The need to review remunerations, emoluments of Nigerian judges

Supreme Court Judges in Nigeria
Supreme Court Judges
Supreme Court Judges in Nigeria

Concerns have been raised by stakeholders over the non-increase of the salaries and allowances of Nigerian judges for the past 12 years.

Investigation revealed that the remunerations of judges at both the federal and state levels have remained static for 12 years and that there is no indication that the situation will be addressed soon.

It was further gathered that there are only 1,067 judges serving in both the federal and state courts, which figure stood at 1,063 in 2015 and only increased by four to 1,067 in 2018.

A breakdown of the figure showed that the federal government employs 248 judges while the 36 states of the federation engage 819. A compilation of the annual remunerations of all the 1,067 judges in Nigeria revealed the sum of N8.7billion, the least earned by any of three arms of government.

The figure is also, a sharp contrast of the N24billion voted in the 2019 budget as severance package for members of the outgoing 8th National Assembly members.

With the recent resignation of the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen and Justice Sidi Dauda Bage of the Supreme Court, the total number of judges in the country may have dropped to 1,065.

While Justice Bage resigned after his appointment as the new Emir of Lafia in Nasarawa State on March 25, 2019, Justice Onnoghen took his exit on April 4, 2019 following the recommendations of the National Judicial Commission (NJC) on April 3, 2019 to President Muhammadu Buhari to compulsorily retire him.

Impeccable judicial sources disclosed to LEADERSHIP that the last time the judges’ salaries and allowances were increased was in 2007 following the enactment of the ’’Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) (Amendment) Act of 2008’’ which came into force on February 1, 2007. The law had repealed a similar Act of 2002 to create room for the increase of judges’ basic salaries, allowances and fringe benefits in 2007.

From that time till date, there has not been an upward review of the earnings of judges, the sources said. LEADERSHIP recalls that there are no senior, junior or probating judges within the same court of coordinate jurisdiction.

Judges are only promoted from a lower to a higher court, like from the High Court to Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court if there are vacancies occasioned by retirement, resignation or removal.

Under the ‘’Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) (Amendment) Act, 2008’’, the CJN’s annual basic salary is N3,353,972.50 (or N279,497.71 monthly), while other Justices of the Supreme Court and the President of the Court of Appeal receive N2,477,110 as basic annual salary or N206,425.83 monthly.

The Justices of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court and President of the Industrial Court, Grand Khadi of State and FCT Sharia Court of Appeal, President FCT and State Customary Court of Appeal earn annual basic salary of N1, 995,430.18 each.

Also, judges of the Federal, State and FCT High Courts, National Industrial Court, Khadi Sharia Court of Appeal in the FCT and State; and FCT and State Customary Courts also earn an annual basic salary of N1,804,740 each.

The Act also specifies the allowances and fringe benefits payable to judicial officers at the federal and states which are predicated on the annual basic salaries on a percentage basis.

The law lists such allowances as accommodation, utilities, domestic staff, entertainment, medical, security, furniture, personal assistance, motor vehicle loan, severance/gratuity and retirement benefits.

Others are leave allowance, motor vehicle maintenance and fuel, hardship, newspapers, estacode, duty tour, outfit and special assistant allowances. The Act states that the accommodation, medical, security and special assistant allowances and benefits won’t be paid but provided by the NJC.

While the furniture allowance is paid every four years, the leave allowance is earned yearly. The car loan facility is optional; it is a benefit noticed more on paper than what actually gets to the beneficiaries, according to a serving judge, who did not want to be mentioned.

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While the CJN earns $2,000 estacode when he travels abroad, other Supreme Court Justices and the President of the Court of Appeal earns $1,300 of estacode each. Other judges earn between $600 and $1,100 estacode each. In the event of retirement, the judges’ benefits from CJN down the line are based on the scheme of service. 

These earnings, according to the Act are exclusive of tax. When the basic salary, allowances and fringe benefits are computed and posted, the CJN and other Justices of the Supreme Court receive a monthly salary of N480, 766.89 and N751, 000 in their bank accounts respectively.

The CJN’s net monthly salary is lower than his brother Justices because of deductions made on account of other monetary and material provisions such as food items, which are provided for him by the federal government. 

Contrary to reports on the nation’s judicial officers’ earnings annually, LEADERSHIP discovered from NJC records that all the judges in the country receive a gross income of N8, 654,954,541.97 or N8.7 billion.

While N2, 256, 351, 435.33 ( that is N2.3billion) was paid to the 248 federal judicial officers including the CJN in 2018, the sum of N6, 398, 303, 106.64 (N6.4billion) was paid as salaries and allowances to 819 state judicial officers. This brings the total pay for both the federal and state judicial officers to N8.7billion yearly.

A further breakdown showed that the 248 federal judicial officers comprise the CJN, other Justices of the Supreme Court; President of the Appeal Court, other Justices of the appellate court; Justices of the Federal High Court, FCT High Court, National Industrial Court, Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Court of Appeal, and their heads.

Also, the 819 judicial officers in the 36 states comprise 70 heads of the courts (that is 36 chief judges, 17 grand khadis and 17 presidents of Customary Court of Appeal); and 744 judicial officers. In 2015, N7 billion was appropriated for the Supreme Court by the National Assembly, of which N304, 137,542.21 was allocated to ‘’consolidated salary of the Justices’’ of the apex court, N1,122,909,366.76 , N2,795,953,091.03 and N2,777,000,000 were voted for the Supreme Court staff salary, overhead and capital respectively.

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In other words, the Supreme Court staff salary appropriation was almost four times those of the Justices of the apex court. In the same year, the Appeal Court got N11.10 billion, comprising N1.214 billion consolidated salary for the Justices of the appellate court, N2, 699 billion for personnel, N4.699bn overheads (including election tribunal) and N2.496 billion capital expenditure. For the Federal High Court, FCT High Court, National Industrial Court and Customary Court of Appeal (FCT), these are disbursements during the period under review: N12.1billion, N7billion, N5.6billion, and N3.05billion respectively.

In a cross-country appraisal of the salaries of judges, LEADERSHIP discovered that the salaries and purchasing power of Nigeria judges and their counterparts abroad and even in some African countries are wide apart.

For instance, in the United State of America (USA), while the Chief Justice John Roberts earns $255,500 (or N118, 807,500) per year, the eight associate justices earn a healthy pay raise to $244,400 (N113, 646,000). The current salary for the US Supreme Court justices is significantly higher than the average salaries earned in related occupations.

The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Lord President of the Court of Session and Master of the Rolls make up Group 1.1 of the scale on £214,165 (N128,070,670), below only the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, who earns £239,845 (N143,427,310).

In South Africa, according to the latest report of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, the judges in the high and labour courts earn annual salaries of R1.4-million (or N46.9million).

Judge-presidents (heads of court) pocket R1.6million (N53.6million) a year, Constitutional and Supreme Court judges get R1.7-million (N56.9million and the chief justice earns R2.3-million (N77million).

The package of the president of the Supreme Court is just over R2million a year. When they retire, judges are entitled to continue drawing their salary and other benefits, which continue to qualify for an annual increase.

Judges, Lawyers Demand Immediate Pay Rise For Judicial Officers In a reaction to the remuneration of Nigerian judges, some lawyers, serving and retired judges called on the federal government and the National Assembly to immediately review upward the salaries and allowances of the judges as well as the pensions of retired judges.

They also said that it was irreconcilable that while NJC pays the salaries and allowances of serving judges at the state level, the same body leaves the pension allowances of retired states’ judges at the mercy of the state governors who usually fail to pay allocations to the state judiciary.

The stakeholders urged the NJC to make provisions for the payment of the pension allowances of retired state judges. According to them, the judges’ salaries and allowances ought to be proactively reviewed in view of the inflationary trend, arguing that the judicial officers and other Nigerians patronise the same market.

To former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sunday Akintan, ‘’you better contact those who are still in the system to tell how they feel. I retired 11 years ago from the Bench.

They promised to review my pension allowance every five years and I’ve never seen that done for once.’’ Chief Chris Uche (SAN) said: ‘’It ought to be reviewed upward to reflect the present economic reality and inflationary trend.

Judges buy from the same market with other citizens of the country facing spiralling cost of commodities, therefore, the salaries of the judges should proactively be adjusted to accommodate the increment.’’ A professor of Law and former chairman of the Governing Council of National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, said: ‘’The various amount of monies found with some judges during the sting operations conducted by the Department of State Services (DSS) in 2016 and also found in Justice Onnoghen’s account makes it difficult to take a strong position on this matter.

“Nevertheless, since a large number of judges cannot be said to be involved in corrupt practices, the Act requires to be reviewed by the federal government as soon as possible’’. Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), said “it is absolutely not healthy for the country for judges’ salaries to remain static for over ten years”.

Barr. Alasa Ismail, however, said: ‘’With just 1,067 judges sitting on millions of suits in the courts in the country, it is practically impossible to have both sound and timely justice delivery.

There is nowhere in the world would such a miracle be expected or take place. We need to increase the number of courts and judges, as well as making adequate remuneration for them.’