Law & Human Rights

April 13, 2023

Examining Buhari’s ‘hanging’ promise to give jumbo salaries to judges

Judges

File: Picture used to demonstrate the story

By Ise-Oluwa Ige 

In this report, Vanguard’s Law and Human Rights examines various efforts made by stakeholders to persuade and or compel the Federal Government to review upward the salaries of Nigerian judges between 2011 during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan and 2023 without success; scrutinizes a couple of weak attempts by the Federal Government during the period to address the judges’ case including the establishment of the Technical Committee on Judicial Remuneration, (TCJR), which had since submitted its recommendations in 2018 on the subject-matter which is presently gathering dust on the table of the executive and posits that with 47 days left in office, President Muhammadu Buhari still has the opportunity to honour his ‘hanging’ promise of giving befitting salaries to Nigerian judges in order to guarantee the independence of the judiciary which is the fundamental right of every Nigerian and write his name in gold.

Background

Although, the Federal Government reviewed the salaries of public servants and political officers on four occasions between May 1999, and March 2011, the last time judges’ salaries and allowances were increased was in 2007.

The 2007 review of judges’ pay followed the enactment of the “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) (Amendment) Act of 2008” which came into force on February 1, 2007. 

The law had repealed a similar Act of 2002 to create room for the increase of judges’ basic salaries, allowances and fringe benefits in 2007.

Salaries of all categories of Nigerian Judges from 2007 to 2023, exchange rates and implications 

Under the “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) (Amendment) Act, 2008”, the CJN’s annual basic salary is N3,353,972.50 (or N279,497.71 monthly), while other Justices of the Supreme Court and the President of the Court of Appeal receive N2,477,110 as basic annual salary or N206,425.83 monthly each.

The Justices of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court and President of the Industrial Court, Grand Khadi of State and FCT Sharia Court of Appeal, President FCT and State Customary Court of Appeal, earn annual basic salary of N1, 995,430.18 each.

Also, judges of the Federal, State and FCT High Courts, National Industrial Court, Khadi, Sharia Court of Appeal in the FCT and State; and FCT and State Customary Courts also earn an annual basic salary of N1,804,740.00 each.

Notwithstanding that public servants and political office holders got pay rise in 2011, the salaries of all categories of Nigerian judges have  remained static since 2007.

Whereas the average exchange rate of one USD to Nigerian Naira (NGN) in 2007 when Nigerian judges received a pay rise was $1: N117.88, the salary of judges remained static notwithstanding the fact that the exchange rate jumped insignificantly from 1$: N117.88 in 2007 to 1$: N117.98 in 2008; 1$: N158.6 in 2014; 1$: N253.5 in 2016; 1$: N305.8 in 2017; 1$: N361 in 2018; 1$: N360 in 2019; 1$: N380 in 2020; 1$: N413 in 2021; 1$: N450 in 2022 and 1$: N750 in 2023.

According to a senior lawyer, Sebastine Hon, SAN, the implication is that the salaries of judges in Nigeria have not kept pace with inflation and when adjusted for inflation, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, and all categories of judicial officers in the country actually make less now in 2023 than what they did between 2007 and 2022 when Naira was indeed stronger than what it is today.

Worse still, a survey of judges’ salaries in other countries of the world by Vanguard showed that they not only enjoyed periodic review of their salaries, Nigerian judges’ salaries are mere fractions of what their counterparts earn.

It is so bad that a recent independent survey by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, showed that Ghana and South Africa are even doing much better in the way they remunerate their judges than Nigeria.

Battle to increase judges’ pay began after the FG excluded them in 2011 salary review

Following the exclusion of judges in the 2011 review of the salaries of public servants and political officers, some of the public office holders whose salaries prior to 2011 were below that of the judicial officers, now earn more than them. 

The emerging situation propelled stakeholders to mount pressure on the Federal Government to review upward the salary of judges in the country since judges also attend the same markets with other public officers.

But all through the tenure of office of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan spanning May 6, 2010 to May 29, 2015, the struggle to get judges a befitting take-home pay bore no fruit.

Buhari’s govt raids homes of judges instead of increasing their pay

As soon as President Buhari took over the mantle of leadership in May 2015, the silent battle to get judges’ pay reviewed continued unabated.

But instead of Buhari to increase judges’ pay, gun-wielding security agents in October 2016 swooped on the residences of senior judges in Abuja, Port-Harcourt and Gombe, breaking their doors, threatening to harm their family members and aides, before arresting few of them for purported offences of corruption.

His government had claimed that there was the need to purge the judicial system, remove the bad eggs for the emergence of a world class judicial system.

The contemporaneous raids by men of the Department of State Service, DSS, which began at wee hours, lasted about 12 hours, leading to the arrest of Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro, both of the Supreme Court bench as well as 

Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja while the security operatives searched the residence of another judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba located on S.O Ogbemudia Crescent, Zone E, Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja.

However, following scathing criticism of President Buhari over the raids and the continued pressure on his government to improve the conditions of service of judicial officers in the country to stem corruption in the judicial system, his government sometime in 2017, set up a committee to look into the judges’ case.

Buhari sets up committee to review judges’ salaries, promises to reposition S’Court

That was after he was made to understand that it would seem like a contradiction for his government and Nigerians to desire a world class judicial system, and yet, saddle a key enabler of that system with poor conditions of service. 

The committee, TCJR submitted its report in 2018, recommending immediate harmonization of the salaries and allowances of judicial officers with those of members of the National Assembly.

It also recommended upward review of judges’ allowances—medical, rent, leave and hardship allowances.

But since the report was submitted, the government merely kept it in view.

Notwithstanding the fact that theTCJR report was gathering dust on the tables of relevant authorities, President Muhammadu Buhari said he was poised to reposition the judiciary in general and the Supreme Court in particular.

Indeed, in June 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote a letter through his spokesman, Garba Shehu, to then CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad on the need to appoint five additional Justices at the Supreme Court.

Specifically, Buhari said “Pursuant to the provisions of Section 230(2) a and b of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), I am pleased to request that you initiate in earnest the process of appointing five additional Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to make the full complement of 21 Justices as provided by the aforementioned provisions of the constitution.

Although the National Judicial Council, NJC, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria recommended qualified justices for appointment to the Supreme Court bench, the President Buhari government again developed cold feet in giving its approval.

It took the NBA and few prominent members of the bar almost one year to get Buhari to sign the list through subtle blackmail.

But the implementation of the TCJR recommendation on salary review for judges never saw the light of the day.

Nigerian judges are paid less than what lawmakers, executive office holders earn—Awomolo, SAN

That was the situation in July 2020 when in a chat with Vanguard, a prominent member of the inner bar, life bencher, and pioneer Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Osun State, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, lamented what he called the shameful official salary approved by the Federal Government for judges in the country.

According to him: “Under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended), there are three arms of government—The executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. They are what constitute the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

Each of them is allocated its portfolio to manage the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The legislature makes the law; the executive carries out the law, and the judiciary carries out judicial functions to resolve disputes between individuals, persons and governments, individual persons and individual persons, and between government and government. 

It can also determine if there are disputes between the three tiers of government.

“Unfortunately, the judges who constitute the judiciary are paid less than what senators earn in Nigeria. They are paid less than what the House of Representatives members earn in Nigeria.  And in the state, it is not better. What has happened is that nobody has spoken for them. They cannot speak for themselves. They cannot down the tools. They cannot go to the public to canvass for increase in salary. They cannot, on their own, initiate a case and say come and determine whether our salaries and conditions of service and remunerations are adequate. So, because of that lacuna, the executive and the legislature have been taking advantage of them.“

Salaries

Salary Judge, Federal High Court Judge of National Industrial Court Judge of FCT High Court Judge, State High Court Judge, FCT Sharia Court of Appeal Judge, FCT Customary Court of Appeal Khadi of State Sharia Court of Appeal Judge, State Customary Court of Appeal

Present Annual Basic N1,804,740.00 N1,804,740.00 N1,804,740.00 N1,804,740.00 N1,804,740.00 N1,804,740.00 N1,804,740.00 N1,804,740.00 N1,804,740.00

Proposed Annual Basic N5,414,220.00 N5,414,220.00 N5,414,220.00 N5,414,220.00 N5,414,220.00 N5,414,220.00 N5,414,220.00 N5,414,220.00 N5,414,220.00

The umbrella organisation of Nigerian lawyers also proposed a total overhaul of what currently consists of judicial allowances: medical, rent, leave, hardship allowances. 

Specifically, the NBA proposed 40% of the basic salary of all judicial office holders as medical allowance, 100% upward review in rent, leave and hardship allowances respectively.

Besides, the NBA proposed five new allowances for judges in recognition of the peculiar demands of the judicial offices that deserve compensation but which are not presently included in allowances available to judicial officers. These allowances include restrictive lifestyle allowance, dual responsibility allowance, disruptive burden allowance, long service allowance and legal research allowance.

The NBA proposed100% lifestyle allowance for all judicial office holders, in recognition of the limitations on lifestyle of judicial officers imposed by the Judicial Code of Conduct; 20% Dual Responsibility allowance for all heads of court, in recognition of the peculiar burden inherent in the offices of the heads of courts; 50% Disruptive Burden Allowance for Justices of the Court of Appeal, Judges of the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court, in view of the frequency of their transfers including to mitigate the financial burden of maintaining two homes; 10% Long Service Allowance payable monthly to judicial officers who have served on the Bench for a minimum of 5 years and 70% monthly legal research allowance for all heads of courts, justices of the Supreme Court and justices of the Court of Appeal.   

The NBA also proposed delinking judicial remuneration from that of the civil service and recommended an independent new Judicial Salary Pay Scale to be known as the Judicial Service Pay Scale (JSPS), to enable judicial salaries to be subject to regular reviews that are distinct from that carried out in respect of the civil service.

The NBA memorandum and the JCJR reporton the new salaries for all categories of judicial officers are with RMFAC for consideration and implementation.

On November 18, 2022, President MuhammaduBuhari again reaffirmed the commitment of his administration to review upward the salaries of judicial officers in the country but with no timeline.

He spoke at the official handover ceremony of the Nebo Graham-Douglas campus of the Nigerian Law School, Port Harcourt, to the Council of Legal Education.

Represented by Abubakar Malami, AGF, the president said he has directed RMAFC and the AGF to promptly commence implementation of the enhanced salary and welfare scheme for judicial officers.

The judiciary, according to the president, remains a foundation of strength and stability for the country’s democracy, adding that other measures would be put in place to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

But eight months after President Buhari gave his commitment to the outgone Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief  Olanipekun on July 31, 2022 and less than two months to the expiration of his tenure, nothing has been heard from the executive over the jumbo pay for judges.

A credible source and member of the NJC, who preferred anonymity told Vanguard that the promise to review upward the poor salaries of the judges was one of the several pledges that Buharimade on his assumption of office since 2015 but which he is yet to honour.

The source said that even when he promised to appoint five more justices into the Supreme Court bench to increase the number of judges to 21 in order to strengthen the apex bench, he developed a cold feet when the NJC list of recommended candidates got to his table.

He said though he reluctantly signed the list of newly appointed justices after a subtle blackmail, he said the number of justices at the apex bench has again depleted to 12 from 21 with no hope in sight to re-appoint more justices into the court even as the workload of the serving judicial officers are daily increasing.

From all available facts, the administration of President Buhari appears not to understand that its desire for a world class judicial system cannot be achieved with the present condition of service of the Nigerian judges.

It is high time that the Federal Government realized that the demand for an upward review of the salaries of judicial officers in the country which was much overdue, is not, in anyway a favourto the judicial officers concerned but its obligation to guarantee the independence of the judiciaryso that judges are not subjected to pressure or influence and are free to make impartial decisions based solely on facts presented and the relevant laws.