the enhanced salary package of the judges to their monthly wage bill will compound their economic woes.
It is sad that the welfare of Nigerian judges has not been adequately taken care of by successive administrations. This is not good for the judiciary and the country. Apart from salary, henceforth, let judges be provided the necessary tools for them to perform their duties patriotically. These include adequate electricity supply, research assistance, foreign workshops, computers, and diesel supply and others. There is need to pay judges competitive and realistic salaries to enable them discharge their duties effectively.
As the third arm of government, judicial officials should be treated with respect and dignity. The current neglect of the judiciary by the executive arm of government will not bode well for our nascent democracy. There is need for autonomy for the judiciary just like the other arms of government. If the judiciary is financially independent, it will reduce the corruption in the system and curb the incessant conflicting court orders. That is probably the only way the judiciary can really be the last hope of the oppressed.
As the general election is fast approaching, our judges should be bold and firm in their post-election cases mediations if they are adequately remunerated. Let the agencies of government affected by the judgement study it and come up with acceptable wages for Nigerian judges.