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CJN Ariwoola Advocates For Suitable Salary For Judges
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CJN Ariwoola Advocates For Suitable Salary For Judges

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The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, has said Nigerians will continue to suffer from the nation’s judiciary system until salaries, allowances and official benefits of judges are increased.

He pointed out that the last time their salaries were increased was 17 years ago despite the depreciation in the value of the currency, causing them to live under harsh economic conditions.

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The CJN made these comments yesterday at a public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on ‘A bill to Prescribe the Salaries Allowances and Fringe Benefits of Judicial Officers.’

He said, “When judges are well compensated, yes, they do their best, but actually, as clearly demonstrated, the real interest that is being looked at is the interest of these citizens, because they will be the ones who suffer the consequences of a deprived judiciary.”

Ariwoola, while analysing salaries of Nigerian judges, equated it to a patient at intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital who needs serious medical attention.

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“Distinguished senators, in a nutshell, what we are saying is this: the situation of judges across Nigeria is like one in a critical condition in the ICU. The schedule to the bill would stabilise the patient. When a patient is in that condition, you don’t start physiotherapy at the ICU; you make sure he is stabilised, move to the general ward, gain some strength, and then you now look at physiotherapy and all other therapists.”

The CJN seemed to suggest that after the issue of judges’ salaries is addressed, then attention will shift to other judiciary workers.

“In fact, our starting point will now be a reference to the chairman’s very own observation. But for now, let’s stabilise the patient, move him out of ICU and then we can talk about the rest later,” he said.
Meanwhile, in an interview on Channels Television’s public affairs programme, ‘Politics Today,’ yesterday, former Nigeria Human Rights Commission boss, Prof Chidi Odinkalu, pointed out that hiking the salaries of judges and ignoring other judicial officers would breed discontent among the staff which could lead to industrial strife and shutdowns that will paralyse the system.

The CJN, who was represented by Justice Kashim Zannah, the chief judge of Borno State, said, “The salaries were last reviewed in the year 2007. It has been 17 years earning the same amount despite the tumultuous depreciation in purchasing power, while other sectors have theirs reviewed several times over the period.

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“Judicial officers have been in silence. As a simple illustration, the exchange rate of the US dollar was N130.25 at the time the salary was fixed in 2007, and this exchange rate can be found on page eleven of the June 2009 Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission review report; that was the exchange rate as of the time it was fixed.

“Therefore, as of 2007 when the salaries were fixed, for example, Ajali’s monthly gross pay before tax N661,738, divided by N130.25 it equals $5,080.000. Today, if divided by just N1,500, it is $441.

“A salary of $5,080.000 has now dwindled to $441 only when it was fixed. In today’s terms, the value is equal to N7,000,600, 278.9,” he added.

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He said the bill on the floor prescribes N3 million, when it should be N7.6 million.

He went on: “By the historic instrumentality of the 10th National Assembly and the noted and unequalled disposition of Mr. President to enhance the administration of justice, the current appropriation law captures an anticipated equivalent of the above example at a gross monthly salary of N3.2 million.

“Now, notwithstanding the foregoing, we note with profound appreciation to the RMAFC that the bill on the floor is still structurally and conceptually a marked improvement that foretells a future of fair and just compensation for judicial work in this country.”

According to him, great effort was made to move from generic public officer compensation principles to include an acknowledgement of the peculiarities of judicial office.

He lamented that judges across Nigeria had endured 17 years of naira depreciation and consequent deprivation.

In this presentation, the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) said the efforts to improve the remuneration of judicial officers has a chequered history.

He stated that sometime in July 2023, the National Judicial Council forwarded a Proposed Review of Consolidated Salaries and Allowances for Judicial Officers for consideration by the president, with the NJC proposal a revision of the remuneration package earlier proposed by Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), which was not consummated before the end of the previous administration.

Fagbemi said, “The instant NJC’s proposal for a 300 percent increase was informed by: prevailing economic realities of increasing headline and core inflationary trends. It can go a long way in putting in place an enabling working environment that engenders professional development and efficiency for judicial officers.”

He expressed the readiness of President Bola Tinubu to respond positively on matters of improving welfare and standards in the judiciary, and promoting capacity, independence and confidence in the Nigerian judiciary, which informed his recommendation of the NJC proposal for the president’s consideration on 19th October, 2023.

“On 20th October 2023, the president granted an unprecedented approval of a 300 percent increment in the remuneration of judicial officers. Consequently, the president directed RMAFC to review its previous May 2023 recommendation to reflect the NJC proposal.

“This culminated in the present Executive Bill that was forwarded to the National Assembly in furtherance of a cardinal part of the President’s Renewed Hope for a Better Nigeria which is deepening Judicial Reforms to promote sustainable socio-economic growth.

“I wish to remark that the Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) Bill 2024 is quite innovative; aside from the increment in the basic salary, it also took cognizance of certain peculiarities of the administrative structure and operation of the judiciary.

“This Bill will birth an appropriate and commensurate remuneration that will ensure judicial independence and integrity,” Fagbemi said.

On his part, the minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Wale Edun, said the present administration is making an attempt to improve the lot of the judiciary.

The chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Tahir Monguno in his welcome address said it is their responsibility to ensure that the Nigerian Judiciary is equipped with the resources and support it needs to function effectively and efficiently.

“By increasing the salaries and allowances of Judicial officers, we would be demonstrating our commitment to strengthening the independence and integrity of the Judiciary, and sending a clear message that we value their vital role in our democratic system,” he said.

According to him, if the bill is passed, it will not only improve the living standards of judicial officers, but also enhance the overall quality of the Justice system, boost public confidence, and contribute to the long-term stability and prosperity of the nation.

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