Senate to probe hitches in payment of retirement benefits of state judicial officers

Nigerian Senate Chambers
Nigerian Senate Chamber used to illustrate the story.

The Senate on Tuesday resolved to probe the failure by state governments to pay as and when due the severance gratuity, pensions and arrears of other entitlements to their retired judicial officers.

It also wants the National Judicial Council, NJC, to take over the payment so as to ensure that they are done promptly as those of national judicial officers.

The resolutions followed the adoption of a motion sponsored by Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu).

Adopting the motion, the senate directed its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to conduct an investigative hearing on the matter and report back within four weeks.

Mr. Utazi’s motion was titled ‘The Plight of Retired Judges of State High Courts and The Need to Harmonize The Process of Paying The Retirement Benefits of All Judges of Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria’.

He cited the case on December 2016, when Justice Godwin Ononiba, retired Chief Judge of Anambra State along with 31 other retired judges, sued the governor of state and the National Industrial Court for non-payment of their severance gratuities, pension and arrears of pension.

The lawmaker said the case reflected the depressing plight of retired judicial officers, especially judges of the State High Courts in Nigeria.

Mr. Utazi noted that the Constitution tried to secure the independence of the Judiciary by placing the salaries of federal and State judicial officers as a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

He said the payments were to be made by or transmitted through the Nigerian Judiciary Commission, NJC, to the necessary sub-authorities, just as the retirement benefits of federal judicial officers are paid by the NJC.

“Except for a few hiccups, the Council has discharged this role quite promptly,” Mr. Utazi said.

He however lamented that states have not been paying the retirement benefits of states judicial officers of superior courts of record as and when due.

“This situation leaves much to be desired as these honourable men and women, who have invested their youth and strength in the hallowed responsibility of judicial service, are left to eat crumbs at their retirement, and having lost the right to practice law, the result being that many of them are dying out of misery and hopelessness,” he said.

Adopting the motion after contributions by other senators, the Senate further resolved to urge the NJC to harmonize and take up the responsibility of effecting the payments.

It also directed its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to “review the laws impeding the harmonization of the processes and prompt payment of retirement benefits of all Judicial Officers in the Country.”

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