Nigerian Judges Worst Paid in the Commonwealth — Investigation

Judges of the Nigerian Supreme Court.
Judges of the Nigerian Supreme Court.

Nigerian Judges Worst Paid in the Commonwealth — Investigation

In this special report, Ise-Oluwa Ige examines the level of funding of the nation’s  justice system by successive governments between 1960 and 2020 on the one hand and the salaries paid by various countries of the world including Nigeria to their judges across the judicial hierarchy on the other hand with a couple of findings including that the Nigerian government has, for 60 straight years, treated the judiciary more or less like a parastatal in the executive than an independent arm of government with less than 1% allocation in the national budget and that the Nigerian judges are the worst paid judicial officers in the Commonwealth and belong to the class of the least paid in the world. 

On August 20, this year, a Professor of Public Law and President of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSS), Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN) announced the intention of his organisation to approach a Federal high court with a writ for a mandamus order compelling a raise in the salaries and allowances of Nigerian judges which have remained static for 13 years.

He had anchored the decision on the evident failure by relevant authorities including the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC) to review upward the salaries and allowances of judges for more than a decade in spite rising inflation, declining value of the naira and increasing workload of the judicial officers.

RMFAC is a creation of section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) with powers to determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders and judicial officers in the country. 

By the provision of Section 31 of the Third Schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution, RMFAC is composed of a Chairman and one member from each state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja who in the opinion of the President are persons of unquestionable integrity with requisite qualification and experience. 

But no member of the judiciary is statutorily on the commission which recommends salaries for the judges.

Akinseye-George spoke of his organisation’s intention to resort to litigation on the failure to review judges’ salaries in the country at a webinar organised by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

Although it is more than four months when he issued the threat to sue the government, Akinseye-George told Blueprint at the weekend that the CSS has not abandoned the plan.

In fact, he hinted that arrangements have been concluded to file the mandamus application and that the processes would be lodged at the registry of the court any moment soon.

“Judges have been on the same salaries for 13 years; no decent retirement benefits; after working and retiring at 65 years, judges still have to look for rented accommodation. I think it is a shame,” Akinseye had fumed at the forum, four months ago.

Like Akinseye-George, a prominent member of the inner bar, life bencher and pioneer Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Osun State, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) had on July 12, 2020 also lamented what he called the official shameful salary approved by the Federal Government for judges in the country.

He said whereas, government cannot run or stabilise without the judiciary, yet, as important as the third arm of government is, it has always been at a disadvantage.

“Under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended), there are three arms of government—The executive, the legislature and the judiciary. They are what constitute the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Each of them is allocated its own portfolio with a view to managing the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The legislature makes the law; the executive carries out the law, and the judiciary carries out judicial functions to resolve disputes between individuals, persons and governments, individual persons and individual persons and between government and government. It can also determine if there are disputes between the three tiers of government.

“Unfortunately, the judges who constitute the judiciary are paid less than what senators earn in Nigeria. They are paid less than what House of Representatives members earn in Nigeria.  And in the state, it is not better. What has happened is that nobody has spoken for them. They cannot speak for themselves. They cannot down the tools. They cannot go to the public to canvass for increase in salary. They cannot, on their own, initiate a case and say come and determine whether our salaries and conditions of service and remunerations are adequate. So, because of that lacuna, the executive and the legislature have been taking advantage of them.

“Worse still, since 1999, the executive and the legislature have been conniving to increase the burden, the work of the judiciary. They timed them by the Constitution: all electoral matters must be determined between so, so time and so, so time. They have been increasing their burden, they have been creating hardship, inconveniences and great burden on the judiciary. But they are not paid well. Yet, these judicial officers have been carrying on with the hope that someday, they will be adequately remunerated.

“The point is that without the judiciary, our democracy would have collapsed. Without judiciary, our democracy would have gone and the military would have taken over several times. You know, at various points, we reach a breaking point that we think, oh, the end has come but the judiciary has always come to rescue our democracy. Yet, they are least recognised. They are dying in hundreds and nobody is knowing, nobody is taking note. And this is because of the onerous job they do and the effect on their health. They are poorly paid. Their condition of service is not improved and they suffer in silence. 

“For me, it is time for Nigerians to say, oh, it is time to say let us try and help these helpless group of people because without judiciary, there will be no democracy. Then, we will have autocracy, we will have anarchy or military dictatorship. None of these is favourable to the common man in the street. For me, it is unkind and unfair to treat our judicial officers the way we are treating them.

“I remember when I was invited to join the bench, they were earning just N4,000 per month then. I said no. it is not a place for me where I will be suffering in silence and I would die in silence. It is not for me,” Awomolo (SAN) said. 

The irrepressible social critic, human and civil rights lawyer, Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, GCON, SAN, (now late) had also lamented severally the plight of the Nigerian judges during his days.
According to him, “the hardship that are continuously encountered by judges of all categories are all clear for everybody to see. Trial judges take evidence in long hand, conduct researches and write judgments, most times without the aid of well-equipped libraries. In the end, some of them die as quickly as they retire.

“No wonder, Hon Justice Olusola Olatunde Thomas who retired as Chief Judge of Lagos State on November 27, 1996 at 65 died on June 6, 1999 less than 3 years after he retired. Hon Justice Roseline Ajoke Omotosho who retired as the Chief Judge of Lagos State also died less than three years after she retired. The same unfortunate death befell Hon Justice Fernandez who retired at the age 65 years and died shortly after.

“Some of our judges die in office under circumstances that are related to the barbaric conditions in which they work. Hon Justice C, Idigbe of the Supreme Court –one of our best justices died in office at the age of 59 years. Hon Justice Augustine Nnamani—the erudite intellectual of the Supreme Court died on September 22, 1990 at the age of 56 years. Hon Justice Ligali Ayorinde, Chief Judge of Lagos State died at the age of 64 years. Hon Justice John Idowu Conrad Taylor, one of the most courageous judges died at the age of 56 years. Hon Justice Adeniyi Adefila (JP) of Borno State High Court, died on July 7, 1998 at the age of 60 years and Hon Justice Yekinni Olayiwola Adio of the Supreme Court died in office on Tuesday, July 8, 1997 after a brief illness. They all died in office!

“Sadly today, some judges have strokes while in service. Judges are confronted with avoidable trauma, stress and strain while trying to dispense justice unlike their colleagues in some other countries where conditions for dispensation of justice are just simply good, very comfortable and progressive,” he said.

Blueprint reports that the situation has not really changed even in 2020 as so many other judges had at one time or the other become incapacitated while still in office while many others retired into serious health crisis and died shortly after bowing out of the bench.

Gani said the situation is not the same in other countries of the world where judges are appreciated and well taken care off.

“In England, Lord Goddard retired at the age of 89 years, 4 months and 29 days whilst Lord Denning retired at the age of 83 years, 7 months and 29 days and he died at the age of over 100 years. Hugo Black retired at the age of 85 from the United States of America Supreme Court whilst Thurgood Marshal and Harry A. Blackman both of the United States of America Supreme Court retired at the ages of 82 and 85 respectively.

“It is ironic that despite the fact that our judges work under serious and excruciating conditions, they deliver more judgments than most of their counterparts in the established democracies,” he said.

Besides the scary picture painted by the trio of Awomolo (SAN), Akinseye-George (SAN) and late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) about the plight of judges in the country, available literature and data also showed that Nigerian government has literally never treated the judiciary as an arm of government in budgetary allocation since 1960 when Nigeria got independence and now (2020).

Funding of the Judiciary between 1960 and 2001 
In a study conducted by Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) on the funding of the judiciary from January 1960 till September 10, 2001, a period of 42 years, it was found that the Nigerian government denied the judiciary required fiscal attention and showed a total lack of regard for the third arm of government in the country. 

In the study, Gani dug the archives to reproduce how much exactly was allocated to the entire Judiciary arm of government in Nigeria from 1960 till 2001 and how much exactly was allocated to only one Ministry (Defense) in the Federal Executive arm of government during the same period.

The Federal Ministries of Nigeria are civil service departments that are responsible for delivering various types of government service. As at date, there are about 28 ministries, one of which is the Ministry of Defence.
Although the full data are not reproduced here because of space, findings however showed that fiscal allocation to only a Federal Ministry of Defence was much fatter each year than what was allocated to the entire Judiciary arm of government between 1960 and 2001.

Table 1: Fiscal allocation to the Judiciary and the Defence between 1960 and 2001
Total Budget
Allocation to Judiciary
Allocation to Defence
% of Budget to Judiciary
%of Budget to Defence.


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