The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Federal High Court in Abuja “to order the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) to perform their statutory functions to review downward the remuneration and allowances of President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, 36 governors and members of the National Assembly”.
SERAP is arguing that “slashing jumbo pay for these high-ranking political office-holders would reduce the unfair pay disparity between political officer holders and judicial officers, address the persistent poor treatment of judges, and improve access of victims of corruption to justice and effective remedies”.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/658/2021 filed on Friday, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the RMAFC to send its downward review of the remuneration and allowances of these high-ranking public office holders and recommendations to the National Assembly for appropriate remedial and legislative action, as provided for by the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended].”
The suit was filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo.
SERAP is also seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the RMAFC to perform its mandatory constitutional duty to urgently review upward the remuneration, salaries, and allowances, as well as the conditions of service for Nigerian judges.”
Joined in the suit as respondents are Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, for themselves, and on behalf of all members of the Senate and House of Representative; and the National Judicial Council.
According to SERAP, while high-ranking political office-holders continue to enjoy lavish allowances, including life pensions, and access to security votes, which they have powers to spend as they wish, the remuneration and allowances of judges are grossly insufficient to enable them to maintain themselves and their families in reasonable comfort.
“The huge pay disparity between these high-ranking political officer-holders and judges is unfair, unjust, and discriminatory, especially given the roles of judges to the people and the country,” it said.
“While government reviewed upward the salaries and allowances of political office holders on four occasions between May 1999 and March 2011, the salaries and allowances of judicial officers were only reviewed twice during the same period.”
Prior to filing the suit, SERAP had written to the NSIWC about the matter and received confirmation about its powers.
“The NSIWC in a letter to SERAP admitted that it has powers to examine, streamline and recommend the salary scales applicable to each post in the public service but informed us to redirect our request to the RMAFC,” SERAP said.
“There is a legal duty upon the RMAFC to urgently review downward the remuneration and allowances of high-ranking political office-holders.”
As far as the legal and advocacy organisation is concerned, the current situation amounts to the unfair, discriminatory and unconstitutional treatment of judges.
“Despite their important roles and responsibilities, Nigerian judges are poorly treated, particularly when their remuneration, salaries, allowances, and conditions of service are compared with that of political office-holders. Judges should not have to endure the most poignant financial worries,” it said.
Beyond the disparity between the remuneration of judges and political office holders, SERAP’s suit is also based on the impact of the increase in cost of living and the importance of the roles played by judges, a role it considers as second to none with regard to providing justice and protecting human rights.
“As a safeguard of judicial independence, the budget of the judiciary ought to be prepared in collaboration with the judiciary having regard to the peculiar needs and requirements of judicial administration,” it said.
“The remuneration and pensions of judges must be secured by law at an adequate level that is consistent with their status and is sufficient to safeguard against conflict of interest and corruption.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.