The level of funding of the nation’s justice system by successive governments between 1960 and 2020 on the one hand and the salaries paid by various countries of the world including Nigeria to their judges across the judicial hierarchy on the other hand with a couple of findings including that the Nigerian government has, for 60 straight years, treated the judiciary more or less like a parastatal in the executive than an independent arm of government with less than 1% allocation in the national budget and that the Nigerian judges are the worst paid judicial officers in the Commonwealth and belong to the class of the least paid in the world.
On August 20, this year, a Professor of Public Law and President of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSS), Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN) announced the intention of his organization to approach a Federal high court with a writ for a mandamus order compelling a raise in the salaries and allowances of Nigerian judges which have remained static for 13 years.
He had anchored the decision on the evident failure by relevant authorities including the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC) to review upward the salaries and allowances of judges for more than a decade in spite of rising inflation, the declining value of the naira, and increasing workload of the judicial officers.
RMFAC is a creation of section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) with powers to determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders and judicial officers in the country.
By the provision of Section 31 of the Third Schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution, RMFAC has composed of a Chairman and one member from each state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja who in the opinion of the President are persons of unquestionable integrity with requisite qualification and experience.
But no member of the judiciary is statutorily on the commission which recommends salaries for the judges.
Akinseye-George spoke of his organization’s intention to resort to litigation on the failure to review judges’ salaries in the country at a webinar organized by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
Although it is more than four months when he issued the threat to sue the government, Akinseye-George told journalists that the CSS has not abandoned the plan.
In fact, he hinted that arrangements have been concluded to file the mandamus application and that the processes would be lodged at the registry of the court any moment soon.
Judges have been on the same salaries for 13 years; no decent retirement benefits; after working and retiring at 65 years, judges still have to look for rented accommodation. I think it is a shame
“Judges have been on the same salaries for 13 years; no decent retirement benefits; after working and retiring at 65 years, judges still have to look for rented accommodation. I think it is a shame,” Akinseye had fumed at the forum, four months ago.
Like Akinseye-George, a prominent member of the inner bar, life bencher and pioneer Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Osun State, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) had on July 12, 2020, also lamented what he called the official shameful salary approved by the Federal Government for judges in the country.
He said whereas, the government cannot run or stabilize without the judiciary, yet, as important as the third arm of government is, it has always been at a disadvantage.
“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 own portfolio with a view to managing 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 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 an 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.
“Worse still, since 1999, the executive and the legislature have been conniving to increase the burden, the work of the judiciary. They timed them by the Constitution: all electoral matters must be determined between so, so time and so, so time. They have been increasing their burden, they have been creating hardship, inconveniences, and a great burden on the judiciary. But they are not paid well. Yet, these judicial officers have been carrying on with the hope that someday, they will be adequately remunerated.
“The point is that without the judiciary, our democracy would have collapsed. Without the judiciary, our democracy would have gone and the military would have taken over several times. You know, at various points, we reach a breaking point that we think, oh, the end has come but the judiciary has always come to rescue our democracy. Yet, they are least recognized. They are dying in hundreds and nobody is knowing, nobody is taking note. And this is because of the onerous job they do and the effect on their health. They are poorly paid. Their condition of service is not improved and they suffer in silence.
“For me, it is time for Nigerians to say, oh, it is time to say let us try and help these helpless group of people because, without judiciary, there will be no democracy. Then, we will have autocracy, we will have anarchy, or military dictatorship. None of these is favorable to the common man in the street. For me, it is unkind and unfair to treat our judicial officers the way we are treating them.
“I remember when I was invited to join the bench, they were earning just N4,000 per month then. I said no. it is not a place for me where I will be suffering in silence and I would die in silence. It is not for me,” Awomolo (SAN) said.
The irrepressible social critic, human and civil rights lawyer, Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, GCON, SAN, (now late) had also lamented severally the plight of the Nigerian judges during his days.
Some of our judges die in the office under circumstances that are related to the barbaric conditions in which they work.
Hon Justice C, Idigbe of the Supreme Court –one of our best justices died in office at the age of 59 years. Hon Justice Augustine Nnamani—the erudite intellectual of the Supreme Court died on September 22, 1990, at the age of 56 years. Hon Justice Ligali Ayorinde, Chief Judge of Lagos State died at the age of 64 years.
According to him, “the hardship that is continuously encountered by judges of all categories are all clear for everybody to see. Trial judges take evidence in longhand, conduct researches, and write judgments, most times without the aid of well-equipped libraries. In the end, some of them die as quickly as they retire.
“No wonder, Hon Justice Olusola Olatunde Thomas who retired as Chief Judge of Lagos State on November 27, 1996, at 65 died on June 6, 1999, less than 3 years after he retired. Hon Justice Roseline Ajoke Omotosho who retired as the Chief Judge of Lagos State also died less than three years after she retired. The same unfortunate death befell Hon Justice Fernandez who retired at the age of 65 years and died shortly after.
“Some of our judges die in the office under circumstances that are related to the barbaric conditions in which they work. Hon Justice C, Idigbe of the Supreme Court –one of our best justices died in office at the age of 59 years. Hon Justice Augustine Nnamani—the erudite intellectual of the Supreme Court died on September 22, 1990, at the age of 56 years. Hon Justice Ligali Ayorinde, Chief Judge of Lagos State died at the age of 64 years. Hon Justice John Idowu Conrad Taylor, one of the most courageous judges died at the age of 56 years. Hon Justice Adeniyi Adefila (JP) of Borno State High Court, died on July 7, 1998, at the age of 60 years and Hon Justice Yekinni Olayiwola Adio of the Supreme Court died in office on Tuesday, July 8, 1997, after a brief illness. They all died in office!
“Sadly today, some judges have strokes while in service. Judges are confronted with avoidable trauma, stress, and strain while trying to dispense justice unlike their colleagues in some other countries where conditions for dispensation of justice are just simply good, very comfortable and progressive,” he said.
The situation has not really changed even in 2020 like so many other judges had at one time or the other become incapacitated while still in the office while many others retired into a serious health crisis and died shortly after bowing out of the bench.
Gani said the situation is not the same in other countries of the world where judges are appreciated and well-taken care off.
“In England, Lord Goddard retired at the age of 89 years, 4 months, and 29 days whilst Lord Denning retired at the age of 83 years, 7 months, and 29 days and he died at the age of over 100 years. Hugo Black retired at the age of 85 from the United States of America Supreme Court whilst Thurgood Marshal and Harry A. Blackman both of the United States of America Supreme Court retired at the ages of 82 and 85 respectively.
“It is ironic that despite the fact that our judges work under serious and excruciating conditions, they deliver more judgments than most of their counterparts in the established democracies,” he said.
Besides the scary picture painted by the trio of Awomolo (SAN), Akinseye-George (SAN), and late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) about the plight of judges in the country, available literature and data also showed that the Nigerian government has literally never treated the judiciary as an arm of government in budgetary allocation since 1960 when Nigeria got independence and now (2020).
In a study conducted by Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) on the funding of the judiciary from January 1960 till September 10, 2001, a period of 42 years, it was found that the Nigerian government denied the judiciary required fiscal attention and showed a total lack of regard for the third arm of government in the country.
In the study, Gani dug the archives to reproduce how much exactly was allocated to the entire Judiciary arm of government in Nigeria from 1960 till 2001 and how much exactly was allocated to only one Ministry (Defense) in the Federal Executive arm of government during the same period.
In a study conducted by Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) on the funding of the judiciary from January 1960 till September 10, 2001, a period of 42 years, it was found that the Nigerian government denied the judiciary required fiscal attention and showed a total lack of regard for the third arm of government in the country.
The Federal Ministries of Nigeria are civil service departments that are responsible for delivering various types of government service. As of date, there are about 28 ministries, one of which is the Ministry of Defence.
Although the full data are not reproduced here because of space, findings, however, showed that fiscal allocation to only a Federal Ministry of Defence was much fatter each year than what was allocated to the entire Judiciary arm of government between 1960 and 2001.
Similarly, between 2002 till 2020, a close study of the Federal Budget also showed that there was no time the judiciary had secured up to 1% of the national budget including the 2020 national budget in which the judiciary had one of its highest allocations of N110billion representing less than 1% of the national budget.
Although the National Judicial Council created by section 153 of the 1999 Constitution with powers to collect, control, and disburse all money, capital, and recurrent for the judiciary had murmured over the low budget allocation to the third arm of government for years, it was loud in 2020 during the defense of its annual budget for 2021.
The Council had criticized the nation’s annual budgetary process for the judiciary saying a situation where one agency would decide what others should get without the knowledge of its working environment was not in line with best global practices.
The Executive Secretary of NJC, Mr. Ahmed Saleh who spoke when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary on November 16, 2020, appealed for a paradigm shift in the judiciary budgeting regime.
The Office of the Executive Secretary is the pivot around which all activities of the NJC revolve as it coordinates and supervises all activities of the Council including disbursement and monitoring of funds.
Saleh, in his presentation, said that a total of N187,945,531,476 was initially proposed for the 2021 budget operations, for instance, but was reviewed down to N110 billion considering the ceiling that was given to it by the budget office, whereas the Nigeria judiciary was in dire need of funding adding that the recent vandalism of some courts occasioned by the EndSARS protests made it more imperative for increased funding.
He argued that the Supreme Court justices were recently increased by eight making a total of 20 stressing that there was a promise of a special intervention fund to enable it to function but had yet to be received.
He added that the Federal High court was also in the process of increasing the number of judges and that such exercise would come with cost on personnel and capital expenditure.
According to him, without an increase in funding, this will not be possible.
”The challenges of COVID-19 have also shown us that we should leverage on the electronics court system. If eight justices have been added, I don’t know why there won’t be an increase of allocation now that the number of justices has been increased,” he had said.
With a budget of N110 billion for the entire judiciary in 2020 and the same is proposed for the year 2021 at a time the number of Supreme Court justices was increased to 20, the highest ever since 1999 when the Fourth Republic was birthed, it goes without saying that there is no indication insight that the salary of judges which were reviewed 13 years ago will be addressed.
It is an open secret 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.
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 an annual basic salary of N1, 995,430.18 each.
The salaries of all categories of Nigerian judges have remained static since February 2007.
Conversely, a survey of judges’ salaries in other countries of the world showed that they not only enjoyed the periodic review of their salaries but that the salaries of Nigerian judges are mere fractions of what their counterparts earn.
By implication, a high court judge in Nigeria in 2020 with his N1,804,740 .00 (N1.8m) annual basic salary earns 2.19% of the annual basic salary of a district court judge in the United States.
For instance, a District Court judge in the US which is an equivalent of a Federal or a state high court judge in Nigeria presently earns $216,400.00 basic salary per annum which if converted to Nigerian Naira at the 2020 average exchange rate of N380: 1$ translates to N82, 232,000.00 (N82.32m) while a Nigerian Federal or state high court judge goes home with N1,804,740 (N1.8m) annual basic salary. By implication, a high court judge in Nigeria in 2020 with his N1,804,740 .00 (N1.8m) annual basic salary earns 2.19% of the annual basic salary of a district court judge in the United States.
Similarly, a Circuit court judge in the US which is an equivalent of a Court of Appeal judge in Nigeria presently (2020) earns $229,500.00 as basic salary per annum which if converted to Nigerian Naira at the average exchange rate of N380: 1$ in 2020 translates to N87,200,513.41 (N87.2m) while a Nigerian Justice of the Court of Appeal goes home with N1, 995,430.18 (N1.99) annual basic salary. By implication, a Justice of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria in 2020 with his N1,995,430.18 (N1.9m) annual basic salary earns 2.28% of the annual basic salary of a Circuit court judge in the United States.
Also, an Associate Justice of the Federal Supreme Court in the United States which is an equivalent of the Justice of Supreme Court of Nigeria presently (2020) earns $265,600.00 as basic salary per annum which if converted to Nigerian Naira at the average exchange rate of N380: 1$ in 2020 translates to N100, 928,000.00 (N100.92m) while a Nigerian Justice of the Supreme Court goes home with N2,477,110.00 (N2.47m) annual basic salary.
By implication, a Justice of the Supreme Court in Nigeria in 2020 with his N2,477,110 (N2.47m) annual basic salary earns 2.45% of the annual basic salary of his counterpart (Associate Justice) in the United States.
The Chief Justice of the Federal Supreme Court of the United States which is an equivalent of the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Nigeria presently (2020) earns $277,700.00 as basic salary per annum which if converted to Nigerian Naira at the average exchange rate of N380: 1$ in 2020 translates to N105,526,000.00 (N105.52m) while the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria goes home with N3,353,972.50 (N3.35m) annual basic salary.
In the same vein, the Chief Justice of the Federal Supreme Court of the United States which is an equivalent of the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Nigeria presently (2020) earns $277,700.00 as basic salary per annum which if converted to Nigerian Naira at the average exchange rate of N380: 1$ in 2020 translates to N105,526,000.00 (N105.52m) while the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria goes home with N3,353,972.50 (N3.35m) annual basic salary. By implication, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2020 with his N3,353,972.50 (N3.35m) annual basic salary earns 3.17% of the annual basic salary of his counterpart (Chief Justice) in the United States.
Supreme Court is the highest court in the US. It accepts 1% of all cases it receives. By virtue of this, circuit courts can be very influential as they are able to set legal precedents when deciding appeals
As it can be seen from the table above, the annual basic salary of the judges of all categories in the United States increased every year (2016 to 2020) but the same cannot be said of the salaries of Nigerian judges which have remained static since 2007!
Worse still, the average exchange rate of one USD to Nigerian Naira (NGN) in 2007 when Nigerian judges received a pay rise was $1: N117.88. It jumped insignificantly to 1$: N117.98 in 2008; 1$: N158.6 in 2014; 1$: N253.5 in 2016; 1$: N305.8 in 2017; 1$: N361 in 2018; 1$: N360 in 2019 and 1$: N380 in 2020.
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 2020 than what they did between 2007 and 2019 when Naira was indeed stronger than what it is today.
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 2020 than what they did between 2007 and 2019 when Naira was indeed stronger than what it is today.
A further backward glance of the salaries of United States federal judges and all categories of the Nigerian judges in 2001, for instance, showed that while the Chief Justice of Nigeria earned N1,938,000.00 (N1.9m) basic salary per annum which was the equivalent of $14,355.55 with the 2001 exchange rate of N135: $1, the Chief Justice of the United States of America earned $186,300.00 basic salary per annum which at the 2001 exchange rate amounted to N25,150,500.00 (N25m).
The statistics showed that the Chief Justice of Nigeria earned less than 8% (precisely 7.71%) of the salary of the Chief Justice of the United States of America.
By implication, the Chief Justice of Nigeria earned a relatively high (though shamefully) 7.71% of the salary of the Chief Justice of the United States of America in 2001 but it dropped to 3.17% in 2020 notwithstanding that he received a pay raise from N1.9m which he earned in 2001 to N3.35m which he earns in 2020.
Table 6: Salaries of Heads of Judiciary in Nigeria, the US, and the UK in 2001
S/NCountry Head of JudiciaryCountry CurrencySalary of Chief Justice in Country CurrencySalary of Chief Justice in NGN1Chief Justice of Nigeria (NGN)N1,938,000.00N1,938,000.002Chief Justice of the United StatesUSA (USD)$186,300.00N25,150,500.003Lord Chancellor of EnglandUnited Kingdom (GBP)£173,875.00.00N33,036,250.004The Lord Chief Justice of EnglandUnited Kingdom (GBP)£171,375.00N32,561,250.00.
The Way The Law Should Go by Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN)
As it can be seen in Table 6 above, the Lord Chancellor of England in 2001 similarly earned £173,875.00 basic salary per annum representing N33,036,250.00 (N33m) with the exchange rate of N190: £1, the Lord Chief Justice of England earned £171,375.00 basic salary per annum representing N32,561,250.00 (N32.5m) when converted to Nigerian Naira as at 2001. In other words, the Chief Justice of Nigeria earned less than 6% (precisely 5.8% and 5.9% respectively of the salaries of the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice of England.

 


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