The Senate on Wednesday, October 7 lamented the poor remuneration of judges in the country, the upper chamber of the National Assembly warned the development could make them to compromise or become vulnerable to corruption in the course of their justice dispensation.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary , Human Rights and Legal Matters, Opeyemi Bamidele, stated this during the screening of the eight justices recently nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari from the Court of Appeal as justices of Supreme Court .
The nominees are Justice Lawal Garba (North West), Justice Helen M. Ogunwumiju, (South West), Hon. Justice Addu Aboki, Justice I. M. M. Saulawa, (North West), Justice Adamu Jauro, (North East), Justice Samuel C. Oseji, (South South), Justice Tijjani Abubakar, (North East) and Justice Emmanuel A. Agim, (South South)
Bamidele bemoaned the poor welfare packages given judicial officers and justices in the country .
He said, “The present situation in the country as regards welfare of judges and justices calls for a major intervention .
“Salaries and allowances of judicial officers , judges and justices in Nigeria were last reviewed in 2008 through an Act of Parliament.
“As of that time, exchange rate of naira to a US dollar was N117 as against N467 it is now, clearly showing that judges and justices salaries’ have been static over the years and even depreciating in value.”
Specifically, Bamidele said the pay of each of the justices of the Supreme Court per annum as far as basic salary was concerned was N2.477m, while those of the Court of Appeal was N1.995m each and judges of the high court , N1.804m each.
He said on a monthly basis , the total pay of a justice of the Supreme Court is N753,000 while his counterpart in the Court of Appeal was paid N608,000 and the High Court judges got N556,000.00 each .
He said, “The enumerated poor take home packages for judges and justices, clearly show that they are not being fortified in anyway against temptation on the line of duty.”
He added that in South Africa, the chief justice collected the highest salary, besides members of his family being adequately taken care of to guard against temptation and corruption .
The Deputy President of the Senate , Ovie Omo-Agege said issues of judges’ remuneration were very critical and required urgent attention by the government, especially, the National Assembly.
He challenged the federal lawmakers to sponsor a bill for the upward review of the 12 –year-old salary structure of the judicial officers , judges and justices
A mild drama ensued among members of the committee on methods that should be adopted in screening the justices.
Senator Chukwuka Utazi raised an observation that it would be better for the screening of the Supreme Court justices to be held behind closed doors.
However, Senator James Manager kicked against Utazi’s observation and noted that there was no time that Supreme Court judges nominees were screened behind closed doors since he had been in the Senate,
He insisted that Utazi’s observation lacked precedent and should be discarded since there were interested members of the public, especially civil society organisations and the Nigerian Bar Association and media.
Senators Peter Nwaoboshi, Bala Na’Allah and Abdullahi Adamu agreed with Manager.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu backed Utazi, but said that members of the judiciary committee could go into a closed door session without the nominees so that modalities for the screening would be perfected and adopted.
Efforts by the chairman to subject the observations to a vote so that the issue would be resolved also hit a wall.
Immediately he asked that the issue be put to vote, some senators said it would be better if the committee’s voting decision was taken behind closed doors.
The arguments almost stalled the screening process, but ranking senators and House of Representatives members in attendance led by the Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke later assuaged the feelings of aggrieved senators.
Bamidele later ruled that based on the interventions, the screening of the eight Supreme Court Justices should be held in the open which was eventually done.