By Christiana Ekpa and Ikechukwu Okaforadi
Senate yesterday directed its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to conduct an investigative hearing on the issues surrounding the non-payment of severance, gratuity, pensions and other entitlements to retired state judicial officers by state governments, and report back within four weeks.
The Upper Legislative Chamber also mandated the committee to review the laws impeding the harmonization of the processes and prompt payment of retirement benefits of all judicial officers in the country.
It equally urged the National Judicial Council, NJC to harmonise the payment of retirement benefits of all judges of superior courts of records in the country as it has done with the salaries and emoluments of retired judicial officers listed in Section 6 of the Constitution.
These resolutions followed a motion, “The plight of retired judges of state High Courts and the need to harmonise the process of paying the retirement benefits of all judges of superior courts of records in Nigeria” by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North).
Leading debate on the motion, Utazi recalled that sometimes around December 2016, Hon. Justice Godwin Ononiba, retired Chief Judge of Anambra State leading other retired judges, sued the state government, the National Industrial Court for nonpayment of their severance, gratuities, pensions and arrears of pensions.
Utazi said the suit was “indicative and a reflection of the depressing plight of retired judicial officers, especially judges of the state High Courts in Nigeria”.
He added that the senate was aware that the appointment of judges of the state High Courts passes through the intermediary of the NJC, whose recommendation the governor of a state considers and forwards to the House of Assembly for confirmation.
According to him, “the constitution deliberately placed the salaries of federal and state judicial officers as a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund as a way to secure the independence of the judiciary and such are paid by or transmitted through the NJC to the necessary sub-authorities”.
The lawmaker noted that the retirement benefits of federal judicial officers are paid by the NJC, except for a few hiccups, the council has discharged this role quite prompt.
Utazi therefore was curious that while their salaries are routed through the NJC, the retirement benefits of states judicial officers of superior courts of record as recognized by Section 6 of the Constitution were left to the states to be paid on their retirement.
He lamented that “this state of affairs has created an anomalous situation where retired state High Court judges have been left to their fate as state governments hardly make these payments to the judges as and when due”.
In his remarks, the senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki stressed the need to address the plight of retired judicial officers so as to save them from dying out of misery and hopelessness after retirement.
He therefore mandated the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to look into the non-payment of severance, gratuity, pensions and arrears of the judicial officers and report back within four weeks.