Judges stand for God on earth, mustn’t bow to public opinion – CJN 

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Olukayode Ariwoola has reminded judicial officers as placeholders for God on earth, warning them against yielding to either public opinions, emotions or sentiments in their line of duties.

According to him, no amount of threat or intimidation should make a judge deviate from the law and do what is unconstitutional and at variance with existing laws.

Justice Ariwoola spoke Monday in Abuja at the opening session of a two-day workshop organised by the Court of Appeal for the review of the 2023 election petition tribunals/court and appeals.

He said:  “Political matters always tend to occupy the front burner of our adjudicatory activities as all the subsisting electoral laws have placed some time frame within which they must be heard and decided.

“Besides, the kind of attention and emotions attached to political matters in this country have collectively made our work more excruciating, painstaking and sometimes, endangering, as we are occasionally exposed to threats, especially from some elements within the political fold.

“But like I always say, no amount of threat or intimidation should make a thoroughbred judicial officer deviate from the law and pander to public sentiments and emotions, which are often misplaced.

“Most times, we see trials being conducted in the media with a view to intimidating a judge to do their bidding. Media trial can never hoodwink a judicial officer to begin to do what is unconstitutional and at variance with our extant laws.”

…Cautions on power abuse

On the use of power, the CJN warned against power abuse, saying: “As judicial officers, we should be very mindful of the enormous confidence the public reposed in us and their great expectations as well.

“To whom much is given, much is expected in return. We must not rest on our oars. The onus lies heavily on us and we must guide our loins to do more to earn lasting trust and integrity.

“Our conduct and disposition must respond to the yearnings and aspirations of the generality of the citizenry.  We are not in our respective positions not to serve ourselves, but the Nigerian masses; and the best way we can serve them is by doing what will make them feel safe in our hands and also trust us to always deliver the right judgment that will not be tainted by sentiments, emotions, nepotism or other extraneous considerations.

“We should always be mindful of the fact that we stand in the place of God on earth to give judgment.

“The weight of this burden is so enormous that we cannot afford to do what is wrong, as we are all aware of what lies ahead of us when we appear before our Creator to give an account of our deed on earth, particularly the various judgments that we may have given.”

…Warning to corrupt judges

Ariwoola also sounded strong warning to the corrupt elements within the judiciary.

“I have sounded it clearly and loudly, too, at different occasions that any judicial officer who conducts himself in a manner that is considered unbecoming of a judicial officer will not only be shown the way out but will equally be made to face the consequences of his actions.

“There will never be room for any sacred cow in the Judiciary, because our image and reputation deserve more crystallisation and embellishment than what we are currently getting.

“This is, indeed, a task that I enjoin all of us who are directly and remotely connected with the administration of justice in this country to take dearly and closely to our hearts; and it must reflect in our conduct and disposition.

“This is the time that we have to occupy a place of pride in the hearts of our fellow Nigerians.

“Yes, it is true that we cannot please everyone through our actions and work, but then, with the right application of the law and the Constitution of the land, which we all have collectively pledged to uphold, we can go a long way to do the things that our conscience will be proud of, and the generality of the public will be happy about.

“Once our conscience leads the way, every other good thing will naturally follow,” he said.

While describing the gathering as an opportunity for a self-assessment, the CJN said: “We have been treated to an unpalatable cocktail of misleading and conflicting judgments as well as frivolous interlocutory orders emanating from courts of coordinate jurisdictions which attempt to make a mockery of our judicial system.

“This is, largely, an embarrassment to our jurisprudence, and we will not take it lying low. Punitive measures must be taken against such erring judges.

“As I prepare to hand over to my successor in August 2024, by the grace of Almighty God, it is my fervent wish and desire to bequeath a robust Judiciary that will be the pride of not only Nigerians but the African continent.”

…President Court of Appeal speaks

In her remarks, President Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, said  the 2023 election litigation season was “very, very difficult and challenging given the volume of cases filed” and commended the judicial officers involved for a job well done.

The jurist said a total of 99 panels, comprising three judges each, were set up, indicating that a huge number of judges were taken out of the nation’s judicial system while the process lasted.

The PCA said the workshop was intended to review the last process, identify areas of shortcomings and work on ways to improve the process.

While calling for the amendment of some portions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act as a way of improving the system, the PCA identified some of the sections to include 187, 233, 246, 285 of the Constitution and Paragraph 85(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.

Justice Dongban-Mensem noted that “some of these sections, particularly Section 285 of the Constitution, it is either they are in the process because of poor legal draftsmanship or for a desire that was not properly expressed and appreciated.”

…AGF lauds judiciary

Also in his remarks, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, lauded the Judiciary for stabilising the nation’s electoral process.

“The Court of Appeal, in particular, plays a more pivotal role in shaping and strengthening our electoral jurisprudence, through the exercise of its constitutional mandate in that regard,” Fagbemi said.

At the event, the AG said he considered “the thematic focus of this workshop on the intersection law and democracy as very apt and fundamental to the understanding of the cardinal role of the Judiciary in deepening both party and electoral democracy in Nigeria.

“It is therefore my fervent hope and desire that this workshop will improve public enlightenment and understanding of the altruistic and nation-building role the judiciary plays in ensuring the integrity and credibility of our electoral processes.”

 300% salary increase for judicial officers lauded

In a related development, stakeholders in the nation’s Judiciary Monday in Abuja threw their weight behind an executive bill seeking 300% increase in the salaries and allowances of judicial office holders.

They also demanded a yearly increment in their annual salaries and  a four-year periodic review of their salaries and emoluments in accordance with international standards.

This was the consensus at a public hearing for stakeholders and the general public on a Bill for an Act to prescribe the salaries and allowances and fringe benefits of judicial office holders in Nigeria and related matters bill 2024.

The public hearing was organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.

They lamented that the last time their salaries and emoluments were reviewed was in 2007.

They also noted that the development had forced some judicial officers to be involved in acts not expected of a learned silk, in the last 17 years.

The stakeholders included AGF Fagbemi, CJN Ariwoola, President Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Yakubu Maikyau, SAN, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy Wale Edun and senators.

Ariwoola, who was represented by Justice Kashim Zanbah, the Chief Judge of Borno state, said Nigerians will continue to suffer from the nation’s judiciary system until salaries, allowances and official benefits of judges are increased.

 He said the salaries were last reviewed in the year 2007. 

“It has been 17 years, earning the same amount despite the tumultuous depreciation in purchasing power, while other sectors have theirs renewed several times over the period.

“Judicial officers have been in silence. As a simple illustration, the exchange rate of the US dollar was 130.25 as at the time the salary was fixed in 2007 and this exchange rate can be found at page eleven of the June 2009 Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission review report that is the source of the exchange rate as of the time it was fixed. 

 “Therefore, as of 2007, when the salaries were fixed. For example, a Judge’s monthly gross pay before tax of 661,738 divided by 130.25 equal to $5,080 today, divided by just 1500, it is $441.

“A salary of $5,080 has now dwindled to $441 only when it was fixed. In today’s terms, the value is equal to 7,000,600 2789.

“But, (however), by the historic instrumentality of the 10th National Assembly,  and unequalled disposition of Mr President to enhance the administration of justice, the current appropriation law captures an anticipated equivalent of the above example at a gross monthly of N3.2million,” he said.

Continuing, Ariwoola said: “Our prayers, therefore, distinguish senators. It is evident from the foregoing that even the appropriated salary package is less than half the value of the salaries that were fixed in the year 2007.

“When judges are well compensated, yes, they do their best. But actually, as clearly demonstrated, the real interest that is being looked at is the interest of these citizens, because they will be the ones who suffer the consequences of a deprived Judiciary.”

In his remarks, Mr Edun stressed the need to improve the salaries and emoluments of the judicial officers to guarantee a speedy administration of justice.

While expressing the hope that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu would continue with the legacy he left behind as governor of Lagos state, he said: “It is  a continuation of that tradition that is now coming into effect and an attempt and an initiative to improve the lot of the judiciary.

 “So, I’m very, very pleased to have been part of this opening ceremony. Listen to the Attorney General. He is the authority in government law.

“I cannot but follow him in commending this bill and requesting its swift passage to the benefit of the judiciary in particular and Nigerians in general.”

Also speaking, Fagbemi said the Executive Bill  was forwarded to the National Assembly in furtherance of a cardinal part of the President’s Renewed Hope for a Better Nigeria which is deepening Judicial Reforms to promote sustainable socio-economic growth.

“I wish to remark that the JUDICIAL OFFICE HOLDERS (SALARIES AND ALLOWANCES, ETC.) BILL 2024 is quite innovative, aside the increment in the basic salary, it also took cognizance of certain peculiarities of the administrative structure and operation of the judiciary.

“This Bill will birth an appropriate and commensurate remuneration that will ensure judicial independence and integrity.

“The present-day but sad reality is that the judiciary has stagnated on the same salary scale for over 16 years, this is totally unacceptable and quite antithetical to any meaningful judicial reform.

“I strongly commend this Bill for your kind consideration and do urge the Senate to support and ensure the passage of this Bill in national interest of promoting the rule of law,” he said.

About Kehinde Osasona and Taiye  Odewale, Abuja 

View all posts by Kehinde Osasona and Taiye  Odewale, Abuja  →