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NASS Passes Bill to Increase Remuneration for Judges

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The National Assembly passed a bill to increase the remuneration of judicial officers in Nigeria. President Tinubu  on March 19, transmitted a Bill for an Act to Prescribe the Salaries, Allowances and Fringe Benefits of Judicial Office Holders in Nigeria and other Related Matters. President Tinubu had promised to review the remuneration of judges as part of efforts to tackle corruption in the Judiciary during the visit of the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association to the State House in August 2023.

The bill seeks to amend the Certain Political, public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) Act 2022 by deleting the portions of the Act relating to judicial office holders, and establishing  a new framework that stipulates the remuneration of judicial officers. The salaries of judicial officers was last reviewed about 16 years ago.

The Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) Bill, 2024 applies to judicial officers described under section 318(1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and provides their entitlements in the form of salaries, allowances and fringe benefits.

The bill empowers the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to monitor  the Federal Government’s compliance with  provisions of the bill relating to the payment of remuneration to judicial officers. The Commission may also recommend to the President, variations to the rates of the emoluments of judicial officers set out in the schedule to the bill.

The Commission is also empowered to make regulations prescribing penalties for non-compliance with the provisions of the bill and to determine the allowances of a judicial officer who by virtue of his office is a chairman or member of another office or body.

The bill stipulates January 1, 2024 as the effective date of the Consolidated Salaries and Allowances for Judicial Officers, which are provided in the schedule to the bill. This implies that if signed into law, the new rates of emoluments for judicial officers will be deemed to have become payable from January 1, in which case arrears will have to be paid.

The bill amends the Certain Political, public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc), No. 6, Act 2022 by deleting section 2 (b), Part II of the Schedule to the Act and any other provisions relating to Judicial Office Holders. 

The Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) Bill, 2024 is a welcome development that can go a long way to enhance the welfare of judicial officers and strengthen the independence of the Judiciary. However, Clause 2 of the bill which states that a judicial office holder shall not be entitled to multiple allowances requires further clarification to specify what amounts to multiple allowances that are prohibited.

See the proposed Consolidated Salaries and Allowances for Judicial Officers here.

Conversations around enhancing the independence of the Judiciary have been on the front burner for several years. The independence of the Judiciary has often been cited as a key element required to strengthen Nigeria’s legal system and democracy. This independence largely translates to the financial autonomy of the Judiciary to the exclusion of interference by the Executive or any other arm of government, to enhance its ability to be neutral and non-partisan.

For a long time, the practice in most States was that the funds allocated to the  State Judiciary and Houses of Assembly were administered and disbursed by State governments at their discretion, thereby compromising the independence of these two arms of government and hindering their administration. One of the major steps to address the issue was the passage and assent to a Constitution Alteration bill that provided for the financial autonomy of State Judiciary and Legislature under the administration of former President, Muhammadu Buhari. It essentially stated that the funds due to each of these arms of Government in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of a State shall be paid directly to each of them. When it was apparent that this alteration was not very effective in dealing with the issue, another alteration providing the mode of implementation of the initial alteration by stipulating details for the disbursement of funds to these arms of government at State level, was passed and assented to by President Buhari in March 2023.

In June 2023, President Tinubu signed another Constitution  alteration bill which provides a unified retirement age for all judicial officers of superior courts of record. It further provides that all pensions, allowances and other retirement benefits of judicial officers shall be charged to the Consolidated Revenue fund of the Federation and paid directly by the National Judicial Council (NJC). This is to address the status quo where payment of retirement benefits of State Judges is left to the States governments to handle, and in many cases, these retirement benefits are owed or delayed by the States.

Observers and legal commentators are of the view that the implementation of all the legal provisions geared at improving the independence of the judiciary, with the addition of the new rates of emoluments for judicial officers will be highly beneficial in strengthening the Nigerian Judiciary.