Pilot Law

Judges’ Remuneration: Resounding call for review

 

By Kayode Adeoti

It’s widely believed that judges are gods on earth. This is owing to the fact that the sit atop judgement of fellow beings. It is on the backdrop of this that they are being referenced as ‘supreme beings.’ With their frontline role, they are believed to have contributed immensely to correcting societal anomalies by reprimanding offenders through different measures, which goes a long way to serve as detterent to others. However, the question that is on many lips is, are judges’ remuneration commensurate to the tasks they shoulder? This has formed major discourse in the Kwara State judiciary.

Recall that last year, a lower cadre of the bench under the aegis of Magistrate Association of Nigeria (MAN) registered displeasure over poor working conditions. The members issued a letter to the Chief Justice of the State, Justice Sulyman Kawu threatening to down tool if government failed to address the issue of their poor remuneration, within a specified time.

However, on 15th of May, 2018, the need for a review of Judges salary was resounded. The advocacy formed the crux of discourse during the biennial memorial public lecture held in honour of late Justice J.M Adesiyun at Banquet Hall, Kwara Hotel by the guest speaker, Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of council, University of Lagos, Dr. ‘Wale Babalakin SAN and a veteran Ilorin based lawyer, Mallam Olaolu Ali SAN.

They both challenged the state government to give judges’ welfare priority for as long as they remain on the bench.

Babalakin while speaking on the topic: ‘Repositioning the Legal Profession,’ decried attitude of government towards the welfare of judges particularly in the area of remuneration.

According to him, before military intervention in the country, premium was placed on welfare of judges, saying that the non civilian regime negatively affected the judicial sector.

He recalled that during the Western Nigeria, government paid judges better than Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor.

“In 1964, the salary of a High Court Judge in Western Nigeria was £3,400 (three thousand four hundred pounds) per annum. The salary of the governor of the CBN was £2,700 (two thousand seven hundred pounds) per annum with the sort of comparatively high remuneration and reverence for judicial officers, it was very easy to attract the best minds to the Bench. But let me state that even by the standard of that era it was not that easy to achieve.

“When this salary was proposed, the then Head of Service of Western Nigeria, the most respected Simeon Adebo opposed it. He could not fathom how a member of the public service could earn more money than the Head of Service. It was a regularly debated issue between his office and that of the Attorney General, Chief Rotimi Williams, with the Premier Chief Obafemi Awolowo acting as arbiter. After a very prolonged debate a compromise was achieved and a judicial department was to be created which was not part of the civil service. This enabled the Government of Western Nigeria to treat a judge in a deservedly better way. The Ministry of Justice was also a very formidable institution.”

The erudite legal practitioner maintained that members of the bench must earn good pay in order not to fall prey of corruption.

“It is wrong, unacceptable for the Chief Judge (CJ) to ask for fund from the Governor. If such is happening in Kwara State, Speaker of the House of Assembly, Ali Ahmad and the Governor Abudufatai Ahmed should do something fast about it,” he further said. In the same vein, a veteran legal icon based in Ilorin, Mallam Olaolu Ali corroborated the position of the guest speaker, adding that judges who are expected to fight corruption must be appreciated with good remuneration.

He said: “You’re paying a man peanut and he’s seating on judgement worth billions of naira. If you want to fight corruption properly, every system put in place must discourage people from being corrupt. You must pay police well, other security agencies, and the Judges because these are people who interface with others.

Furthermore, Alli condemned the process of appointing Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), stressing that it does not help the legal system but congest cases in court.

He noted that for a lawyer to qualify for the most noble elevation in the legal profession, he must have handled certain number of cases at the Supreme court. “This, however, make lawyers to drag cases that would have been concluded at the appellate court to the Supreme.

“To reposition our judiciary for greater height, we need not live on blame games, if we dwell on the past pains, we will not progress on anything even in 10 years. The Legal Profession must be restructured from the start. The curriculum in the universities must place the capacity to think on the highest pedestal. The law school must become more practical than theoretical.

“Cases must go on the dates and time they are slated to go on. Courts must adjudicate on matters on the dates they are slated to go on and must not sit at the convenience of counsel. Counsel must make himself available on the dates chosen by the courts,” he explained.

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