The Chairman of the Body of Benchers (BoB), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) has revealed how his group made President Muhammadu Buhari to commit to ensuring that urgent steps were taken to improve the welfare of the nation’s judges.
Olanipekun said last Thursday’s meeting of the BoB leadership with Buhari afforded him the opportunity to brief the President directly on the unenviable state of affairs in the Judiciary, following which he (Buhari) acceded to their request for an urgent intervention to address the challenges of the third arm of government.
He spoke in Abuja on Sunday at an event to celebrate the 80th birthday of a retired Justice of the Supreme Court and traditional ruler of the Tuomo Kingdom in Burutu Local Area of Delta State, Justice Francis Tabai.
Olanipekun, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), assured that he would commit his tenure at the BOB to work with relevant stakeholders to champion the cause of the Judiciary, stressing “this is not a time for distraction, it is time for collaborative action on the part of us in the legal profession.”
He added: “We were frank with the President. We told him everything. We also told him that if we don’t maintain justice, justice will undo us soon. We told him how we interfaced with Justices of the Supreme Court and what they told us about their working conditions.
“We told him (Buhari) how bad things are with the Judiciary; that Justices are not encouraged, that they are underpaid. What they give to justices are peanuts when compared with the other arms of government.
“In fairness to Mr. President, perhaps, he did not know the gravity of the situation until I explained everything to him when we met him last Thursday.
“And, in fairness to him, he said there are three arms of government. He agreed that each of the three arms must be treated equitably and fairly. And that, no one should be subjugated to the others, and no one should be treated as a slave.
“The way I see it today is that the Judiciary is being beaten and you are asking the Judiciary not to cry. The Judiciary is crying silently from within. You can hear the grumbling. You can see the tears of the Judiciary, though they are not coming out. The Judiciary is crying silently.
“The President gave his commitment voluntarily. It was in response to my address. He promised to take immediate action, and that for now, he is giving a directive to those in charge to dust the report of a committee that was submitted to him in 2018 and act as we have requested.”
On whether President Buhari gave a timeline within which he hoped to act on their requests, Olanipekun said: “You know, he is the President. We went to visit him. Customarily, I could not have said he should give us a timeline. If a President has given his words, we should take him by his words.”
He added: “It is those who suffer from injustice that know what it means to be denied justice.
“We all watched and heard what happened at the Supreme Court . If gold could rust, what happens to other metals? In this context, the Supreme Court is the gold. And if the Justices of the Supreme Court can cry out over poor remuneration, then what happens to those in the lower courts?”
Olanipekun, who argued that the Judiciary was unfairly treated when compared with the other arms of government, noted that it is unfair that a Justice of the Supreme Court takes home N750,000 monthly, including allowances, while a Senator earns not less than N3million a month.
The BoB Chairman, who eulogised Justice Tabai and described him as one of the nation’s finest jurists, said he was once against early retirement for judges, but has since abandoned that position in view of the current unenviable state of affairs in the Judiciary.