President Muhammadu Buhari has disclosed that his administration would soon approve jumbo pay and enhanced welfare package for serving judges across levels of court in the country.
Buhari, who made the disclosure to Body of Benchers, (BoB), members in Abuja during a visit to him in Aso Villa has already issued a directive to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, and other relevant bodies to immediately commence work on the 2018 report of an Advisory Committee that has been submitted to him on the new salary structure.
Chairman of BoB, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, re-echoed Buhari’s plan while speaking in Abuja on Sunday at an event to mark the 80th birthday of a retired Justice of the Supreme Court and traditional ruler of Tuomo Kingdom in Burutu Local Area of Delta State, Justice Francis Fedode Tabai. He said Nigerian judges would soon smile.
The BoB members had visited Buhari at the Villa to rub minds on the piling challenges of judicial officers in discharging their all important constitutional duties to the people with the situations of their support staff and the entire judiciary workers.
Although details of what the judicial officers would earn are yet to be disclosed, Buhari was said to have assured that the review of the salary structure would take into account various factors, including inflation in the country.
For many years that stakeholders have been mounting pressure on President Buhari’s administration to review upward the salaries of the judicial officers, this is the first time when he gave his commitment to give the judges new pay.
It was reported that the last time the judges’ salaries and allowances were increased was in 2007 following 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The law had repealed a similar Act of 2002 to create room for the increase of judges’ basic salaries, allowances and fringe benefits in 2007.
Already, a revered constitutional lawyer, Sebastine Hon (SAN), who was also worried about the plight of the Nigerian judges had recently instituted a lawsuit before the National Industrial Court to compel the RMAFC; attorney-general of the federation, and National Judicial Council, NJC, 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 requires that the salaries and allowances of the nation’s judges be urgently improved upon.
Wole Olanipekun (SAN) is on the team of lawyers handling the case in court. He had also led the BoB to President Buhari to handle the issue politically.
Olanipekun, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), who led a team of Body of Benchers to interface with President Buhari last Thursday, revealed that the team succeeded in extracting commitment from the President to ensure an enhanced welfare package for judicial officers and a comprehensive rehabilitation of the entire Judiciary.
Besides, the legal luminary also said the Presidency agreed to upgrade the contents of the 2018 reports to bring it in tune with current realities.
“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 on one hand to ascertain their working conditions.
“We told him how bad things are with the judiciary; that Justices are not encouraged, that they are underpaid, that 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 (Buhari), 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.
“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 that is on ground and act as we have requested.”
According to Olanipekun, “It is those who suffer from injustice that know what it means “, adding that after they drew the attention of President Buhari to the plight of the justices, he agreed with us that something must be done immediately.
Responding to questions, Olanipekun said: “The President gave his commitment voluntarily. It was in response to my address, that the President assured that he was going to take immediate action.
“For now, the President has given instructions to those in charge to dust a report that is on ground, which was submitted in 2018 on judges’ welfare and act as we have requested.”
On whether the President gave a timeline for the execution of his instructions, Olanipekun said they have elected to take President Buhari by his words.
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