By Ibrahim Shuaibu in Kano
The National Assembly has pledged to push for the amendment of Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution for magistrates to be included as judicial officers.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, made the remarks when the National President of the Magistrates Association of Nigeria, Saidu Safiyyanu Umar, visited him in Abuja.
According to a statement signed by Umar and made available to THISDAY in Kano yesterday, Saraki disclosed that amending the section would enable the magistrate court to earn more respect as well as enable them to handle certain cases to reduce the workloads at the Federal, states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Courts.
“I agree with you entirety that section 318 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria especially the definition section should be amended to include magistrates as judicial officers,” the statement said.
He stressed the need magistrates to have pension commission for judiciary and called for the establishment of an agency that would be in charge of pensions and gratuities for all judicial officers in the country.
According to him, the agency should be called the National Judicial Service Pensions Board to be funded through deductions from monthly allocations of the various judiciaries, adding that there are equivalent bodies for army, navy, police, customs, immigration and prison officers.
On retirement age controversy of the judicial officers, the Senate President said although he agreed that magistrates should have a retirement age slightly below those of high court judges, but this has to be deliberated and inputs have to come from the public before an agreeable age is accepted.
Earlier in his speech, the President of the Magistrates Association of Nigeria, Umar, noted that despite the fact that magistrates perform judicial functions and are not merely peripheral in the judicial arm of government, they are lumped with the broad spectrum of the civil service under the consolidated public service salary structure.
Umar noted that the resultant effect is that the magistrates are the lowest paid among all the sectors that make up the administration of criminal justice which comprises the courts, the police and prison service.
“Although we are aware that the National Assembly cannot legislate on the salaries of the states magistrates but the magistrates in the FCT are federal officers for whom the National Assembly can legislate.”
The president said as soon as the federal magistrates in Abuja get their salaries adjusted, it would be easier for them to engage the state assemblies through dialogue to ensure the passage into law their own salaries at various states.
He appealed to the Senate President to, while passing into law the proposed bill, to make provision to enable magistrates get to level 17, because right now, they hear and conclude over 70 cases.