… As Senators quarrel over mode of Screening

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By Henry Umoru

The Senate Wednesday raised the alarm that poor salaries for Judges and Justices was exposing them to temptation of being involved in taking bribes from politicians and well placed citizens.

According to the Senate, with the poor remuneration packages given to Nigerians Judges, they were prone to compromising or outrightly vulnerable to corruption in carrying out their responsibilities of adjudication and dispensation of justice.

Speaking in Abuja during the screening of the Eight Justices recently nominated by President Muhammadu  Buhari from the Court of Appeal as Justices of Supreme Court, Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, APC, Ekiti Central lamented the poor welfare packages given judicial officers and Justices in the country.

Buttressing his argument, Senator Bamidele said that presently, the take-home pay of the Justices of Supreme Court per annum as far as basic salary is concerned, is N2.477million, while those of the Court of Appeal is N1.995million and Judges of the High Court, N1.804million.

Meanwhile, before the commencement of the screening exercise which was eventually done in the open, members of Committee had disagreed on the method to be adopted in screening the Eight Justices recently nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari from the Court of Appeal as Justices of Supreme Court.

The nominees of President Buhari for Apex Court are Hon. Justice Lawal Garba, North West; Hon. Justice Helen M. Ogunwumiju, South West; Hon. Justice Addu Aboki, North West; Hon. Justice I. M. M. Saulawa, North West; Hon. Justice Adamu Jauro, North East; Hon. Justice Samuel C. Oseji, South-South; Hon. Justice Tijjani Abubakar, North East; and Hon. Justice Emmanuel A. Agim, South-South.

Senator Bamidele said, “The present situation in the country as regards welfare of judges and Justices, call for a major intervention.

“Salaries and allowances of Judicial officers, Judges and Justices in Nigeria, were last reviewed in 2008 through an Act of Parliament.

” As at that time, exchange rate of Naira to a US dollar was N117 as against N467 it is now, clearly showing that Judges and Justices Salaries have been static over the years and even depreciating in value.”

Senator Bamidele who noted that on monthly basis, the total take-home pay of Justices of Supreme Court individually is N753,000 while those of the Court of Appeal, are paid N608,000 each and the High Court Judges, N556,000.00 each, said, ” The enumerated poor take-home packages for Judges and Justices, clearly, show that they are not being fortified in any way against temptation on the line of duty.”

According to him, in South Africa, the Chief Justice collected the highest salary aside members of his family, adequately taken care of, as required measures against temptation and corruption.

Buttressing Senator Bamidele ‘s position, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, APC, Delta Central said that issues raised were very critical and requiring urgent attention by the government, including the National Assembly where a bill for upward review of 12-year-old Salary structure of the Judicial officers, Judges and Justices can be sponsored and expeditiously considered.

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However, when the Screening was to begin with Justice Mohammed Lawan Garba,  there was mild drama among members of the committee on the mode of action to be taken.

While Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP/Enugu North) raised an observation that it would be better for the screening of the Supreme Court judges to be held under closed doors away from the public.

On his part, Senator James Manager, PDP, Delta South who kicked against Utazi’s observation noting that since 1999 that he has been in the Senate, there was no time that Supreme Court judge nominees were screened behind closed doors.

He insisted that Senator Utazi’s observation lacked precedence and should be discarded since there were interested members of the public especially civil society organisations like the Nigerian Bar Association and media in attendance.

Senators Peter Nwaoboshi, Bala Na’Allah and Abdullahi Adamu agreed with Senator Manager’s insistence that the screening of the Supreme Court judge nominees while Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP/Enugu West) subtly backed Utazi but said that members of the judiciary committee could go into a closed-door session without the nominees so that modalities for the screening would be perfected and adopted.

Efforts by the Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Bamidele to subject the observations to a vote so that the issue would be resolved also hit a brick wall as he then asked that the issue be put to vote, some Senators said it would be better if the committee’s voting decision was taken behind the cameras.

The arguments almost stalled the screening process, but for interventions by ranking Senators and House of Representatives members in attendance led by the Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Hon. Onofiok Luke later assuaged the feelings of aggrieved Senators.

At the end of the day, Senator Bamidele ruled that based on the interventions, the screening of the eight Supreme Court Justices should be held in the open which was eventually done in the presence of everybody in room 231 the venue of the exercise.

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