Judiciary and the academia

The recent order by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for increment in the salaries of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and other judges has evoked mixed feelings – on the one, salutary and on the other, a sad comment on Nigeria’s degenerate reward system.
A judge's wig
A judge’s wig

The recent order by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for increment in the salaries of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and other judges has evoked mixed feelings – on the one, salutary and on the other, a sad comment on Nigeria’s degenerate reward system. It is sad that the Honourable Justices had no other choice but to alert the public to their poor working conditions. In this regard, the judiciary and the academia have common experiences, foremost of which is that they were hitherto highly revered sectors of the Nigerian society where civilized conduct of members was sacrosanct, expected to live above board, detached from the madding crowd and to be exemplar. At all times they were expected to preserve the pristine values and ethics of their callings in ways that would inspire confidence on them. In both cases intellectualism was the hallmark of engagement. But in a society that has become increasingly anti-intellectual, both have suffered relegation in the scheme of things with grave consequences for the wellbeing of Nigerians.
Nigeria’s poor economic outlook is a product of a weak governance structure characterized by poor leadership and ascendance of mediocrities at all levels of government. As to leadership, it is instructive to recall that by May 1999, the beginning of the 4th Republic, Nigeria was metaphorically a fallen house in need of excavation as prelude to rebuilding. By a combination of diplomacy against the perception of Nigeria as a pariah state and deployment of a team of technocrats of proven intellectual capacity, Obasanjo’s administration cleared the Augean Stable on debt burden and left a foreign reserve of about $43billion at the end of tenure. Early in his administration, President Obasanjo ameliorated the poor working conditions of workers by step-wise increases in salaries and emoluments, crowning it with monetization policy to regulate government’s spending. All these were accomplished within the framework of subsisting governance architecture, that is a quasi federal structure that is unitary in form. Not surprisingly his administrative policies suffered reversals on many fronts. I dare say that if President Obasanjo had embraced true federalism, and given his political strong will to act decisively matters would have been different today.

With President Buhari in the saddle since 2015, the economy, anaemic as it were, has suffered two recessions with current GDP growth rate of not more than 3% as against over 6% inherited from previous administration of President Jonathan. Given the profile of his administrative team that is far-fetched in requisite capacity, it is not illogical to conclude that the economic downturn is as much a failure of leadership as it is of governance system. We are now full cycle back to the pre-1999 era – lamentation by workers, insecurity, anomie and despondency.

The order by the Industrial Court concerning judges may seem ludicrous against the backdrop of prevailing economic circumstances. But there is no doubt that judges are overburdened by the sheer volume of judicial matters they handle, taking proceedings of court in longhand. This is exacerbated by the structure of judiciary with matters from State Courts ending up in Courts of Appeal and Supreme Court. The 2014 National Conference recommended administrative and constitutional reforms. In section 6.9.1 of the report number 4(c) it states: “ Create a State Court of Appeal for every state”.
4(d) says; The State Court of Appeal shall be a terminal Court for States on state matters. However, Appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court in State matters involving weighty constitutional issues, civil liberties and matters of overriding public interest”
For administrative policies, section 6.9.2 states: “ensure that judges elevated to higher bench concluded their cases if evidence have been concluded to prevent such matters starting de novo except in cases of death or retirement of such a judge”. In 10(h), it states: “No awaiting trial prisoner shall be detained for a period longer than the period he or she would have served if convicted of the crime he or she is charged with”. Clearly these administrative and constitutional recommendations would have reduced the enormous burden on judges in criminal justice administration if they were implemented. Sadly, President Buhari dismissed the National Conference as a wasteful exercise.

It is now public knowledge that House members and Senators get humongous monthly pay comprising the actual approved ones of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and a certain running cost approved for themselves totally over N10Million. I am aware that judges do not have research assistants and such other aids to facilitate quick dispensation of justice. Therefore, they deserve to have running cost to cater for these needs.

The FGN-ASUU crisis can now be appreciated not only for their demand for repositioning of universities for effective education but also for their demand for commensurate remuneration for academics. It is incomprehensible that government will on the one hand plead lack of funds and on the other donate money to Afganistan and purchase exotic vehicles for Niger Republic. Dr. Chris Ngige, the Honourable Minister for Labour and Employment got it wrong when he said on a national television that academic staff were fixing salaries for themselves, unmindful of the fact that negotiating team on the government side are Pro-Chancellors of federal and state universities as Chairmen of Governing Councils which are de jure, the employers of university staff.
Now, the resident doctors have served notice for resumption of suspended strike action. The Minister’s handling of ASUU’s strike and of the preceding one of resident doctors has been less than satisfactory. More worrisome is his justification for exodus of doctors to other countries on grounds of returns on foreign exchange remittances amid surplus doctors in Nigeria. By this he has failed to see the need to stem the exodus and to reduce medical tourism. Such a mindset of a conciliator is unhelpful for amicable resolution of the crises in the education and health sectors.

As we approach 2023 elections at all levels, there is no doubt that Nigerians desire to see a dramatic turn-around from the current state of anomie, despondency, frustration and fear. The complexities of the Nigerian state and the inherent conflicts demand a leader who has the clarity of vision and the courage of conviction to address them purposefully. Indeed he must be a leader who understands the merit in the advocacy for federalism and he is willing to embark on governance reform in consonance with the concept in order to reposition the country on the path of sustainable development.

Professor Eromosele is former deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

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