Is there possibly a link between neglect of judges and corruption in the nation’s judiciary? Does the Nigerian system encourage judicial corruption?
There are indications that judges in the country are grossly neglected. Recently, while speaking in an interview with a national daily, Olufunlola Adekeye, a justice of the Supreme Court who retired last October, painted an unpalatable picture of the neglect judges go through in Nigeria.
As a Supreme Court justice, her take-home pay was less than a million naira. After 46 years in service, she has no home of her own. A judge must move out of her official residence on retirement; she has to move out of hers by end of January, and she says she does not know where to move to. As a civil servant, on retirement, you are allowed to buy your official house, but in the case of Adekeye and other justices, they cannot.
Who is to blame for this sorry state? It is the system, the judiciary – the policy of the judiciary. Justice Adekeye says she has written papers on this; she has even written to the chief justice of the federation.
Other justices have also raised their voices. They are worried that after over 40 years of serving the country, they retire into oblivion. They are more worried because they are aware of what operates elsewhere. They know, for instance, that in England, as a Supreme Court Justice, you will have a house in the best areas of London and then you will have a house in the suburb – a house with the best of facilities.
Adekeye hit the nail on the head when she said bluntly that it is this unpalatable system that encourages corruption.
How do we right the wrong? We need to take a cue from the Lagos State government that has done some reform in its judiciary. Years back, these same problems existed in Lagos. Lagos State found out that delays in trial processes were both a cause and an effect of corruption; that cases in Lagos High Court were concluded in 4.25 years at the least; and that it had the largest judiciary with 52 courts in the High Court Division, 118 in the Magistrates’, the largest number of policemen, and the largest Ministry of Justice.
In 1999, the state drew up a blueprint to address the issues. Selection based on cronyism was addressed, and the issue of pitiable salary and emoluments was looked into too. Salaries of judges increased by 1,000 percent, from $300 to $3,500. Additionally, each judge in the state since then has been enjoying the following benefits: a house worth $250,000 in low density neighbourhood, a piece of land worth about $50,000, a car, and about $20,000 in shares in a blue-chip company. Magistrates earn about $300 a month at entry level and are entitled to a piece of land and a government car. And to ensure quick trial process, lawyers found using delaying tactics are sanctioned.
Nigeria’s top leadership, especially now that the Federal Government is pursuing a transformation agenda, needs to put things right in this very important arm of government. To paraphrase Funke Aboyade, it is in the enlightened self-interest of government to ensure that our judges get the best welfare packages.