Critiquing Buhari’s ‘hanging’ promise to give jumbo salaries to judges

Muhammadu Buhari

In this report, Ise-Oluwa Ige examines various efforts made by stakeholders to persuade and or compel the Federal Government to review upward the salaries of Nigerian judges between 2011 during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan and 2023 without result; scrutinizes a couple of weak attempts by the Federal Government during the period to address the judges’ case including the establishment of the Technical Committee on Judicial Remuneration (TCJR) which had since submitted its recommendations in 2018 on the subject-matter but presently gathering dust on the table of the executive and posits that with 54 days left in office, President Muhammadu Buhari still has the opportunity to honour his ‘hanging’ promise to give befitting salaries to Nigerian judges in order to guarantee the independence of the judiciary which is the fundamental right of every Nigerian.


Although, the Federal Government reviewed the salaries of public servants and political officers on four occasions between May 1999 and March 2011, the last time judges’ salaries and allowances were increased was in 2007.

The 2007 review of judges’ pay followed the enactment of the “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) (Amendment) Act of 2008” which came into force on February 1, 2007.

The law had repealed a similar Act of 2002 to create room for the increase of judges’ basic salaries, allowances and fringe benefits in 2007.


Under the “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc) (Amendment) Act, 2008”, the CJN’s annual basic salary is N3,353,972.50 (or N279,497.71 monthly), while other Justices of the Supreme Court and the President of the Court of Appeal receive N2,477,110 as basic annual salary or N206,425.83 monthly each.

The Justices of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court and President of the Industrial Court, Grand Khadi of State and FCT Sharia Court of Appeal, President FCT and State Customary Court of Appeal earn annual basic salary of N1, 995,430.18 each.

Also, judges of the Federal, State and FCT High Courts, National Industrial Court, Khadi Sharia Court of Appeal in the FCT and State; and FCT and State Customary Courts also earn an annual basic salary of N1,804,740.00 each.

Notwithstanding that public servants and political office holders got pay rise in 2011, the salaries of all categories of Nigerian judges have since remained static since 2007.

Whereas, the average exchange rate of one USD to Nigerian Naira (NGN) in 2007 when Nigerian judges received a pay rise was $1: N117.88, the salary of judges remained static notwithstanding the fact that the exchange rate jumped insignificantly from 1$: N117.88 in 2007 to 1$: N117.98 in 2008; 1$: N158.6 in 2014; 1$: N253.5 in 2016; 1$: N305.8 in 2017; 1$: N361 in 2018; 1$: N360 in 2019; 1$: N380 in 2020; 1$: N413 in 2021; 1$: N450 in 2022 and 1$: N750 in 2023.

According to a senior lawyer, Sebastine Hon (SAN), the implication is that the salaries of judges in Nigeria have not kept pace with inflation and when adjusted for inflation, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and all categories of judicial officers in the country actually make less now in 2023 than what they did between 2007 and 2022 when Naira was indeed stronger than what it is today.

Worse still, a survey of judges’ salaries in other countries of the world by Vanguard showed that they not only enjoyed periodic review of their salaries, Nigerian judges’ salaries are mere fractions of what their counterparts earn.

It is so bad that a recent independent survey by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) showed that Ghana and South Africa are even doing much better in the way they remunerate their judges than Nigeria.


Following the exclusion of judges in the 2011 review of the salaries of public servants and political officers, some of the public office holders whose salaries prior to 2011 were below that of the judicial officers, now earn more than them.

The emerging situation propelled stakeholders to mount pressure on the Federal Government to review upward the salary of judges in the country since judges also attend the same markets with other public officers.

But all through the tenure of office of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan spanning May 6, 2010 to May 29, 2015, the struggle to get judges a befitting take-home pay bore no fruit.


As soon as President Muhammadu Buhari took over the mantle of leadership in May 2015, the silent battle to get judges pay reviewed continued unabated.

But instead of Buhari to increase judges’ pay, gun-wielding security agents in October 2016 swooped on the residences of senior judges in Abuja, Port-Harcourt and Gombe, breaking their doors, threatening to harm their family members and aides, before arresting few of them for purported offences of corruption.

His government had claimed that there was the need to purge the judicial system, remove the bad eggs for the emergence of a world class judicial system.

The contemporaneous raids by men of the Department of State Service (DSS), which began at wee hour lasted about 12 hours, leading to the arrest of Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro, both of the Supreme Court bench as well as Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal high court, Abuja while the security operatives searched the residence of another judge of the Federal High Court, Justice (Dr) Nnamdi Dimgba located on S.O Ogbemudia Crescent, Zone E, Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja.

However, following scathing criticism of President Buhari over the raids and the continued pressure on his government to improve the conditions of service of judicial officers in the country to stem corruption in the judicial system, his government sometimes in 2017 set up a committee to look into the judges’ case.


That was after he was made to understand that it would seem like a contradiction for his government and Nigerians to desire a world class judicial system, and yet, saddle a key enabler of that system with poor conditions of service.

The committee—Technical Committee on Judicial Remuneration (TCJR), submitted its report in 2018, recommending immediate harmonization of the salaries and allowances of judicial officers with those of members of the National Assembly.

It also recommended upward review of judges’ allowances—medical, rent, leave and hardship allowances.

But since the report was submitted, the government merely kept it in view.

Notwithstanding the fact that the TCJR report was gathering dust on the tables of relevant authorities, President Muhammadu Buhari said he was poised to reposition the judiciary in general and the Supreme Court in particular.

Indeed, in June 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote a letter through his spokesman, Garba Shehu, to then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad on the need to appoint five additional Justices at the Supreme Court.

Specifically, Buhari said ”Pursuant to the provisions of Section 230(2) a and b of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), I am pleased to request that you initiate in earnest the process of appointing five additional Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to make the full complement of 21 Justices as provided by the aforementioned provisions of the constitution.

Although the National Judicial Council (NJC) headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria recommended qualified justices for appointment to the Supreme Court bench, President Buhari government again developed a cold feet to give its approval.

It took the NBA and few prominent members of the bar almost one year to get Buhari sign the list through subtle blackmail.

But the implementation of the TCJR recommendation on salary review for judges never saw the light of the day.


That was the situation in July 2020 when in a chat with Vanguard, a prominent member of the inner bar, life bencher, and pioneer Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Osun State, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), lamented what he called the shameful official salary approved by the Federal Government for judges in the country.

According to him, “Under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended), there are three arms of government—The executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. They are what constitute the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Each of them is allocated its portfolio to manage the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The legislature makes the law; the executive carries out the law, and the judiciary carries out judicial functions to resolve disputes between individuals, persons and governments, individual persons and individual persons, and between government and government. It can also determine if there are disputes between the three tiers of government.

“Unfortunately, the judges who constitute the judiciary are paid less than what senators earn in Nigeria. They are paid less than what the House of Representatives members earn in Nigeria.  And in the state, it is not better. What has happened is that nobody has spoken for them. They cannot speak for themselves. They cannot down the tools. They cannot go to the public to canvass for increase in salary. They cannot, on their own, initiate a case and say come and determine whether our salaries and conditions of service and remunerations are adequate. So, because of that lacuna, the executive and the legislature have been taking advantage of them.

“Worse still, since 1999, the executive and the legislature have been conniving to increase the burden, the work of the judiciary. They timed them by the Constitution: all electoral matters must be determined between so, so time and so, so time. They have been increasing their burden, they have been creating hardship, inconveniences and great burden on the judiciary. But they are not paid well. Yet, these judicial officers have been carrying on with the hope that someday, they will be adequately remunerated.

“The point is that without the judiciary, our democracy would have collapsed. Without judiciary, our democracy would have gone and the military would have taken over several times. You know, at various points, we reach a breaking point that we think, oh, the end has come but the judiciary has always come to rescue our democracy. Yet, they are least recognized. They are dying in hundreds and nobody is knowing, nobody is taking note. And this is because of the onerous job they do and the effect on their health. They are poorly paid. Their condition of service is not improved and they suffer in silence,” he added.

It was not surprising that in less than a month after Awomolo’s lamentation, a Professor of Public Law and President of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSS), Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), announced the intention of his organization to approach a Federal high court with a writ for a mandamus order compelling a raise in the salaries and allowances of Nigerian judges which have remained static for more than a decade.  


But before Prof Akinseye-George approached the court, another senior lawyer, Sebastine Hon, in June 2022 filed a lawsuit at the National Industrial Court seeking its order compelling the Federal Government to increase the salaries and allowances of judges in the country.

Named as defendants in the suit were the Attorney-General of the Federation, the National Judicial Council (NJC), the National Assembly and the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC).

In court filings, Hon stated that as a legal practitioner, who has practised in all the levels of courts in Nigeria, he said he was aware that poor pay for judicial officers was and is still seriously affecting the quality of judgments and rulings those officers are delivering and the discharge of other functions associated with their offices.

He argued that the current economic reality in the country requires that the salaries and allowances of the nation’s judges be urgently improved upon, adding that the paltry sums have discouraged him from aspiring to become a judge.

He pointed out that it is about 14 years since the salaries and allowances of judges were last reviewed upward in 2008 despite the loss of value of the naira vis-à-vis other global currencies like the US dollars, the British pound sterling and the European Union (EU) euro, etc.

More than 60 SANs came out to prosecute the case on behalf of Sebastine Hon for the judges.

In less than one and a half months, the National Industrial Court entered its judgment in the matter.


Specifically, the trial judge, Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae on July 15, 2022, ordered the Federal Government to commence a monthly payment of N10 million to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), N9 million to other justices of the apex court and the President of the Court of Appeal.

The court also ordered that the government should pay N8 million to other justices of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judges of both the Federal and States High Courts, while judges of the Federal and States High Courts should be paid N7 million, Heads of Sharia Court of Appeal and its counterpart in the Customary Court, N8 million and N7 million for the judges in both courts.

The judge held that the current salaries and allowances of judicial officers in the country “is not only abysmally low but embarrassing” and accordingly ordered the federal government to put machinery in place for the immediate review of the salaries and allowances of the judicial officers.

The court also ordered that the Federal Government should continue to carry out a yearly or once in two years review of the salaries and allowances of the judicial officers.

Obaseki-Osaghae J. lamented that it was unfortunate that justices and judges who are ministers in the temple of Justice have become “victims of great injustice” in the country.

The judgment however did not indicate whether the salaries fixed for the different categories of judges were inclusive of their allowances neither did the judgment give any breakdown of how it arrived at the figures.


Indeed, a month after the court entered its verdict on the matter, a lawmaker and former leader of the Senate in the 7th Assembly, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, an interview with Vanguard expressed worry over how the court order would be implemented.

His words: “Every judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction must be obeyed and it remains valid until set aside by a higher court. The judgment is valid and to the best of my knowledge, has not been set aside. The salaries of judges have been pitiable especially in the recent past with the continuous erosion of the value of the naira and has made the judiciary more susceptible to corruption. This is in addition to other systemic issues afflicting it.

“Having said so, the judgment directed RMAFC, the body constitutionally empowered to determine the salaries of certain political, public and judicial officers to increase the salaries of judges by amounts predetermined by the court. How the court arrived at these sums, I am yet to know.

“Salaries of public officers, including judicial officers, are guided by constitutional provisions and are as prescribed by the National Assembly but not exceeding what shall have been determined by RMAFC,” he added.

However, many lawyers including rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), Mr Olalekan Ojo (SAN) among others had hailed the judgment, arguing that the salary fixed by the judge for the nation’s judicial officers did not even commensurate with their efforts but that it was a good way to start.


Two weeks after the National Industrial Court gave the judgment, top lawyers in the country led by the immediate past Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) visited President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock in Abuja for an interaction on the way forward regarding the poor judges’ pay.

According to Olanipekun (SAN), he said his group was able to convince President Buhari on the need to increase the judges’ pay even if it would mean starting it off with the recommendation of the TCJR committee set up by the Federal Government few years back.

But Olanipekun said they did not ask the President when exactly to expect the pay raise for the judges even though he expressed hope that the judges would soon smile.

That was his account on July 31, 2022.


Indeed, by a letter dated 2nd November, 2022, with Reference No RMC/FEF/58/I/103, an agency of the Federal Government—Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC)— invited the NBA to submit a memorandum for the review of the remuneration of public, political and judicial office holders in Nigeria, a signpost that President Buhari’s government was actually serious about the pay raise for the judges.

The President of the NBA, Mr Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau (SAN) quickly set up a 12-member Working Committee on Judicial Remuneration and Conditions of Service to advise RMFAC on the befitting salaries for all categories of judges in the country.

The committee membership includes Mikyau (SAN) as chairman, Olawale Fapohunda (SAN) as alternate chairman, Professor Mamman Lawan Yusufari, SAN, Chinonye Obiagwu SAN, Shaibu Enejoh Aruwa, SAN, Professor Adamu Ibrahim,  Folashade Alli, Aisha Ado Abdullahi, Amaka Uzuegbu, Mohammed Tajudeen Mohammed, Anago Nnamdi and Philemon Audu Daffi.

After a wide consultation, the Mikyau-led committee submitted a 144-page memorandum declaring that most of the findings of TCJR as still very relevant today, but said that the remuneration adjustments proposed by it cannot be said to reflect current economic realities, adding that if the proposals of the TCJR had been implemented in 2018, it would be due for review now.

Faulting the TCJR report on how it arrived at its remuneration proposals, the NBA said that the report did not take into account the remuneration package for the Judiciary that came into effect by virtue of EAO/P/267/Vol.1/27 of 5th June, 1996, implying that an older remuneration scale was used as a baseline.

“The implication of this is that the remuneration proposals of the TCJR, which was presumably based on RMFAC’s review placed judicial officers at a disadvantage, unlike for the other categories of public officers, whose extant salaries were used. It must be emphasized that Judicial Officers were shortchanged right at the inception of the current constitutional dispensation when RMFAC came into existence, and erroneously fixed the first salaries especially for judicial office holders. 

Standing on the above premise, the committee therefore proposed a 200% increase in the basic salaries of all judicial officers.

Table 1: NBA’s proposed Annual Basic Salaries for the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justices of the Supreme Court & President of the Appeal Court & their Current Basic Salaries

EmolumentsChief Justice of NigeriaAssociate JusticesPresident of the Court of Appeal
Present Annual Basic(2007-2023N3,363,972.50N2,477,110.00N2,477,110.00
Proposed Annual BasicN10,091,917.5N7,431,330.00N7,431,330.00

Table 2: NBA’s Proposed Basic Annual Salaries for Justices of the Court of Appeal, Heads of Federal and State High Courts, Sharia & Customary Court of Appeal with their Current Salaries

S/NSalaryJustice of the Appeal CourtChief Judge of Federal High CourtChief Judge of FCT High CourtJudge of the Federal High CourtPresident National Industrial CourtGrand Khadi, FCT Sharia Court of AppealPresident, FCT Customary Court of AppealChief Judge of a StateGrandKhadi of State Sharia Court
1Present SalaryN1,995,430.18N1,995,430.18N1,995,430.18N1,995,430.18N1,995,430.18N1,995,430.18N1,995,430.18N1,995,430.18N1,995,430.18
2Proposed New SalaryN5,986,290.54N5,986,290.54N5,986,290.54N5,986,290.54N5,986,290.54N5,986,290.54N5,986,290.54N5,986,290.54N5,986,290.54

Table 3: NBA’s Proposed Basic Annual Salaries for Judges of the Federal and State High Courts, Customary and Sharia Court of Appeal with their Current Basic Salaries

     SalaryJudge, Federal High CourtJudge of National Industrial CourtJudge of FCT High CourtJudge, State High CourtJudge, FCT Sharia Court of AppealJudge, FCT Customary Court of AppealKhadi of State Sharia Court of AppealJudge, State Customary Court of Appeal
Present Annual BasicN1,804,740.00N1,804,740.00N1,804,740.00N1,804,740.00N1,804,740.00N1,804,740.00N1,804,740.00N1,804,740.00N1,804,740.00
Proposed Annual BasicN5,414,220.00N5,414,220.00N5,414,220.00N5,414,220.00N5,414,220.00N5,414,220.00N5,414,220.00N5,414,220.00N5,414,220.00

The umbrella organisation of Nigerian lawyers also proposed a total overhaul of what currently consists of judicial allowances: medical, rent, leave, hardship allowances.

Specifically, the NBA proposed 40% of the basic salary of all judicial office holders as medical allowance, 100% upward review in rent, leave and hardship allowances respectively.

Besides, the NBA proposed five new allowances for judges in recognition of the peculiar demands of the judicial offices that deserve compensation but which are not presently included in allowances available to judicial officers. These allowances include restrictive lifestyle allowance, dual responsibility allowance, disruptive burden allowance, long service allowance and legal research allowance.

The NBA proposed100% lifestyle allowance for all judicial office holders, in recognition of the limitations on lifestyle of judicial officers imposed by the Judicial Code of Conduct; 20% Dual Responsibility allowance for all heads of court, in recognition of the peculiar burden inherent in the offices of the heads of courts; 50% Disruptive Burden Allowance for Justices of the Court of Appeal, Judges of the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court, in view of the frequency of their transfers including to mitigate the financial burden of maintaining two homes; 10% Long Service Allowance payable monthly to judicial officers who have served on the Bench for a minimum of 5 years and 70% monthly legal research allowance for all heads of courts, justices of the Supreme Court and justices of the Court of Appeal.  

The NBA also proposed delinking judicial remuneration from that of the civil service and recommended an independent new Judicial Salary Pay Scale to be known as the Judicial Service Pay Scale (JSPS), to enable judicial salaries to be subject to regular reviews that are distinct from that carried out in respect of the civil service.

The NBA memorandum and the JCJR report on the new salaries for all categories of judicial officers are with RMFAC for consideration and implementation.

On November 18, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari again reaffirmed the commitment of his administration to review upward the salaries of judicial officers in the country but with no timeline.

He spoke at the official handover ceremony of the Nebo Graham-Douglas campus of the Nigerian Law School, Port Harcourt, to the Council of Legal Education.

Represented by Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the president said he has directed the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMAFC) and the AGF to promptly commence implementation of the enhanced salary and welfare scheme for judicial officers.

The judiciary, according to the president, remains a foundation of strength and stability for the country’s democracy, adding that other measures would be put in place to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

But eight months after President Buhari gave his commitment to the outgone Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun on July 31, 2022 and less than two months to the expiration of his tenure, nothing has been heard from the executive over the jumbo pay for judges.

A credible source and member of the National Judicial Council (NJC) who preferred anonymity told Vanguard that the promise to review upward the poor salaries of the judges was one of the several pledges that Buhari made on his assumption of office since 2015 but which he is yet to honour.

The source said that even when he promised to appoint five more justices into the Supreme Court bench to increase the number of judges to 21 in order to strengthen the apex bench, he developed a cold feet when the NJC list of recommended candidates got to his table.

He said though he reluctantly signed the list of newly appointed justices after a subtle blackmail, he said the number of justices at the apex bench has again depleted to 12 from 21 with no hope in sight to re-appoint more justices into the court even as the workload of the serving judicial officers are daily increasing.

From all available facts, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari appears not to understand that its desire for a world class judicial system cannot be achieved with the present condition of service of the Nigerian judges.

It is high time that the Federal Government realized that the demand for an upward review of the salaries of judicial officers in the country which was much overdue, is not, in anyway a favour to the judicial officers concerned but its obligation to guarantee the independence of the judiciary so that judges are not subjected to pressure or influence and are free to make impartial decisions based solely on facts presented and the relevant laws.

Source: Vanguard

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