In what looks like a ray of hope for judicial officers in the country, the Chairman, Body of Benchers (BoB), Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN has revealed that the body has succeeded in getting President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to improving the welfare of judges in the country.
President Buhari, he said, has graciously acceded to the request of the Benchers for the upward review of the salaries and emoluments of Judges in the country.
Olanipekun, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) made the revelation on Sunday evening at a public function marking the 80th birthday of a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the traditional ruler of Tuomo Kingdom in Burutu Local Area of Delta State, Justice Francis Fedode Tabai held in Abuja.
The ex-NBA President who led the Body of Benchers to interface with President Buhari revealed that the team succeeded in extracting a commitment of the Presidency for a better and befitting welfare package for judicial officers and for the general rehabilitation of the Judiciary.
At the end of the interface, Olanipekun said President Buhari issued a directive for the dusting of the 2018 report of an Advisory Committee for immediate action.
The legal luminary also said the Presidency agreed to upgrade the contents of the 2018 report to meet up with the current economic realities of the country.
He added that the poor welfare conditions of judges got so bad that he had to lead the current leadership of the BoB to President Buhari and that they were able to “extract an undertaking from Mr President to upgrade the salaries of the Judiciary”.
According to Olanipekun, “it is those who suffer from injustices that know what it means, adding that after they drew the attention of President Buhari to the plight of the Justices, he agreed that something must be done immediately.
“We told him how we interfaced with Justices of the Supreme Court to ascertain their working conditions, we told him how bad things are with the judiciary, that Justices are not encouraged, that they are underpaid, that what they give to Justices are peanuts when compared with the other arms of government.
“We told him everything. We also told him that if we don’t uphold and maintain justice, justice will undo us soon”.
The Chairman of the BoB added that the President agreed with them that “each arm of government must be treated fairly and that none should be treated as a slave to the other”.
Responding to newsmen’s questions, Olanipekun said, “the President gave his commitment voluntarily. It was in response to my address, that the President assured me that he was going to take immediate action.
“For now, the President has given instructions to those in charge to dust a report that is on ground, which was submitted in 2018 on judges’ welfare and act as we have requested.”
On whether the President gave a timeline for the execution of his instructions, Olanipekun said they have elected to take President Buhari by his words.
“Well, you know he is the President, and we went visiting him and customarily, we cannot demand that the President should give us a timeline. If a President has given his words that he will act, we believe him.
Olanipekun, who argued that the Judiciary was unfairly treated when compared with the other arms of government, noted: “Today you can hear the grumblings, you can see the tears of the Judiciary, though they are not coming out. The Judiciary is crying silently.
“We all watched and heard what happened at the Supreme Court. If Gold rusts, what happens to other metals? In this context, the Supreme Court is the gold. And if the Justices of the Supreme Court can cry out over poor remuneration, then what happens to those in the lower courts?
According to Olanipekun, it is unfair that a Justice of the Supreme Court takes home N250,000 monthly salary and a cumulative pay of N750,000 per month compared to a Senator who earns not less than N3 million a month.
He, however, assured that he would commit his tenure at the BOB to work with relevant stakeholders to improve the standard of the judiciary, stressing that “this is not a time for distraction, it is time for collaborative action on the part of us in the legal profession.
Pouring eulogy on the erudite justice of the apex court at 80, Olanipekun said in developed countries his Lordship would still be in service, giving his best to his fatherland but unfortunately a justice in Nigeria has to retire at 70.
While disclosing that he was among those who hitherto was against the early retirement of the justice, said following the sad realities confronting the judiciary he had long jettisoned such position.