The immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Muhammad, is expected to get a N2.5bn severance package from the Federal Government.
Muhammad’s resignation on health grounds was announced on Monday, less than a week after the 14 Supreme Court Justices accused him of financial malfeasance and maladministration.
Following the development, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on Monday swore in Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the next most senior Justice as the acting CJN.
As part of the package for the retired chief justice put together by the National Judicial Council, a mansion will be built for him in Abuja or any city of his choosing with a lump sum for furnishing.
This is in addition to a gratuity that is 300 per cent of his annual basic salary of N3.36m as well as a pension for life.
The National Judicial Commission had in 2019 recommended the payment of N2.5bn for Muhammad’s predecessor, Walter Onnoghen.
A former CJN, Alfa Belgore, was also reportedly paid about N2.8b after he retired from service.
Just like state governors, a retired chief justice is entitled to at least four domestic staff and sundry allowances for personal upkeep.
This includes allowances for accommodation, utilities, entertainment, medical, security, furniture, and vehicles.
Though the remuneration and severance package of political, public and judicial officers were published on the website of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the full details of the allowances were not disclosed.
The PUNCH gathered that the former CJN would get the financial package based on the provisions of Section 291 (2) and (3a-c) of the 1999 Constitution as well as Section 2 of the Pensions Rights of Judges Act.
A senior lawyer said Muhammad, being the head of the judiciary, would be well paid so that he would not have to work again for life.
“The severance package is as humongous as the one paid to former Senate President. He would also be a member of the Council of State,” he added.
Corroborating this, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who does not want to be quoted, stated, “His entitlements are enormous. He’s entitled to a house anywhere in Abuja, domestic staff, cars, salaries and allowances for life. Judges are being overworked because, by the time they retire at 70, they are not always looking young.”
A source in the NJC confirmed the severance package. He noted, “Honestly, his gratuity and pension will be intact, what he’s earning will continue. They will give him his official cars. He’s entitled to houses anywhere in the country. This is done by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. All of them are choosing Abuja, but I don’t know the amount he would be paid.”
RMFAC could not be reached for comment. Its outgoing chairman, Elias Mbam did not respond to calls and SMS seeking his comment on the severance package for retired CJN.
This is as the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on Tuesday received a fresh order to probe the newly retired CJN over the allegations of corruption levelled against him by 14 Supreme Court Justices.
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, mandated the Committee led by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele to probe the allegations against the CJN and the crisis presently rocking the judiciary.
Announcing the probe of the former CJN during plenary on Tuesday, Lawan recalled that on June 21, he drew the attention of the Senate to the media reports on the state of affairs in the Supreme Court where Justices of the apex court in a petition raised issues bordering on deplorable welfare conditions and difficult working environment, which was addressed to the CJN and Chairman, National Judicial Council.
He emphasised the need for the Senate to urgently step into the matter as any issue that concerned the judiciary was of urgent national importance that the Senate could not afford to sit idly by and allow it to spiral out of control.
Accordingly, the Senate President directed the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to unravel the root cause of the recent development in the judiciary and how best the upper chamber could address the concerns raised by the Justices.
Lawan said, “The chamber mandates the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to go ahead with its assignment in the quest to find a lasting solution to the matter by interacting with relevant stakeholders to address the complaints raised in the petition by the Justices of the Supreme Court.
“Mandate the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to interface with the relevant stakeholders in the three arms of Government as well as the Bar and the Bench and collate aggregate views and positions on the short-term, medium-term and long-term measures needed to decisively address the crisis facing the judiciary, including the immediate fiscal intervention as well as long-term and sustainable budgetary allocations required for the optimal performance of the judiciary, in line with global best practices; and urge the Senate to wish the Hon. Chief Justice well, following many years of meritorious service to the nation and to pray for his good health.”
Lawan noted that Justices were taciturn and reticent in handling issues outside their judicial domain but resorting to such measures to protect the Judiciary required the Senate to rise to the occasion to ensure that their demands were addressed.
The committee chairman, Senator Bamidele, said his team was taking steps to look into the matter as directed by the President of the Senate by making arrangements to interface with relevant stakeholders both at the Bar and the Bench.
Bamidele said, “The poor welfare of judicial officers would affect the delivery of the judiciary in respect of their output and will prevent them from performing optimally.
“The sacred image of the judiciary, which is the epicentre of the temple of justice, should be preserved by the Senate through appropriate legislative measures to safeguard this highly revered institution and prevent it from being ridiculed.”
Bamidele regretted that though Muhammad voluntarily resigned on Sunday, the development, he said, would not prevent the Committee from going ahead with its assignment in the quest to find a solution to the matter.
Muhammad battling condition before appointment, visits Dubai for treatment – Source
Meanwhile, more facts have emerged on memory disorder, the medical condition which precipitated the resignation of the former CJN.
According to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, memory disorders are disorders of cognition, the ability to reason, remember, make decisions and communicate.
The illness may include dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, vascular cognitive impairment and hydrocephalus.
Sources disclosed that Muhammad had been battling the disorder long before he was appointed as the CJN.
“He has been travelling abroad, particularly, to Dubai for treatment for the illness. The government is aware of his condition before he was appointed as the CJN after former CJN Walter Onnoghen was booted out,” a source explained.
A Supreme Court official explained that the judicial circles were shocked and worried over Muhammad’s appointment in 2019.
He stated, “When he was appointed, the entire justice system was worried because he has been battling the sickness for long and workers were taking advantage of it because the man was forgetting things.
“Even now in the Supreme Court, there is a serious contest between the workers and the Justices because the workers had written to them for intervention but the Justices only used their complaints as grist for their own matter.
“There were some approvals for the workers which the CJN did not implement. When the workers wrote, they expected the Justices to intervene but they instead converted their protest letter into a source of information to fight for their interests. Though the man has gone, there is still tension in the Supreme Court.”
The PUNCH was further informed that the children of the former Chief Justice once brought a list of applicants to be employed in the apex court.
The director of administration was said to have queried the move but the applicants were reportedly employed, nevertheless.
“The director queried it, but despite that, they still gave them (applicants) employment without following the proper procedure,” the source stated.
The NJC spokesman, Mr Soji Oye, could not be reached for comment on the severance package for retired CJN and issues raised about Muhammad’s tenure as calls to his phone rang out. He had yet to reply to an SMS sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
The Convener, Adopt A Goal Initiative and Coalition in Defence of Nigeria’s Democracy, Dare Ariyo-Atoye, called on the National Assembly to halt the payment of the retirement benefits to the erstwhile CJN pending the outcome of the Senate investigations.
The NJC spokesman, Mr Soji Oye, could not be reached for comment on the severance package for retired CJN and issues raised about Muhammad’s tenure as calls to his phone rang out. He had yet to reply an SMS sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
NJC backs suit
Meanwhile, the National Judicial Council on Tuesday in Abuja threw its weight behind a suit seeking an upward review of salaries and allowances of judges in the country.
NJC through its counsel, Kunle Adegoke (SAN), prayed the National Industrial Court in Abuja, to grant all the reliefs sought by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Sebastine Hon, who instituted the suit.
The organisation informed Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae that the Nigerian government reviewed Judges’ salaries in 2008, a period of 14 years ago adding that the ugly trend had inflicted untold economic hardships on Judicial Officers in the Judiciary arm of government.
The NJC was listed as the 4th defendant in the suit, which was filed by the claimant, Chief Sebastine Hon SAN.