Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged Engr. Elias Mbam, Chairman, Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to “urgently review upward the remuneration, allowances, and conditions of service for Nigerian judges and to review downward the remuneration and allowances of high-ranking political office-holders in order to address the persistent poor treatment of judges, and to improve access of victims of corruption to justice.”
SERAP also urged him “to send your review and recommendations to the National Assembly for appropriate remedial and legislative action, as provided for by the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended].”
The letter followed the nationwide industrial action by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to press home their demand for financial autonomy for the judicial arm of government, and the federal government’s silence on the judiciary workers’ strike that has grounded courts across the country.
In the letter dated 10 April 2021 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Judges should get all to which they are reasonably entitled, and it is unfair, illegal, unconstitutional, and discriminatory to continue to treat judges as ‘second-class people’ while high-ranking political office-holders enjoy lavish salaries and allowances.”
SERAP expressed concern that: “The remuneration and allowances of judges have fallen substantially behind the average salaries and allowances of political office-holders such as President, Vice-President, governors and their deputies, as well as members of the National Assembly.”
SERAP said: “Nigerian judges are among the least paid in the world. The poor treatment of judges is neither fair to them nor to the Nigerian people. Judges deserve remuneration, allowances, and conditions of service commensurate with their judicial powers and responsibilities.”
According to SERAP, “While the remuneration and allowances of judges are grossly insufficient to enable them to maintain themselves and their families in reasonable comfort, high-ranking political office-holders continue to enjoy lavish allowances, including life pensions, and access to security votes, which they have powers to spend as they wish.”
The letter, read in part: “According to our information, the last review of the remuneration, allowances, and conditions of service for political, public and judicial office holders carried out by RMAFC in 2009 shows the huge disparity between the remuneration and allowances of judges and those of political office-holders.
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“Judges’ work is very considerable but they cannot give their entire time to their judicial duties without the RMAFC reviewing upward their remuneration and allowances, and closing the gap and disparity between the salaries of judges and those of political office-holders such as the President, Vice-President, governors and their deputies, as well as lawmakers.
“Although one of the three coordinate branches of the government, the judiciary is treated with contempt, and considered so unimportant by the pollical class that authorities over the years have refused to pay them reasonable remuneration and allowances.
“We would therefore be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Incorporated Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel the RMAFC to comply with our requests.
“Despite their important roles and responsibilities, Nigerian judges are poorly treated when their remuneration, salaries, allowances, and conditions of service are compared with political office-holders.
“Judges should not have to endure the most poignant financial worries. The increase in the cost of living and the injustice of inadequate salaries bears heavily on judges, as it undermines their ability to effectively perform their judicial functions.
“The roles and functions performed by judges across the country are second to none in their importance including in facilitating access of victims of corruption and human rights violations to justice and effective remedies.
“Far-reaching questions of constitutional law depend upon them for solution. Judges are also required to determine issues, which profoundly affect the rights and well-being of the people.
“The meaning and effect of anti-corruption legislation and treaties such as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission Act, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] Act, the UN Convention against Corruption, and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption depend upon their learning, wisdom and judgment.
“The stability of the country’s system of government, a government of laws rather than of men, depending as it does to so great an extent upon the confidence and respect of the people for those who, as judges, hold the scales of justice in their hands, depends upon the character and the wisdom of these men and women.
“The RMAFC has the powers under paragraph n, Third Schedule, Part 1 of the Nigerian Constitution to determine the remuneration, salaries and allowances appropriate for judges and political office holders, consistent with sections 84 and 124 of the Constitution.
“SERAP notes that Nigerian authorities between May 1999 and March 2011 reviewed upward the salaries and allowances of political office holders at least on four occasions. However, the salaries and allowances of judicial officers were only reviewed twice during the same period.
“Nigerian government and the RMAFC have the duty to provide adequate resources to enable the judiciary to properly perform its functions.
“As a safeguard of judicial independence, the courts’ budget ought to be prepared in collaboration with the judiciary having regard to the needs and requirements of judicial administration. Furthermore, the remuneration and pensions of judges must be secured by law at an adequate level that is consistent with their status and is sufficient to safeguard against conflict of interest and corruption.
“Nigerians would continue to be denied access to justice, to a better judiciary and a better administration of justice until judges across the country are paid what they deserve.
“SERAP urges you and the RMAFC to separate the review of remuneration and salaries for judges from that of political office-holders. This would ensure fairness, and that judges receive the justice they so conscientiously dispense to others”.
The letter was copied to Dr Ahmad Lawan, Senate President; Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of House of Representatives; Mr Ekpo Nta, Chairman, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC); and the National Judicial Council.
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