The National Industrial Court of Nigeria, on Tuesday, fixed July 15, for judgement in a suit seeking an upward review of salaries and allowances of Nigerian judges.
The judge, Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae, slated the case for verdict after lawyers to the parties closed their arguments.
Adegboyega Awomolo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who represented the claimant, Sebastine Hon, posited among other depositions that the current economic reality in the country requires that the salaries and allowances of the nation’s judges be urgently improved upon.
Mr Awomolo adopted the four processes he filed and urged court to grant all the reliefs.
He said the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) directly involved refused to file any papers before the court.
The plaintiff sued the National Assembly as the 1st defendant, RMAFC as the 2nd defendant, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, is 3rd defendant, and the National Judicial Council (NJC) as the 4th defendant.
While the NJC backed the suit, the National Assembly and the AGF opposed it. The RMAFC did not take a stance in the suit.
NJC backs suit
Kunle Adegoke, also a SAN, who represented the NJC, asked the court to grant all the prayers sought by the plaintiff.
Mr Adegoke recalled that the Nigerian government at reviewed judges salaries in 2008.
He pointed out that low wages had inflicted untold economic hardship on judicial officers in the country.
He Adegoke lamented that salaries judges salaries had been stagnant for over 14 years.
The National Assembly and the AGF opposed the suit on the grounds that the claimant lacks the right to institute the suit.
But Mr Adegoke maintained that the judicial precedents had liberalised the right to sue in issues of public interest.
He contended that Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders Act 2008 is inconsistent with section 84(3) of the constitution, and therefore called for modification of the Act to bring it in conformity with the provisions of the constitution.
‘Shabby treatment of judges must be addressed’
Mr Awomolo, the plaintiff’s lawyer, said all the parties in the suit unanimously agreed that the last adjustment of judges’ salary was done in 2008, and that none of the defendants had justified the reason for refusal to obey the constitutional provision.
Mr Awomolo said the shabby treatment meted to the judges under 84(4) of the constitution must be redressed.
The senior lawyer urged the court to stop “the AGF from blowing hot and cold.”
“We have moved from mere technicalities to substantial justice,” Mr Awomolo said, urging the court to hold the AGF to his public statements admitting poor remuneration of judicial officers.
AGF, National Assembly oppose suit
But the National Assembly which had asked the court to allow an out-of-court settlement in the suit.
At Tuesday’s proceedings, Charles Yoila, the National Assembly’s lawyer, made a u-turn.
Arguing against the suit, he said “it is the law that (a) pre-action notice be issued to Legislative Houses disclosing the cause of action and reliefs before such action is brought to court.”
He asked the court to strike out the name of the National Assembly from the suit on the grounds that the proper procedure was not followed.
In a similar argument, Ekene Elodimuo, who represented the AGF, adopted his written address and urged the court to dismiss the suit for want of jurisdiction.
Mr Elodimo said the position of the AGF was based on what the law states, insisting “that as laudable as the case is, the claimant has not shown any sufficient interest to file the suit for judges’ welfare.”
PREMIUM TIMES reported that Mr Hon had filed the suit seeking an order of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) compelling the defendants – the AGF, NJC, the National Assembly and the RMAFC – to increase the salaries and allowances of judges in the country.
The claimant noted that the highest-paid judicial officer in the country – the Chief Justice of Nigeria, currently earns about N3.4 million per annum, far below what is earned by such an officer in other countries.
He prayed the court to order the defendants to increase the salaries and allowances of judges in the country.
Mr Hon stated that as a legal practitioner, “who has practised in all the levels of courts in Nigeria, I know that poor pay for judicial officers is seriously affecting the quality of judgments and rulings those officers are delivering and the discharge of other functions associated with their offices.”
He argued that the current economic reality in the country requires that the salaries and allowances of the nation’s judges be urgently improved upon.
Mr Hon, who quoted what all judicial officers currently earn as provided under Part IIB of the Schedule to the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) Amendment Act 2008, said the paltry sums have discouraged him from aspiring to become a judge.
He pointed out that it is about 14 years since the salaries and allowances of judges were last reviewed upward in 2008 despite the loss of value of the naira vis-à-vis other global currencies like the U.S. dollar, the British pound sterling and the European Union (EU) euro, etc.
“As of November 2008 when the amended Act was in force, the exchange rate between the naira and the U.S dollar was N117.74 to USD1.
“The naira has considerably lost its value over time; but judicial officers in Nigeria have been placed on the same salary scale for up to 12 years, namely since 2008,” he said.
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