By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
In another glimmer of hope for judicial officers in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari may have acceded to the request for the upward review of salaries and emolument of judges in the country.
Two weeks ago, the National Industrial Court, Abuja ordered the Federal Government to put machinery in place for the immediate review of the salaries and allowances of the judicial officers in Nigeria.
On Sunday, the Chairman of the Body of Benchers (BoB) Wole Olanipekun, revealed while speaking in Abuja on at an event held to mark the 80th birthday of a retired Justice of the Supreme Court and traditional ruler of Tuomo Kingdom, in Burutu Local Area of Delta State, Justice Francis Fedode Tabai, that President Buhari has agreed to have the emoluments of judicial increased.
Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae who issued the order mid July held that the current salaries and allowances of judicial officers in the country is not only abysmally low but embarrassing.
Delivering judgment in a suit instituted against the Federal Government by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Sebastine Hon, Justice Obaseki-Osaghae ordered the Federal Government to commence a monthly payment of N10 million to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), N9 million to other justices of the apex court; President of Court of Appeal, N9 million while other justices of the appellate court N8 million; Chief Judges of both Federal and State HIgh Courts N8 million while judges of the Federal and State HIgh Courts N7 million.
The judge held that the refusal of the government to review the judicial officers salaries and allowances for 14 years was unconstitutional, unlawful and should be compelled to do the needful.
Justice Obaseki-Osaghae, lamented that it is unfortunate that justices and judges who are ministers in the temple of Justice have become victims of injustice in the country
Olanipekun, who led a team of BoB to interface with President Buhari last Thursday, further revealed that the team succeeded in extracting commitment from the President to ensure an enhanced welfare package for judicial officers and a comprehensive rehabilitation of the entire Judiciary.
At the end of the interface, Olanipekun said that President Buhari issued a directive to those in charge to immediately commence work on the 2018 report of an Advisory Committee that has been submitted to him
Besides, the legal luminary also said that the Presidency agreed to upgrade the contents of the 2018 reports to bring it in tune with current realities.
He added that the poor welfare conditions of judges got so bad that he had to lead the current leadership of the BoB to President Buhari, and they were able to “extract an undertaking from Mr President to upgrade the salaries of the Judiciary”.
“We were frank with the President. We told him everything. We also told him that if we don’t maintain justice, justice will undo us soon. We told him how we interfaced with Justices of the Supreme Court on one hand to ascertain their working conditions.
“We told him how bad things are with the Judiciary; that Justices are not encouraged, that they are underpaid, that what they give to justices are peanuts when compared with the other arms of government.
“In fairness to Mr. President, perhaps, he did not know the gravity of the situation until I explained everything to him when we met him last Thursday.
“And, in fairness to him (Buhari), he said there are three arms of government. He agreed that each of the three arms must be treated equitably and fairly. And that, no one should be subjugated to the others, and no one should be treated as a slave.
“The way I see it today is that the Judiciary is being beaten and you are asking the Judiciary not to cry. The Judiciary is crying silently from within. You can hear the grumbling. You can see the tears.
“The President gave his commitment voluntarily. It was in response to my address. He promised to take immediate action, and that for now, he is giving a directive to those in charge to dust the report that is on ground and act as we have requested.”
According to Olanipekun, “it is those who suffers from injustice that knows what it means “, adding that after they drew the attention of President Buhari to the plight of the Justices, he agreed with us that something must be done immediately.
Responding to questions, Olanipekun said, “the President gave his commitment voluntarily. It was in response to my address, that the President assured that he was going to take immediate action.
“For now, the President has given instructions to those in charge to dust a report that is on ground, which was submitted in 2018 on judges’ welfare and act as we have requested.”
On whether the President gave a timeline for the execution of his instructions, Olanipekun said they have elected to take President Buhari by his words.
“Well, you know he is the President, and we went visiting him and customarily, we cannot demand that the President should give us a timeline. If a President has given his words that he will act, we believe him.
Olanipekun, who argued that the Judiciary was unfairly treated when compared with the other arms of government, noted that: “Today you can hear the grumbling, you can see the tears of the Judiciary, though they are not coming out. The Judiciary is crying silently.
“We all watched and heard what happened at the Supreme Court . If gold rusts, what happens to other metals? In this context, the Supreme Court is the gold. And if the Justices of the Supreme Court can cry out over poor remuneration , then what happens to those in the lower courts?
According to Olanipekun it is unfair that a Justice of the Supreme Court takes home N250,000 monthly salary and a cumulative pay of N750,000 per month compared to a Senator who earns not less than N3million a month.
He however, assured that he would commit his tenure at the BOB to work with relevant stakeholders to improve the standard of the Judiciary, stressing that “this is not a time for distraction, it is time for collaborative action on the part of us in the legal profession.
Pouring eulogies on the erudite Justice of the apex court at 80, Olanipekun said in developed countries his Lordship would still be in service, giving his best to his fatherland but unfortunately a justice in Nigeria had to retire at 70.
While disclosing that was once against the early retirement of judges, but that in view of the current unenviable state of affairs in the Judiciary, he has long jettisoned such position.