My regret as i leave the bench – Justice Oguntoyinbo
A retiring Federal High Court Judge, Justice Oluremi Omowunmi Oguntoyinbo on Thursday lamented the disobedience of her order by the Federal Government asking the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN to recover pensions collected by former governors who still serve the nation as senators and ministers, saying it is one of the regrets she has as she retires from the Federal bench.
Most governors in Nigeria when leaving office influence legislation to award outlandish pensions for themselves, and afterwards still get elected as legislators, or serves as ministers where they collect further salaries and emoluments. This trend started in Lagos State in 2007 when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (now president-elect) left office as governor. Many other states had followed suit by making similar legislation.
However, in 2017, Justice Oguntoyinbo in her judgement in suit no In FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 ordered the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly. The judgement was not obeyed till this day both by Federal and state governments.
While delivering her valedictory, she said:
“I remember with pride my landmark judgment in suit no. FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 delivered in November 2019 – Registered Trustees of Socio – Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) VS. The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister Of Justice; where i ordered that States should urgently Institute appropriate legal action to challenge the legality of State Laws permitting former governors who are eventually Senators and Ministers to enjoy retirement emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political office and to identify those involved and seek full recovery of public funds from the former Governors;
“Regrettably, that order is yet to be obeyed. I find it very disappointing that Court orders are often not obeyed. If there’s anything i wish to change, it is the impunity wards judicial decisions and the disrespect for the bench. I also feel saddened by the Inadequate recognition of the work of Judges despite the high qualifications for appointment to the bench and the pitiable salaries of judges which have remained static for several years”.
She also complained about the pitiable salaries of judges which have remained static for several years. “I am retiring ahead of my time because i had surgery to reset my right hand in October, 2022 which needed six (6) months to heal. I had suffered this ailment since 2019 but continued with my job since being a judge in Nigeria requires significant writing. As one who enjoys writing, I could not imagine how to continue to serve as a Judge without being able to write; this coupled with my Husband’s encouragement, brought about the decision to retire from the bench.
“I have heard from some sources that there is plan to increase the retirement age of Judges from 65 to 70 years. It is my humble submission that in view of the circumstances prevailing in our Country, retirement age for Judges should remain at 65 years unless the Government is ready to put infrastructure in place to avoid long handwriting for Judges which in itself results in deterioration on the health of the Judges. Apart from that, there should be in place, mechanism to discourage frivolous litigations on the part of the Lawyers and appropriate remuneration for the Judges.”
The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria(BOSAN) represented by Dr Wale Babalakin SAN also has for the review of the salaries and emoluments of judicial officers in the country, saying that the condition of serving judicial officers is appalling.
Babalakin said that the present remuneration of judges in Nigeria can not attract the best of hands from the Bar. He cited the example of the Western region in 1964, where the government of the region paid judges higher salaries than the Central Bank governor. This he said was done to entice the best of brains into the system. He said,” This impacted positively on the judicial system of the region at the time.”
“Let me say categorically that only the lawyers and Judges in active practice can consciously save the judiciary. If we rely on those who are temporarily in government to positively enhance the judiciary we will have to wait for a very long time. It’s time we come together and fight for ourselves. Let us get together and save the judiciary. As a son of a Judge, of the old Western States, I am alarmed, and disappointed about the condition of service of the Judiciary;
“I am unable to relate with it. I am unable to compare it with the Judiciary I knew in my childhood. We have witnessed the deterioration of the judiciary while we fold our arms, and watch as things go down. I’m calling on the Senior Advocates who are making tons of money through this system to know that we have to protect and enhance the judiciary;
“If we will continue to have a forum for justice, and make the Judiciary attractive for the best of lawyers. I can give you a hint, in 1964 the salary of a high court judge of the old Western States was higher than the salary of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. That was because the Western States consciously decided to attract the best to the Bench, and make them very comfortable and ensure they lacked nothing. We must fight for our profession,” Babalakin added.
In his welcome address, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court Justice John Tsoho commended Justice Oguntoyinbo for having served the court and the nation for 10 meritorious years with her health and integrity unscathed.
Tsoho said: “It is a great achievement for a judge to serve especially this country and retire without blemish. Justice Oguntoyinbo could be profiled as peaceful, very firm, friendly, humane, honest, generous, incorruptible, and hard working. She is very dogged in the pursuit of her rights and entitlements.”
The Lagos State Attorney General Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN, who also spoke at the valedictory court session, lauded retired Justice Oguntoyinbo for her impartiality, fairness, and fearless approach to the dispensation of justice.
Onigbanjo said Oguntoyinbo demonstrated a deep commitment to upholding the rule of law, protecting the rights of the vulnerable, and ensuring that justice is done in every case before her. Citing the landmark case decided by Justice Oguntiyinbo in suit No FAC/L/CS/1497/2017, wherein the Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project, filed an application for an order of mandamus, to direct the Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami SAN, to recover on behalf of the federal government the pension collected by former governors who are collecting salaries in other public services.
Justice Oguntoyinbo was quoted in the judgment to have ordered the federal government to recover the pension collected by the former governors and also directed the AGF, to challenge the legality of state pensions laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.
Onigbanjo said that in the said judgment Justice Oguntoyinbo rejected the argument of the AGF, that he can not challenge the states pension laws for former governors, stating that the AGF should be interested in the legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation.
He said, ” In addition to her judicial duties, Justice Oguntoyinbo has also contributed significantly to the development of alternative dispute resolution in Nigeria.”
The Attorney General of Ogun state Mr. Oluwasina Ogungbade SAN, in his remarks, described Oguntoyinbo as a firm judge, diligent and prolific who will not allow lawyers to unnecessarily delay cases in her court
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