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Enforcing court ordered salaries for judicial officers

Lawyers have hailed President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of enhanced salary and welfare scheme for judicial officers across the country. They however insisted that the pay rise must be implemented in line with the order of the National Industrial Court. FRANCIS IWUCHUKWU reports

 

The immediate implementation of the enhanced salary and welfare scheme for judicial officers nationwide was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 18, 2022.

 

The decision to implement the enhanced salary and welfare scheme for judicial officers across Nigeria was made public on behalf of the president by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), during the official handover ceremony of the Nabo Graham-Douglas campus of the Nigerian Law School, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to the Council of Legal Education.

Malami said: “Let me use this opportunity also to inform you that as part of the efforts to enhance the welfare of judicial officers, Mr President has recently approved an enhanced salary and welfare scheme for judicial officers and accordingly directed the Chairman, Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMAFC), and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice to promptly commence measures towards the realisation and implementation of these directives”.

According to the president, the judiciary remains a foundation of strength and stability for the country’s democracy, adding that other measures would be put in place to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

Describing the Dr Nabo Graham Douglas Campus of the Nigerian Law School, built, furnished and handed over by Governor Wike’s administration as a grand wonder, structured to be self-sustaining, President Buhari posited that,

“I need not engage in poetic verbosity to properly describe the grand wonder that is being commissioned today. “The icing on the cake is the fact that this edifice and its state-of-theart facilities are structured to be self-sustaining through associated revenue earners”.

 

President Buhari said he was aware that Governor Nyesom Wike extended development initiatives to the neighbouring Bayelsa State, by executing multi-billionnaira projects that included a 900- bed space hostel and 1,500-capacity auditorium, in the Yenagoa Campus of the Nigerian Law School. “This is in addition to the provision of critical infrastructure support extended to federal courts in Rivers State, over the years.

 

These are indeed pace-setting and unparalleled contributions by a state government to what is ordinarily under the remit of the Federal Government. “Governor Wike’s dedication to these projects is better appreciated from the viewpoint of his being an unrelenting advocate of true federalism in Nigeria.

 

“The initiatives were targeted at significantly strengthening the capacity and independence of the judiciary, which he said remained a pillar of strength and stability for the nation’s democracy.

“This administration will continue to support efforts to transform the judiciary, as part of a critical strategy, in ensuring a fair, progressive and prosperous society, with the rule of law as its cornerstone,” he said.

While calling on judicial officers to continue to uphold the ethics of their profession and operate with accountability and probity in the exercise of their judicial and administrative duties, President Buhari charged the Council of Legal Education to sustain the trust by optimally maintaining and running the project in furtherance of the quest to improve and sustain high standards in legal education.

“The legal profession thrives on sound learning, ethical values and good character. Therefore, it is our abiding duty to sustain high standards for those on whose shoulders rest the future of both the Bar and the Bench,” Buhari added. The president commended Wike, on behalf of the entire Justice family and lovers of justice in Nigeria for his unifying efforts and commitment to national harmony.

The president further insisted that the event served as an avenue to be reminded of the need to promote cooperation and understanding between the federal and state governments in the overall national interest and the welfare of all Nigerians. Prior to Buhari’s approval, the Chairman, Body of Benchers (BoB), Wole Olanipekun (SAN), had on August 2, 2022, revealed plans by the president to put smiles on the face of judicial officers across the country.

 

Olanipekun spoke about Buhari’s plan in Abuja 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 Government Area of Delta State, Justice Francis Fedode Tabai.

Members of the BoB had earlier paid a visit to Buhari at the Presidential 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.

Court’s verdict on pay rise

Before the president’s directive on the immediate implementation of the enhanced salary and welfare scheme for judicial officers nationwide, the National Industrial Court (NIC) in Abuja, presided over by Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae, had issued an order for what she termed the immediate upward review of salaries of all Nigerian judges.

In handing down her judgment in an action instituted by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Sebastine Hon, Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae specifically directed the National Assembly (NASS), the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF) and National Judicial Council (NJC) to ensure immediate compliance with the order.

 

According to the judge, the refusal of government to review the salaries and allowances of judges for 14 years was unconstitutional and unlawful, hence, the need to compel it to do the needful. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae posited that it remains unfortunate that justices and judges who are ministers in the temple of justice have become victims of injustice in the country.

 

The court held that by the combined interpretation of the provision of Section 4 (1) (2) of the constitution and the First Schedule of 6 (1b) of the RMAFC Act 2004, the first and second defendants did not have the power to neglect, by failing to perform their constitutional and statutory duties of reviewing judges’ salaries since 2008. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae equally held that the current salaries of judges were embarrassingly too low, given the present socio-economic realitie  and other factors such as the value of the naira against the currencies of some countries.

The judge made an order of mandatory injunction compelling all the defendants to forthwith, put in place or activate legal and administrative machineries to begin payment to the justices. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae directed that a minimum monthly salary of N10 million should be paid to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), while each Justice of the Supreme Court should be paid a minimum monthly salary of N9 million.

The judge further directed that a minimum monthly salary of N9 million should be paid to the President and Justices of the Court of Appeal. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae, who ordered a minimum monthly salary of N8 million for the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and N7 million for each of the Justices of the same court, declared that for the President of the National Industrial Court and each of the judges of the same court, payment of a minimum monthly salary of N8 million and N7 million respectively should be made.

 

The Chief Judge (CJ) of each State High Court and each judge of the same court should be paid a minimum monthly salary of N7 million, even as Justice Obaseki-Osaghae, directed that the Chief Judge of the FCT should receive a minimum monthly salary of N8 million while other judges of the same court should be paid N7 million monthly.

As for the Grand Khadi of the Sharia Court and the Khadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the FCT, the court ordered that a minimum monthly salary of N8 million and N7 million should be their take-home pay.

 

The court further ordered that the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the FCT should be paid a minimum monthly salary of N8 million, while each judge of the same court should be paid N7 million. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae also made an order of mandatory injunction compelling the second defendant, RMAFC, or any other body that would be subsequently charged with the duty of reviewing judges’ salaries to perpetually review it, in conjunction with the third defendant, on a yearly basis or every two years.

The judge equally mandated the first, second, and third defendants to pay the claimant the sum of N500,000 each. On the issues of locus standi, lack of jurisdiction of the court, non-joinder of the right party and failure of the claimant to serve pre-action notice as raised by the NASS and the AGF in their preliminary objections, the judge declared that the claimant had stated that he intended to become a judge one day and that had made him an interested party that can institute the suit.

 

The judge equally held that any individual could institute a suit that is of public interest to challenge an averment to any constitutional and statutory provisions. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae consequently ruled that the claimant had a locus standi, stating that the issue of pre-action was only a procedural rule and that the issue of non-joinder could not rob the court of exercising jurisdiction.

 

Sebastine Hon’s suit A Senior Advocate of Nigeria  SAN), Sebastine Hon, had headed for the Industrial Court seeking an order of mandatory injunction for the NJC, NASS, RMFAC and AGF to set in motion, legal machinery to immediately review upwards, the salaries and emoluments of judicial officers. Hon had also requested an order of the court to review upward, the monthly salary of the CJN, JSC, President of the Court of Appeal and Chief Judge of Federal High Court to N12 million, N11 million and N10 million respectively.

He had also prayed Justice Obaseki-Osaghae for an order directing the relevant bodies to pay a minimum of N10 million to each Justice of the Court of Appeal; N8 million for each Judge of the Federal High Court and N8 million for FCT High Court judges, monthly.

For the Grand khadi of Sharia’s Court of Appeal, he prayed the court to grant a minimum of N8 million monthly and N7 million for its counterpart in states. In his originating summons, Hon requested an interpretation of the relevant sections of the Constitution that empowers the bodies for increment of salaries and emoluments of Nigeria’s judicial officers. Other prayers sought by Hon included:

 

“Whether by a combined interpretation of Sections 4(1) & (2) and 81(1)-(4) of the Constitution read in conjunction with Section 6(1)(d) and Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the 1st and 2nd defendants have unbridled, whimsical and untrammeled powers to arbitrarily and unreasonably refuse, fail or neglect to upwardly review the basic salaries and allowances.

 

“Whether by a combined interpretation of Sections 4(1) and (2), 6(1), (3), (5)(a)-(j) and (6) and 81(1)-(4) of the Constitution read in conjunction with Section 6(1)(d) and Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, this Honourable Court has jurisdiction or is under a duty to compel the 1st and 2nd defendants to exercise their constitutional and statutory discretionary powers to upwardly review the basic salaries and allowances of the judicial officers listed. “Whether by a combined interpretation of Sections 84(1) of the Constitution read in conjunction with Section 6(1)(b) and (d) and Parts A and B

 

and other factors such as the value of the naira against the currencies of some countries. The judge made an order of mandatory injunction compelling all the defendants to forthwith, put in place or activate legal and administrative machineries to begin payment to the justices. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae directed that a minimum monthly salary of N10 million should be paid to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), while each Justice of the Supreme Court should be paid a minimum monthly salary of N9 million.

The judge further directed that a minimum monthly salary of N9 million should be paid to the President and Justices of the Court of Appeal. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae, who ordered a minimum monthly salary of N8 million for the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and N7 million for each of the Justices of the same court, declared that for the President of the National Industrial Court and each of the judges of the same court, payment of a minimum monthly salary of N8 million and N7 million respectively should be made.

The Chief Judge (CJ) of each State High Court and each judge of the same court should be paid a minimum monthly salary of N7 million, even as Justice Obaseki-Osaghae, directed that the Chief Judge of the FCT should receive a minimum monthly salary of N8 million while other judges of the same court should be paid N7 million monthly. As for the Grand Khadi of the Sharia Court and the Khadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the FCT, the court ordered that a minimum monthly salary of N8 million and N7 million should be their take-home pay.

The court further ordered that the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the FCT should be paid a minimum monthly salary of N8 million, while each judge of the same court should be paid N7 million. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae also made an order of mandatory injunction compelling the second defendant, RMAFC, or any other body that would be subsequently charged with the duty of reviewing judges’ salaries to perpetually review it, in conjunction with the third defendant, on a yearly basis or every two years.

The judge equally mandated the first, second, and third defendants to pay the claimant the sum of N500,000 each. On the issues of locus standi, lack of jurisdiction of the court, non-joinder of the right party and failure of the claimant to serve pre-action notice as raised by the NASS and the AGF in their preliminary objections, the judge declared that the claimant had stated that he intended to become a judge one day and that had made him an interested party that can institute the suit.

The judge equally held that any individual could institute a suit that is of public interest to challenge an averment to any constitutional and statutory provisions. Justice Obaseki-Osaghae consequently ruled that the claimant had a locus standi, stating that the issue of pre-action was only a procedural rule and that the issue of non-joinder could not rob the court of exercising jurisdiction.

Sebastine Hon’s suit A Senior Advocate of Nigeria  (SAN), Sebastine Hon, had headed for the Industrial Court seeking an order of mandatory injunction for the NJC, NASS, RMFAC and AGF to set in motion, legal machinery to immediately review upwards, the salaries and emoluments of judicial officers. Hon had also requested an order of the court to review upward, the monthly salary of the CJN, JSC, President of the Court of Appeal and Chief Judge of Federal High Court to N12 million, N11 million and N10 million respectively.

He had also prayed Justice Obaseki-Osaghae for an order directing the relevant bodies to pay a minimum of N10 million to each Justice of the Court of Appeal; N8 million for each Judge of the Federal High Court and N8 million for FCT High Court judges, monthly. For the Grand khadi of Sharia’s Court of Appeal, he prayed the court to grant a minimum of N8 million monthly and N7 million for its counterpart in states.

In his originating summons, Hon requested an interpretation of the relevant sections of the Constitution that empowers the bodies for increment of salaries and emoluments of Nigeria’s judicial officers.

Other prayers sought by Hon included: “Whether by a combined interpretation of Sections 4(1) & (2) and 81(1)-(4) of the Constitution read in conjunction with Section 6(1)(d) and Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the 1st and 2nd defendants have unbridled, whimsical and untrammeled powers to arbitrarily and unreasonably refuse, fail or neglect to upwardly review the basic salaries and allowances.

“Whether by a combined interpretation of Sections 4(1) and (2), 6(1), (3), (5)(a)-(j) and (6) and 81(1)-(4) of the Constitution read in conjunction with Section 6(1)(d) and Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, this Honourable Court has jurisdiction or is under a duty to compel the 1st and 2nd defendants to exercise their constitutional and statutory discretionary powers to upwardly review the basic salaries and allowances of the judicial officers listed.

 

“Whether by a combined interpretation of Sections 84(1) of the Constitution read in conjunction with Section 6(1)(b) and (d) and Parts A and B  of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the 2nd defendant has not shirked its constitutional responsibility of fixing higher salaries and allowances for the judicial officers.

“Whether by a combined reading of the provisions of Section 6(1)(b) and (d) and Parts A and B of the First Schedule to the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act, Cap. R7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, it is constitutional and lawful for the 2nd defendant to refuse, fail, neglect or ignore to upwardly review the salaries and allowances of judicial officers.

“Whether the current salaries and other emoluments paid the respective judicial officers listed above is not embarrassingly too low and unrealistic, given the current socioeconomic and other conditions existing in Nigeria and the current global comparative salaries and allowances paid to judicial officers”.

Lawyers react

In his reaction to the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari for the immediate implementation of enhanced salary and welfare scheme for judicial officers in the country, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Babajide Koku, who posited that it is a very good development, said the earlier and sooner the implementation, the better.

Speaking further, Koku said: “But beyond that, I think that salary increment is one thing, it has to be allinclusive. What about the condition of service? Their condition of service is so poor that other issues have to be looked into. I also understand that they want to increase the retirement age of judges from 65 years to 70 years. All these things take a lot of time”.

On his part, President of the Center for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS), Professor Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN) urged the Federal Government to ensure that the enhanced salaries for judicial workers recently approved by the president aligned with the order of Industrial Court.

The professor equally called for the enactment of new laws that would remove salaries of judicial officers from the category of political office holders for the scheme to run successfully. “The CSLS notes with delight the directive issued by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC) to  commence implementation of improved salaries and working conditions of judicial officers.

 

“We urge the Commission to act quickly on the president’s directive so that the 2023 budget can reflect the review. In doing so, the Commission must give due regard to the judgement of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) that prescribed certain amounts as befitting salaries for different levels of judicial officers”, Akinseye-George said. Another silk, Mr. Afolabi Olatunde, also hailed the president’s directive, saying it is a welcome development.

Olatunde said: “It is a welcome development. However, we must be conscious of the fact that we may not have reached the promised land. It is one thing for the president to have given the directive, sincere implementation is another thing. “We can always hope that the authorities concerned will respect the directive of the president and act accordingly.

The enhanced entitlement will bring succour to judicial officers”. In his submissions, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Wahab Abdullah, noted that the pay rise for judicial officers is overdue considering their roles in the society.

“By and large, if we consider the establishing law that empowers the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), to appropriate enabling salary to any of the arms of the government; that is, the Judiciary, Executive, and the Legislature, the RMAFC Act Cap R7, LRN (2004) which talks about the necessity to appropriate adequate salary to the arms of the government, all of us are aware that the judiciary staff, particularly the judges, needs to earn more.

“As it is, appropriating new salaries for the judges should not be an end in itself. That is, we shouldn’t leave other welfare packages like accommodation, dressing, research, and vehicle allowances to the mercy of the purported increment in salary which was just signed into law by the president.

“The judiciary, among the three arms of government is the only stabilising pedal of governance which stands alone, though interacts with the two other arms of government to ensure the sustainability of democracy in any government. “In view of this, one would advocate that the call for the increment of the salary should be a springboard that would open avenue for several other good things to come the way of the judiciary”, Abdullah said.

 

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