By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
Senate has vowed to insulate top judiciary officers from economic hardship, even as it reiterated commitment to increase the salaries of both serving and retired justices and judges as a measure to raise their stake in the dispensation of justice.
The chairman of Senate Committee on Judiciary, Opeyemi Bamidele, who said this during the screening session of the eight judges of the Appeal Court who were appointed to the Supreme Court by President Muhammadu Buhari, said the only way to economically secure the justices and judges was to raise their salaries and allowances in view of the economic realities in the country.
Opeyemi, who disclosed that with the nomination of the eight judges from the Appeal Court, the number of the justices in the Supreme Court is now twenty, observed that the selection was done in compliance with federal character. He said the increase in their number will strengthen the speedy dispensation of justice, being the priority of the 9th National Assembly.
Speaking further, the senator reiterated that the lawmakers are ready to partner with the Judiciary to make it more effective, adding that “they are expected to be just, fair and upright and the Senate is committed to providing the conducive environment for them to succeed”.
He emphasised that the critical duty of the judiciary to dispense justice in democracy must be discharged irrespective of whatever economic circumstances. He observed that the existing law which covers the determination of remunerations for the judiciary officers was passed twelve years ago, when the exchange rate was low.
According to him, the exchange rate has tripled, meaning that the wages of the judiciary officers have remained stagnant, which he said is unfair considering the increase in the market indices, of which the judges are not immuned.
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”, he said.
Specifically, Senator Bamidele said 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.
According to him, 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.
“The enumerated poor take home packages for Judges and Justices, clearly show that they are not being fortified in anyway against temptation on the line of duty”, he said.
He added that 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.
“The only way to secure them from poverty is to raise their stake in the dispensation of justice and this can only be done by increasing their salary. This will be extended to retired justices. The judiciary is the bastion of democracy and they are the last hope of common man. For them to live to their calling there is need for financial independence. They must go cap in hand begging the executive for funds”, he said.
Speaking also, the Deputy President of the Senate, Omo-Agege Ovie, expressed confidence that the nominees will be confirmed, adding that they will add value to Nigeria’s jurisprudence.
He said it is critical that the welfare of the justices and judges are taken care of, lamenting that their situation, even in the highest level of the court, is appalling. “The moment they leave the bench life becomes too difficult for them. It is not enough for the senators to lament since there is something they can do to help the situation”, he said, asking the nominees to smile and take home the assurance that the Senate will address the ugly situation.
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.
The eight nominees included: One from the North West, two from South South and two from North East, three from North West.
Bamidele, before the commencement of the screening, addressed the issue that the South East does not have a representative in the nominees, saying what the executive did was to fill the vacant position and in reflection of the federal character.
He said of the twelve sitting Justices of the Supreme Court, one is from North West, one from North East, three from South West and three from South East, one from South South and three from North Central.
He said it is the National Judicial Council (NJC) that the Constitution empowers to do the screening and submit to the President, who will approve and send to the Senate to ensure that they complied with the Constitution and the federal character.