Out-of-court settlement deal collapses, as hearing begins June 28

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, has asked the National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja, to dismiss a suit that is seeking the upward review of salaries of judges in the country.

The AGF, in a counter-affidavit and preliminary objection he filed before the court, maintained that a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Mr. Sebastian Hon, who instituted the action, lacked the locus standi to do so.

Malami’s objection to the suit came on a day that Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osagie fixed to receive a report of a proposed out-of-court-settlement of the matter.

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The court had on June 6, acceded to a request by the National Assembly, NASS, which is a defendant in the suit, for parties to be allowed to explore an alternative means of resolving the thorny issue of poor remuneration of judicial officers across the federation.

Aside from Malami, NASS and the National Judicial Council, NJC, the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, was also joined as a defendant in the suit.

Meanwhile, at the resumed proceedings on Wednesday, Chief Adgboyega Awomolo, SAN, who led over 30 other SANs, as well as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA,  Olumide Akpata, to announce appearance for the plaintiff, confirmed that he was served with Malami’s objection to the suit.

He, therefore, urged the court to allow the case to proceed to hearing of the originating summons that was filed by the plaintiff.

Likewise, Malami’s lawyer, Mr. Ekene Elodimuo, said the AGF, having filed the necessary processes, was also desirous of joining issues with the plaintiff in the course of the hearing.

However, the NJC, which engaged a SAN, Mr. Kunle Adegoke to present its position on the matter, prayed for a short adjournment to enable it to file its response.

Adegoke informed the court that he was briefed to handle the matter, less than 24 hours before the sitting, saying he would need time to study the originating summons to be able to file the necessary processes.

His request for an adjournment was not opposed by any of the parties, though there was no legal representation for the RMAFC.

Consequently, Justice Obaseki-Osagie, adjourned the matter till June 28 for hearing.

The plaintiff, Mr. Hon, SAN, is praying the court to compel the defendants to increase the salaries and allowances of judges in Nigeria.

In an affidavit he filed in support of the suit, the plaintiff, averred 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  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 bellow what is earned by such an officer in other countries.

More so, the plaintiff, who quoted what all judicial officers currently earn as provided under Part II(B) of the Schedule to the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) Amendment Act 2008, argued that such meager remuneration was the reason many bright minds are discouraged him from aspiring to become judges.

He further drew attention of the court to the fact that salaries of judges have not been reviewed in the past 14 years, despite the loss of value of the Naira vis-à-vis other global currencies.

“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 USD1.

“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 added.

He is among other things, praying the court for, “a declaration 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”.

“An order compelling the defendants to forthwith activate measures to urgently review judicial officers’ pay, raising that of the CJN to a minimum of N12m monthly, N11m for other Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal President; N10m for other Justice of the Appeal Court, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and President of the National Industrial Court (NIC)”.

An order to compel the defendants to raise the monthly minimum take-home of a judge of the NIC to N9m; N8m for Chief Judges of High Court of state sand the Federal Capital Territory, while the other judges are entitled to N7m.

As well as, 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.”

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