President Bola Tinubu made a significant stride in his early days in office by signing a crucial bill into law. The bill establishes a standard retirement age for judges and marks the first legislation signed by the President since assuming office. The signing ceremony took place in the esteemed Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
The bill, titled ‘Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Altercation) (No.37) Bill, 2023,’ aims to amend the existing retirement age for judges in the country. While the retirement age for Justices of the Appeal and Supreme Courts currently stands at 70, this constitutional bill seeks to raise the retirement age for High Court Judges and other judicial officers to 70 as well.
This move is expected to have far-reaching implications for the judiciary in Nigeria. By extending the retirement age, experienced judges can continue to serve the nation, utilizing their vast knowledge and expertise for a longer period. It also recognizes the importance of retaining experienced judges and ensuring stability within the judiciary.
President Tinubu’s prompt action in signing this bill demonstrates his commitment to implementing reforms and addressing critical issues in the country. By prioritizing the establishment of a standard retirement age for judges, he emphasizes the significance of an efficient and effective judiciary in upholding the rule of law and ensuring justice for all.
The signing ceremony in the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa underscores the gravity of this legislative milestone. It symbolizes the President’s determination to drive positive change and his dedication to ensuring that the judiciary operates at its best.
With the signing of this bill, President Bola Tinubu sets the tone for his administration, highlighting his proactive approach to governance and his focus on strengthening key institutions. As his tenure progresses, it is anticipated that more transformative policies and actions will follow, shaping the future of Nigeria for the better.
In addition to establishing a standard retirement age for judges, the bill also addresses the issue of pension rights for judicial officers of “superior courts of record” as specified in section 6(5) of the 1999 constitution (as amended). This provision encompasses a range of courts, including the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Court, High Court of Abuja, High Courts of States, Sharia Court of Appeal, National Industrial Court, and Customary Courts of Appeal.
Interestingly, a recent report by TheCable revealed that the immediate past Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, advised former President Muhammadu Buhari to decline assent to the bill. In a memo dated May 23, addressed to the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Malami expressed concerns about the financial implications that would be imposed on the federal government if the bill were to be approved.
Malami argued that the bill appeared to be excessively broad, ambiguous, and lacking sufficient justification for extending the retirement age and benefits for judges. He further contended that the passage of the bill could result in a stagnation of career growth for judges, as those currently serving on the bench would be required to stay longer, potentially hindering the elevation of new judges to higher courts.
Moreover, the former AGF warned that the approval of this bill could pave the way for similar demands to extend the retirement age of justices in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, leading to further complexities and challenges.
The divergent viewpoints surrounding this bill highlight the complexities involved in shaping legislation related to the judiciary. While proponents argue for the benefits of experienced judges continuing their service, opponents express concerns about the financial implications and potential stagnation in the judicial system.
As the bill progresses through the legislative process and gathers further input, it remains to be seen how these contrasting perspectives will be reconciled. The final decision will likely reflect a delicate balance between ensuring the effectiveness of the judiciary and considering the financial implications for the government.
Malami added that the proposed alteration of the constitution also eliminated the “responsibility of states to pay these altered retirement benefits”.
He wrote: “Accordingly, the federal government enacted the Federal Judicial Officers (Administration of Pension) Act 2007, which transferred the responsibility and administration of pension of the federal judicial officers from the department of establishments in the office of the head of the service of the federation to the National Judicial Council.
“Similarly, State Governments are responsible for the pension of judicial officers in the state courts of record.
“These provisions are now being amended by the fifth alteration which now restricts the power of the federal government to make law with respect to Judicial Officers who retire after the age of 65.
“Regardless of extant economic realities of the federal government, by virtue of the fifth alteration, all judges who retire after attaining 65 years of age would be entitled to payment of their salaries for life, including all allowances in addition to any other benefit to which they may be entitled.
“By virtue of the constitution, the only persons entitled to payment of their last salaries for life as pension are the President, Vice-President and Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. In the case of the latter, it’s only applicable if the justices retire at or after the age of 65 and have spent not less than 15 years.”