The Sorry State of Judiciary Budgets and Judges’ Salaries

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By Ahuraka Yusuf Isah

This opportune article by Ahuraka Yusuf Isah at a time when the JUSUN Staff have been on strike for approximately one month on the issue of the funding of the Judiciary, discusses the concept of the independence of the Judiciary, the third arm of Government, vis-a-vis its underfunding, particularly with regard to the inadequate salaries and allowances paid to our judicial officers, whom despite the fact that they have one of the busiest dockets in the world, are so poorly paid. Worse still, our judicial officers have not had an upward review of their remuneration packages in at least 13 years, in spite of the inflation and devaluation in currency that Nigeria has experienced, especially over the last six years.

Why Lawyers Want 5% of Annual Budget for the Judiciary

Like Judges’ salaries, the annual budgeted amount to the Judiciary has remained static for years. The same N110 billion budgeted for the Judiciary in 2018, was repeated in 2019, 2020 and 2021, making four consecutive years despite the spiralling inflation and skyrocketing exchange rate in the country.

The last time salaries of Judges were reviewed, was by virtue of the ’’Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc.) (Amendment) Act 2008’’ that came into force on February 1, 2007. In other words, Judges’ salaries have remained static for 12 or 13 years, and still counting. Since pensions are predicated on salaries, Judges who retired within the same period have been receiving same pension amounts too.

Observations and Views of Senior Lawyers

Towards the end of last year, some senior Lawyers in the country including Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, J.B.Daudu, SAN and Augustine Alegeh, SAN, Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, Asiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, Alasa Ismaila and Celestine Offia questioned the rationale behind budgeting same amount of N110 billion to the Judiciary, for four consecutive years.

The Lawyers who separately spoke to newspaper reporters on the subject-matter, stated that the allocation of the same amount to the Judiciary for four years running cannot be justified with any economic parameters or explanation, because the value of Naira has depreciated by over 60% in the last four years.

While taking turns to lament over the yearly declining Judiciary budgets, the Lawyers observed that the Judiciary appears to be particularly worse off under the President Buhari administration. They asked the NJC to obey the judgement of Justice Mohammed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja in Olisa Agbakoba v AGF, NJC & NASS, which ordered the Council to assert its constitutional authority to get its funding directly from NASS, and not the Executive.

According to Agbakoba, ‘’the NJC needs to assert its constitutional authority to get its funding directly from the NASS and not the Executive as confirmed by Justice Mohammed sitting as a Judge of the Federal High Court in Olisa Agbakoba v AGF, NJC & NASS’’.

Daudu said, ‘’One of the hallmarks of the Judiciary as an independent arm of Government, is its ability to remain not only impartial in the discharge of its core duties, to wit adjudication, but to hold on to its independence jealously. A Judiciary that is starved of funds, is not independent. This is because its personnel will be, or are severely hampered from discharging their functions or duties. A cash strapped Judiciary will always be at the mercy of the arm of Government that controls its purse strings, and this is contrary to the requirements of the Constitution which expects the Judiciary to be neutral in the discharge of its duties which is to all citizens, even if the determination of their civil rights and obligations is between them and Government or vice versa.

“In the past 4 years, the economy has suffered a serious downturn, the value of the Naira has depreciated by at least 60%. By pegging the budget of the Judiciary for the past 4 years at the same amount of N110 billion per annum, and that does not mean that the budgeted amount is the released amount, the Judiciary is only getting 40% of what it was getting four years ago in the face of crippling inflation and damming devaluation. What this means is that the Judiciary is barely able to discharge its functions. The Judiciary must not be brought to its knees.

“Both the Executive and Legislature must come to the realisation that, despite their exposure to political cases, the Judiciary is not manned by politicians and no amount of arm twisting by financial emasculation can bring the Judiciary to its knees. In future, the Judiciary may have to explore the option of litigation to compel Government to improve its funding’’, Daudu stated.

Alegeh said, ‘’The truth is that the Judiciary is not being treated on equal terms or as another arm of Government by the Executive and Legislative arms of Government. Otherwise, it isn’t proper to submit budget estimate of N187 billion, only to be handed down with N110 billion.

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‘’How do they want the Judiciary to make up for the big differences, when it indeed, based its proposal on the number of Judges to be appointed, number of courtrooms to be built, and so on?

‘’I advice the Executive and the Legislature to reconsider Judiciary’s 2021 budget of N110 billion, and review it upward. We must all agree that the Judiciary is the custodian of rule of law, and as such, the safeguard of democracy’’, Alegeh said.

Asiwaju Awomolo: “The nation’s Judiciary under President Buhari’s watch, has not been accorded its rightful place as an independent arm of Government. The Judiciary has always been at the short end of the stick. It has not found favour at all, under the current dispensation”.

According to Ahamba, ‘’The CJN can draw the attention of the NBA to the sad trend and development in which Judiciary is treated as pariah third arm of Government, by allocating N110 billion to it in four consecutive years.

‘’It is unheard of that the Judiciary would submit N18 proposal, only to be allocated with N110 billion. NBA can react and protest on behalf of the Judiciary before the NASS, and ask it to change the tide. It is part of the function of NBA to defend the Judiciary against oppression from the other arms of Government’’, Ahamba said.

However, Ismaila said, ‘’No one can believe that Judiciary used to receive N150 billion budget approval in this country. Budget allocations to it have been declining in quantity and percentage share of the nation budget. While the 2010 allocation of N95 billion to the Judiciary represented 2.2% of that year’s budget, in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the nation’s budget shares for the Judiciary were N85b (1.8%) N75b (1.7%), N67b (1.3%), N68b (1.3%) and N73b (1.6%) respectively. The N70 billion budgeted for the Judiciary in 2016 (out of the N6.08 trillion total proposals) is 1.1%.

‘’The 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 budgetary figures for the judiciary have been declining to below 1.0% just as that of the 2021 fiscal year budget of N110 billion out of a total budget of N13.08 trillion is 0.84%; which is because, while the nation’s total budget increases that of the third arm of government remains constant at N110 billion’’, he said.

Offia said, “It is understood that the Judiciary had, in its 2021 budget estimate it submitted indicated that it would appoint about 60 Judges for the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court, beside the eight newly appointed Supreme Court justices and others to follow.

‘’These Justices being appointed or to be appointed require spaces for their offices, which must be equipped with books, equipment aside aides and logistics, and that’s money’’.

‘’It has to be inserted in the constitution that judiciary budget must not fall below 5% of the total annual budget of the country, and so also in the states. Judiciary had at certain time used to get N150 billion budget for a year when the total budget of the country is not up to a quarter of what it is today’’, he said.

Malami Insists Judges’ Salaries Will be Reviewed Soon

Over a year ago, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malam, SAN, disclosed that the Federal Government had constituted a Committee to review the salaries and other benefits of the judicial officers in the country. Precisely, Malami stated this in the speech he delivered at the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the beginning of the new legal year and conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria held on Monday September 23, 2019. According to Malami, the setting up of the Panel came after the meeting he had with the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, on the review of judicial salaries and conditions of service.

The Committee, the AGF said would consult with the heads of courts and other stakeholders, in order to come up with recommendations to ensure that the welfare of judicial officers reflect current realities. Although the AGF didn’t disclose when the Panel was set up and who are its members, he added that the report of the Committee was expected to be turned in and concurrently used to upwardly review the Judges’ salaries, as soon as possible.

‘’Similarly, based on a presidential mandate and a meeting held between My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation, the Committee on the Review of Judicial Salaries and Conditions of Service was constituted.

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‘’In coming up with its recommendations to ensure that the welfare of our noble judicial officers reflect the current realities, the Committee consulted with all Heads of Courts and other stakeholders. I can assure this noble gathering, that the efforts of the Committee will soon materialise for the good of our dear country’’, AGF stated.

Meanwhile, the AGF reiterated on April 12, 2021 that the salaries of Judges and other judicial officers across the country, will soon be reviewed. He made this known during an interview with newsmen, at the commissioning of Sokoto State High Court of Justice Complex

“Regarding the welfare package of our noble judicial officers, I must make reference to the Presidential mandate given in that regard, and I am glad to inform you that several meetings have been held, as a result of which the Committee on the Review of Judicial Salaries and Conditions of Service was constituted, to ensure that welfare of our judicial officers reflect current realities of our time. I am to assure this noble gathering, that the efforts of the Committee will soon materialise for the good of our dear judicial officers and our country.”

Current Judges’ Salaries

From all indications, the salaries and allowances of Nigerian Judges at the Federal and State levels, have remained static for over twelve years to date. Besides, findings have also shown that the total number of Judges at the Federal and State Judiciary Services in the entire country which stood at 1062 in 2015, only moved to 1067 in 2019, and 1071 in 2021. The record also shows that the 1071 Judges in the country, are made up of 248 and 819 Federal and State Judicial Officers (Judges) respectively. These were the existing figures before the appointment of four additional Judicial Officers to make up Supreme Court Bench to 20 Justices. It should be borne in mind that appointments of Judges, whether at a court of first instance or appellate courts, are made pursuant to vacancies often created due to retirement, death or otherwise.

The last time salaries of Judges were reviewed in the country, was by the ’’Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc.) (Amendment) Act, 2008’’ which came into force on February 1, 2007. This law which repealed a similar Act of 2002 to increase Judges basic salaries, allowances and fringe benefits in 2007 has not been reviewed, and as such Judges have been earning the same take home pay since 2007.

It has to be understood that there is no senior, junior or probating Judges within the same court of coordinate jurisdiction. Judges are only promoted from a lower to a higher court, like from the High Court to Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court if there are vacancies occasioned by retirement, resignation, removal or death. Hence, a judicial officer who was elevated to the Supreme Court Bench in 2008, has been earning same salary amount since then.

Breakdown of Judges’ Salaries and Allowances

By virtue of the ‘’Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc.) (Amendment) Act, 2008’’, CJN’s annual basic salary is N3,353,972.50 (or N279,497.71 monthly), while other Justices of the Supreme Court and the President of the Court of Appeal receive N2,477,110.00 as basic annual salary or N206,425.83 monthly.

Justices of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the FCT High Court and President of the Industrial High Court, Grand Khadi of State and FCT Sharia Court of Appeal, President FCT and State Customary Court of Appeal earn annual basic salary of N1,995,430.18 each. In addition, Judges of the Federal, State and FCT High Courts, National Industrial Court, Khadi Sharia Court of Appeal in FCT and State; and FCT and State Customary Courts also earn annual basic salary of N1,804,740 each.

The Act also dictates the allowances and fringe benefits payable to the judicial officers at the Federal and States’ levels, which are predicated on the annual basic salaries on a percentage basis. The law names such allowances to include accommodation, utilities, domestic staff, entertainment, medical, security, furniture, personal assistance, motor vehicle loan, severance gratuity and retirement benefit. Others are leave allowance, motor maintenance and fuel, hardship, newspaper, estacode duty tour, outfit and special assistant allowances.

The Act says the accommodation, medical, security and special assistance allowances and benefits won’t be paid, but provided by NJC.

Furniture allowance is paid every four years, while the leave allowance is earned once in a year. The car loan facility is optional; it is a benefit noticed more in the papers than the beneficiaries, according a serving Judge who doesn’t want to be mentioned.

While the CJN gets $2000 estacode when he travels, other Supreme Court Justices and the President of the Court of Appeal get $1300 of estacode each. Others get between $600 and $1100 estacode each.

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Judges’ retirement benefits from CJN down the line, are based on scheme of service. These earnings are however, according to the Act, exclusive of tax.

By the time the basic salary, allowances and fringe benefits are posted, the CJN and other Justices of the Supreme Court receive monthly salary alerts of N480,766.89 and N751,000.00 in their bank accounts, respectively. The CJN’s net monthly salary is even lower than that of his brother Justices, because of deductions made on account of other monetary and material provisions such as food items, which are provided to him by the Federal Government.

Contrary to media reports speculating various figures the nation’s Judicial Officers earn annually, but based on NJC records, Judges all over the country at the Federal and States’ Judicial Service earn a total of N8,654,954,541.97, approximately N8.7 billion.

A total of 1071 Judicial Officers, both at the Federal and State levels, are on the pay roll of the National Judicial Council (NJC). While N2,256,351,435.33 (that is, N2.3 billion approximately) was paid to the 252 Federal Judicial Officers including the Chief Justice of Nigeria in 2019, a sum of N6,398,303,106.64 (N6.4 billion approximately) was paid as salaries and allowances to 819 State Judicial Officers. In other words, both the Federal and State Judicial Officers earn the sum of N8.7 billion as salaries and allowances per annum in Nigeria.

A further breakdown shows that the 252 Judicial Officers comprise of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, other Justices of the Supreme Court, President of the Court of Appeal, other Justices of the Court of Appeal, and Justices of the Federal High Court, Federal Capital Territory High Court, National Industrial Court, Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Court of Appeal and their heads. At the same time, the 819 State Judicial Officers are made up of 70 heads of court (that is, 36 Chief Judges, 17 Grand Khadis and 17 Presidents of Customary Court of Appeal); and 744 Judicial Officers.

Take for instance, in 2015; N7.00 billion was appropriated for the Supreme Court by the National Assembly. Out of that, N304,137,542.21 was budgeted for the ‘’consolidated salary of Justices’’ of the Supreme Court, N1,122,909,366.76, N2,795,953,091.03 and N2,777,000,000.00 were budgeted for the Supreme Court staff salary, overhead and capital respectively. In other words, the Supreme Court staff salary appropriation was almost four times that of the Justices of the Apex Court.

The Court of Appeal in the same 2015 appropriation got N11.10 billion, which was made up of N1.214 billion consolidated salary of Justices of the Court of Appeal, N2. 699 billion personnel, N4.699 billion Overheads (including Election Tribunal) and N2.496 billion for capital expenditure. These are the patterns of disbursement with the Federal High Court, Federal Capital Territory High Court, National Industrial Court and Customary Court of Appeal (FCT) that got N12.1 billion, N7.0 billion, N5.6 billion and N3.05 billion respectively.

Comparison with Other Jurisdictions

It also goes without saying, that the salaries and purchasing power of Nigerian Judges and their counterparts abroad and in some African countries, are wide apart by great margins.

In the United State of America, while the Chief Justice, John Roberts, earns $255,500 (or N118, 807,500) per annum, the eight Associate Justices earn a healthy pay raise to $244,400 (N113, 646,000). The current salary for Supreme Court justices in US, is significantly higher than the average salaries earned in related occupations.

The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Lord President of the Court of Session and Master of the Rolls, make up Group 1.1 of the scale on £214,165 (N128,070,670), below only the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, who earns £239,845 (N143,427,310).

In South Africa, according to the latest report of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, Judges in the High and Labour Courts earned annual salaries of R1.4 million (or N46.9 million). Judge-Presidents (heads of court) pocket R1.6million (N53.6m) a year, Constitutional and Supreme Court Judges get R1.7 million (N56.9m) and the Chief Justice earns R2.3 million (N77.0m).The package of the President of the Supreme Court is just over R2-million a year. When they retire, Judges are entitled to continue drawing their salaries and other benefits, which continue to qualify for an annual increase.

Conclusion

It is time that Nigeria takes a leaf out of the books of some of these jurisdictions, and as a matter of urgency, addresses this crucial issue of inadequate Judges’ remuneration forthwith. With the ongoing JUSUN strike, this is as good a time as any, to resolve the outstanding issues holistically.

Ahuraka Yusuf Isah, Abuja

Thisday

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