Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola must be going through stress all day long. It is inconceivable that judges who have the power of life and death cannot live honourably in retirement. The National Judicial Council (NJC) rose from a meeting not too long ago urging defaulting state governments to pay benefits accruing to retired judges. Justice Ariwoola presided over deliberations. It is strange that people who are charged with the dispensation of justice have injustice meted out to them after service. It is more worrisome that the retired legal luminaries may have to pay legal charges in the bid to present their plight in the same courts where they once presided over. The miserable pay package of judges caused Sebastian Hon, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to drag relevant agencies to court. His prayer was for improved wages for senior members of the judiciary. Hon got an honourable response. In July 2021, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) delivered judgment in favour of the judges. It was oxygen to the souls of many who looked forward to a cheery response. Trial judge, Justice Osato Obaseki-Osaghae delivered it in very strong words.
“Judges have been victims of great injustice”, she ruled. That seemed to have permeated the fortified walls of Aso Villa. The Federal Government reacted through the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN). He announced that former President Muhammadu Buhari had graciously granted upward review of the salaries of judges. Serving judges receive their wages through the National Judicial Council (NJC). In retirement, they are handed over to their respective state governments. And that has turned out to be a huge soul wrenching problem. Many state governments have been unable to live up this responsibility. It has become easier to organise political rallies and host beauty pageants than to pay wages of their former judicial officers.
This has turned some judges to near destitute. In 2016, then Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano was taken to court by 32 retired judges. Leading the plaintiffs were five former Chief Judges of the state. Remarkably, of the 32 judges, 13 had passed on due to heartbreak of none payment of their gratuities and pensions. Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun had a date with the National Industrial Court in 2020. Justice Hezekiah Solanke had waited tirelessly to be paid his pension. In 2022, it was the turn of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos. His namesake, Justice Babajide Candide-Johnson was being owed and decided to go to court. It was about the same time; Justice Caroline Olufawo approached the court for her pension in Oyo State. We find this quite disturbing. Judges are not different from other categories of public servants. It is irresponsible to owe workers. However, for judges who hold the proverbial knife and yam most of the time, keeping them hungry in retirement may spell doom for the country. Whatever affects the judiciary, affects the entire nation. Hunger could lead a judge to accept monetary inducement in order to come up with a favourable judgement.
The import is that cash may determine the winner in court. Nigeria is blessed with judges that can compare with the best globally. Justice Daddy Onyeama was at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for nine years, 1967 to 1976. Dr. Taslim Elias even climbed higher when he presided over the court between 1982 and 1986. Egbert Udo Udoma was Chief Justice of Uganda from 1963 to 1969. Akinola Aguda occupied the same position in Botswana, and Nkemdilim Izuako became the first female judge in faraway Solomon Islands. Luke Emejulu was a judge in Tanzania Gambians are at home with Chief Justices from Nigeria. It began with James Omo-Agege in 1976. Emmanuel Ayoola followed in 1983. Emmanuel Agim and Emmanuel Fagbenle were also in Banjul. James Kassim served as Justice of the Supreme Court in Malawi. Akinola Ejiwunmi did the same job in Seychelles, as did Bode Rhodes-Vivour, in Sierra Leone. For a country that produced Chile Eboe-Osuji, President of the International Criminal Court (ICC), it is quite unfortunate that judges are left to wallow in penury after service. Government must address this especially now that elections are around the corner.