Besides good welfare package, the recruitment process must be above board

The decision by President Bola Tinubu to increase the salaries of judicial officers is in the right direction. 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, Amendment) Act of 2008’. That law repealed a 2002 Act to create room for the increase of judges’ basic salaries, allowances, and fringe benefits in 2007. Before he left office as the chairman of the Body of Benchers, Wole Olanipekun, SAN made frantic efforts to persuade the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to raise the salaries of judges to no avail.

According to the current executive bill, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) will receive a monthly salary of N5.4 million, amounting to N64.8 million per annum. The breakdown of the remuneration reveals that the CJN will receive a monthly basic salary of N1.1 million, and N4.3 million in regular allowances. The annual pay includes various components such as personal assistant allowance, hardship allowance, entertainment allowance and suchlike. The bill also proposes N61.4 million annually for justices of the Supreme Court. All judges of courts of records will benefit from the latest review. Apart from the fact that the review is long in coming, the rising cost of living justifies the latest decision.

But the question now is, will this impact positively on justice administration in Nigeria? Many are not convinced that improved remunerations would make any appreciable difference. And it is difficult to fault their pessimism. The problem in the judiciary goes far beyond judges’ wages. In many courts, facilities are either out of date or in a state of disrepair. Similarly, better remunerations will not reduce the length of time it takes to determine cases if the judiciary refuses to embrace modern technology. Many judges still write in long hand.

No one should expect a positive delivery from a bench that is populated by judges who got the job because of their filial affiliation. No one should expect an efficient judiciary where senior judges lower the criteria for appointment for their sons and daughters to be appointed as judicial officers.

That much was confirmed by Justice Adamu Dattijo at a recent valedictory session to mark his retirement from the Supreme Court last year. “It is asserted that the process of appointment to judicial positions is deliberately conducted to give undue advantage to the ‘children, spouses, and mistresses’ of serving and retired judges and managers of judicial offices,” he said. Such appointees can hardly be independent-minded, a crucial element for a judge. Therefore, the process of appointing judges should be reformed to ensure that only the best legal minds make it to the bench.

Nigeria needs judges who will apply the law and not bend it to favour some litigants as was the recent outrageous decision against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Plateau State. To that end, it is wishful thinking to hope that better pay for judges will restore public confidence in the judiciary. But it is nonetheless a commendable gesture.

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