The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, says it is worried by the revelation that federal judges in the country have not received their salaries and allowances in the last four months,threatening to sue the federal government if the situation remain unchanged.
Executive Director of the group, Adetokunbo Mumini, in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, urged him “to use your good offices and leadership to urgently instruct all appropriate authorities to release budgetary allocations for the immediate payment of outstanding salaries and allowances of judges and judicial workers across the country.”
Mumuni stated that “failing to pay regularly and punctually the salaries and allowances of judges amounts to an implicit interference, and would seem to make judges dependent on the will of other branches of government,especially the executive, for the payment of their salaries.”
He added that if the judges’ salaries and allowances were not immediately paid, “SERAP will explore all legal avenues nationally and internationally to compel your government to uphold the cardinal principle of judicial independence by ensuring a policy of regular and punctual payment of salaries and allowances of judges and judicial workers.”
The group said it took the decision because “the judges may not, by reason of their calling, be able to personally challenge the matter in court. And the possibility of resolving the matter in a judicial proceeding may be limited since several judges have an interest in the matter, and may not therefore with propriety undertake to hear and decide it.”
Mumini added “that the independence of the judiciary has always been considered one of the important elements of the Nigerian constitutional system” and must not be “made to yield to any alleged economic necessity.”
The letter read in part: “It is important for our judiciary to remain perfectly independent, and beyond the suspicion of any outside influence.
“SERAP believes that the effect of the non-payment of salaries and allowances of judges is to reduce the purchasing power of judges, diminish the benefits to which they are entitled under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and ultimately weaken the judiciary, which is the last hope of the common man.
“For a government that has repeatedly expressed commitment to fight official corruption, it is absolutely important to work proactively to maintain the principle of the separation of powers as a basis for liberty and justice, especially given the fact that the judiciary is the most vulnerable of the three branches of government.”