Court Pronouncement on Judges’ Salary

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The decision of the National Industrial Court in fixing salaries for all judges of the superior court of records is as desperate as it is curious.

Given existing laws and proceedings governing the remuneration of judges, the ruling particularly raises the question of the court’s competence to arbitrarily pronounce judges’ salaries without recourse to the executive, and with no apparent consideration of affordability by the state.

While it is not in doubt that judges are stressed and need better motivation than they presently get, the court should be mindful not only in being a judge in its own cause but also in issuing orders that may end up in vain.

Questions arising from the court’s decision are many and include what power the court has, within our extant laws, to fix the salaries of judges.

Isn’t it the responsibility of the state government to fix the salaries of judges at the state level? If the new fixture were to be implemented, what happens to the perks of office that judges enjoy such as security, cooking, petroleum allowances, drivers, official housing and others? Are these to be monetised? Under the present state of debt overhang, can the government afford the amount spelt out in the ruling?

In the hierarchy of the arms of government, the judicial is respectfully referred to as the third estate of the realm. Also, it is qualified as the last hope of the common man. Therefore, whether the state is conceived as partisan or not, the judiciary tends to affect the state with the attribute of impartiality.

In the developing world prone to authoritarian trappings, the need to protect the integrity and independence of the judiciary becomes imperative. Perhaps, it is in this context that litigation over the poor pay of judges in the country can be scrutinised.

The salaries and allowances of the judges recently became the subject of judicial review when Sebastine Hon approached the National Industrial Court in Abuja to make a case for an increase, on grounds of the harsh economic reality in the country.

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The National Assembly (NASS), the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF) and National Judicial Commission (NJC) were defendants in that order in the matter.

In the originating summons for determination by the court, the following questions were posed, namely: “Whether, by a combined interpretation of Sections 4(1), (2) and 81(1)-(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, read in conjunction with Section 6(1)(d) and Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the 1st and 2nd Defendants have unbridled, whimsical and untrammeled powers to arbitrarily and unreasonably refuse, fail or neglect to upwardly review the basic salaries and allowances.

“Whether, by a combined interpretation of sections 4(1) and (2), 6(1), (3), (5)(a)-(j) and (6) and 81(1)-(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, read in conjunction with Section 6(1)(d) and Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, this Honourable Court has jurisdiction or is under duty to compel the 1st and 2nd defendants to exercise their constitutional and statutory discretionary powers to upwardly review the basic salaries and allowances of the judicial officers listed.

“Whether a combined interpretation of Sections 84(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, read in conjunction with Section 6(1)(b) and (d) and Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the 2nd defendant has not shirked its constitutional responsibility of fixing higher salaries and allowances for the judicial officers.

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“Whether by a combined reading of the provisions of Section 6(1)(b) and (d) and Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, it is constitutional and lawful for the 2nd defendant to refuse, fail, neglect or ignore to upwardly review the salaries and allowances of the judicial officers.

“Whether the current salaries and other emoluments paid the respective judicial officers listed above is not embarrassingly too low and up unrealistic, given the current socio-economic and other conditions existing in Nigeria and the current global comparative salaries and allowances paid to judicial officers.”

However, the NJC backed the suit, while the National Assembly and the AGF opposed it. The RMAFC was non-committal. On its part, Charles Yoila, Counsel to the National Assembly had argued against the suit on grounds that “it is the law that (a) pre-action notice be issued to Legislative Houses disclosing the cause of action and reliefs before such action is brought to court.” The AGF raised the issues of locus standi, lack of jurisdiction of the court, and non-joinder of the right party.

While affirming the locus of the plaintiff in the matter, Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae who presided over the matter upheld the prayers of the plaintiff and ordered the RMAFC to immediately put in place a machinery to start the upward review of salaries to some judicial officers in line with the provisions of the law and the grundnorm.

She then ordered that a minimum monthly salary of N10 million should be paid to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN); each justice of the Supreme Court should be paid a minimum monthly salary of N9 million; a minimum monthly salary of N9 million should be paid to the President and Justices of the Court of Appeal; a minimum monthly salary of N8 million for the Chief Judge of Federal High Court and N7 million for each of the Justices of the same court; a minimum monthly salary of N8 million and N7 million to President of the National Industrial Court and each of the judges of the same court; a minimum monthly salary of N7 million for the Chief Judge of each State High Court and each judge of the same court; a minimum monthly salary of N8 million for the Chief Judge of the FCT and N7 million judges of the same court; a minimum monthly salary of N8 million and N7 million for Grand Khadi of Sharia Court and the Khadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the FCT.

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While the judges deserve a good labourer’s wage commensurate to the objective state of the economy and also need to be protected against the virus of corruption and the consequent violation of the sacredness of the temple of justice, it is better to allow the statutory organs of the state to do the needful. In this respect, the extant laws of the state are clear.

Sections 4(1) & (2) and 81(1)-(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended as well as Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 are clear on whose responsibility it is to decide the salaries of judges.

The law should take its course in place of arbitrary fixture of salaries by the judiciary. However, reminding the executives and the legislature of dereliction of their duty is in order. It is also high time the salary of the judges is placed on the first line charge for autonomy and independence.

Guardian

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