The issue of delayed retirement benefits for retired judges and other judicial staff reared its head recently in Kogi State when the former Grand Khadi of the state’s Sharia Court of Appeal, Justice Zakaria Idakwoji Mohammed, called on Governor Yahaya Bello to pay such outstanding benefits to all the deserving in the state.
Justice Mohammed made the appeal while speaking at the special valedictory court session in honour of deceased and retired judicial officers of the state judiciary in Lokoja recently.
- Poor salaries exposing judges to corruption — Senate
- N119m unpaid allowances: 7 Plateau judges threaten to sue government
Citing himself as an example, the retired judge said he had retired from active service since 2018 but was yet to receive his benefits.
Pleading specifically for the families of dead judicial officers, who had been left in a financial quandary, Mohammed reminded the Kogi State governor of the untold suffering they must be going through.
With the death of their breadwinners, the families were left suffering. Mohammed also noted that the situation was not peculiar to judicial officers but also affected several other public officers who had served Kogi State meritoriously.
He appealed to the state governor to demonstrate magnanimity in facilitating the payment of due retirement benefits to the affected judicial officers.
Incidentally even before the appeal by Grand Khadi Mohammed, the Director -General of the Kogi State Pension Reform Commission (KPRC), Hajia Mariam Ozioma Abedo had given assurance that the state government was evolving a new strategy for resolving the pension crisis, just as the state enacted a law on the implementation of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS).
Sadly, the Kogi State instance, which Justice Mohammed cited, mirrors similar developments in Plateau and Akwa Ibom states with a twist in the Akwa Ibom case where the affected judge took the state government to court.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing, it is clear that a new wave of discontent is brewing among even judicial officers, who ordinarily are sedate over matters of personal welfare.
While government indebtedness to judiciary pensioners has been a thorny issue in Kogi state, it represents just the tip of the iceberg of its indebtedness to civil servants of various cadres.
In fact, not only are pensions and gratuity owed the public servants, even salaries do not fare better.
Be that as it may, the issue of pensions and gratuity remains more critical for the fact that they are terminal benefit for officers who had left the service, and, therefore, remains their lawful rights as provided for by law.
By virtue of their calling as judicial officers, judges are servants in the temple of justice where pronouncements and judgments are expected to draw from the impartiality and impersonality of the cold dictates of the law.
It is for this same reason that during their career runs on the bench, are ensconced from the routine runs of social life in order to insulate them from mingling in a compromising manner with the rest of society.
By denying them of their rights to pension and gratuity and thereby exposing them, undeservingly, to financial embarrassment, these officers in their cadre are likely to be exposed to the temptation to ingratiate themselves with illicit inducements.
Besides, viewing the situation on a higher moral ground, it remains indefensible for a state governor to deny any worker of his or her retirement benefits when the same governor avails himself with jumbo severance packages just for occupying the position of state chief executives.
Given that virtually every religion in the country upholds the sanctity of due compensation for the worker, governors in Nigeria remain duty-bound to prioritise the payment of all due benefits to any designated beneficiary.