In an attempt to resolve amicably the issue of judicial officers’ salaries in the country, the National Assembly yesterday sought permission of the National Industrial Court in Abuja, to explore an out-of-court settlement of the case.
According to NASS counsel, Mr. Charles Yoila, out-of-court settlement was considered appropriate because of the nature of the matter.
Yoila, therefore pleaded with the court to grant an adjournment so as to enable parties in the matter sit on a round table for discussion on an amicable resolution.
He disclosed that the lawmakers would have opted for an early resolution of the matter but for the strike embarked upon by workers of the legislators, adding that the main gate of the Assembly was under lock and key.
At yesterday’s proceeding, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, who led 33 other Senior Advocates, had sought to argue the originating summons in the suit that was filed by another senior lawyer, Sebastian Hon, SAN, in line with the practice direction of the court.
However, hearing could not proceed because of the absence of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Attorney-General of the Federation AGF and the National Judicial Council (NJC) who were not represented by legal practitioners.
Awomolo, however, conceded to the request for out of court settlement sought by the National Assembly but on ground that an early date be granted.
In a short ruling, Justice Obaseki-Osaghae adjourned the matter to June 22, for report of settlement by the parties in the matter.
By the suit plaintiffs were seeking an order of court compelling the defendants to increase the salaries and allowances of judges in the country.
In a supporting affidavit to the originating summons, Hon stated that as a legal practitioner, “who has practised in all the levels of courts in Nigeria, I know that poor pay for judicial officers is seriously affecting the quality of judgments and rulings those officers are delivering and the discharge of other functions associated with their offices.”
He argued that the current economic reality in the country required that the salaries and allowances of the nation’s judges be urgently improved upon.
The plaintiff noted that the highest-paid judicial officer in the country – the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) – currently earns about N3.4 million per annum, far below what was being earned by such an officer in other countries.
Hon, who quoted what all judicial officers currently earn as provided under Part IIB of the Schedule to the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) Amendment Act 2008, said the paltry sums had discouraged him from aspiring to become a judge.
He noted that it was about 14 years now since the salaries and allowances of judges were last reviewed upward in 2008 despite the loss of value of the naira vis-à-vis other global currencies like the US dollars, the British pound sterling and the European Union (EU) euro, etc.
“As of November 2008 when the amended Act was in force, the exchange rate between the naira and the US dollar was N117.74 to $1.
“The naira has considerably lost its value over time; but judicial officers in Nigeria have been placed on the same salary scale for up to 12 years, namely since 2008,” he said.
Hon added that, “even foreigners who have been hired from time to time to coach Nigeria’s national football teams earn higher than Nigeria’s judicial officers.”
He was praying the court among others, should declare that 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 unconstitutional for the 2nd defendant (RMAFC) to refuse or neglect to upwardly review the salaries and allowances of the judicial officers notwithstanding the changing local and international socio-economic realities.
The plaintiff wants an order compelling the defendants to forthwith activate measures to urgently review judicial officers’ pay, raising that of the CJN to a minimum of N12 million monthly, N11 million for other Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal President; N10 million for other Justice of the Appeal Court, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and President of the National Industrial Court (NIC).
Hon also wants the court to compel the defendants to raise the monthly minimum take-home of a judge of the NIC to N9 million; N8 million for Chief Judges of High Court of state sand the Federal Capital Territory, while the other judges are entitled to N7 million.
He was also seeking an order compelling the RMAFC or any other body assigned its responsibilities, “to, in perpetuity, review and continue to embark upon and carry out, in conjunction with the 3rd defendant (AGF), a yearly or at most a two-yearly review of the salaries and allowances of the judicial officers listed above, with a view to making the said salaries and emolument realistic and befitting of the offices and duties attached to/exercised by such offices.”
The claimant, during yesterday’s proceedings had in his team of counsel 32 SANs referred to as learned silk and 22 learned counsel.
Awomolo led the other SANs in the matter. Other counsels were Kanu Agabi, J.B Daudu, E.C Ukala, Emeka Ngige, Rabana Lawan, Mike Ozekhome, Tawo Tawo, Hassan Liman, Peter Apeh, Ogwu Onoja, Offiong Bassey Offiong.
Others were Usman Sule, Olumiwa Akonboro, Emeka Ejiaba, Chukwuma Ekomaru, Godwin Obla, Gordy Uche, Anthony Malik, E.K Asiaka, F.K Idepefo, J.O Asoluka, Harris Ogbole.
S. Musa, Mose Ebute, Reuben Atabo, T.D Pepe, Alex Ejesieme, Henry Akunebu, A.T Kehinde, Ibrahim Bawa, J.J Usman, Matter Bukar and Audu Anuga.
Edward Erhinure led the team of 21 other lawyers in the matter.