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Ex-governors mum as court orders recovery of pensions

  • We’re studying the ruling – FG

 

Former governors and deputies who are now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly are silent over the ruling of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos which ordered them to refund all monies they collected as pensions after leaving their executive offices.

The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had, in a landmark judgement, ordered the federal government to “recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.”

It also directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect pensions.

However, when contacted yesterday, the AGF said he was studying the ruling and that a position would be taken soon.

Speaking through his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, the AGF said they heard of the judgement. “We are currently studying it and we will respond appropriately,” he said.

Daily Trust reports that most of the former governors and deputy governors who are now serving as ministers or senators refused to comment on the matter.

It was, however, not clear if the Lagos judgement would be retroactive considering that there are many former governors and deputies who have also served in the National Assembly or took ministerial appointments.

Findings show that there are over  50 former governors  and deputies from over 25 states that at one time or the other drew multiple benefits running into billions of naira.

Presently, there are 16 former governors serving at the Senate. They are Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Kashim Shettima (Borno), Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa), Ibrahim Gaidam (Yobe), Orji Kalu (Abia), Theodore Orji (Abia), Sam Egwu (Ebonyi), Danjuma Goje (Gombe), Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu), Ibrahim Shekarau (Kano), Kabir Gaya (Kano), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko (Sokoto), Gabriel Suswam (Benue) and Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa).

Two former deputy governors – Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti) and Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe (Abia) – are also at the upper chamber.

There are nine former governors who are currently serving as ministers in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. They are Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Chris Ngige (Anambra), Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa), George Akume (Benue), Ogbonnaya Onu (Ebonyi), Richard Adeniyi Adebayo (Ekiti), Babatunde Fashola (Lagos) Rauf Aregbesola (Osun) and Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers).

Our correspondents report that Engr. Abubakar D. Aliyu (Yobe) and Pauline Tallen (Plateau) are former deputy governors who are now serving ministers. Many states have over the years passed various laws for paying their former chief executives and their deputies pensions and other benefits after leaving office.

The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) only approves payment of 300 per cent basic salary as severance allowances for political office holders on leaving office.

However, various state assemblies have approved a wide range of entitlements, including houses, vehicles among others for ex-governors and their deputies.

Though the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) Act did not deny former governors from drawing dual remunerations simultaneously, however there are concerns on the financial implications on the states as many of them hardly fulfil their obligations to civil servants and other citizens.

Ex-governors Suswam, Gaya and Egwu did not respond to calls and text messages sent to them yesterday, while the line of former Governor Adamu was not going through. Also one of our correspondents who visited the office of Sen. Gaidam at the National Assembly was told that the former governor was not in.

Contacted, the spokesperson of former Governor Kwankwaso, Binta Spikin said, “This is a sensitive matter. It (comment) has to come from him.”

So far, Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi; Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola have denied ever receiving double payments and retirement benefits as former governors in addition to other roles in public office.

 

The Lagos judgement

A certified true copy of the judgement delivered last week by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo, and  obtained  by the Daily Trust,  followed an application for an order of mandamus in suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

The judgement is coming on the heels of the repealed pension law for former governors and other ex-public officers in Zamfara State.

The decision by the Zamfara State House of Assembly in response to a request from ex-Governor Abdulaziz Yari for the payment of his N10 million monthly upkeep, in addition to arrears, had generated a lot of condemnation with right groups and lawyers calling on other state assemblies to also repeal such pension laws.

The repealed pension law in Zamfara allowed former governors to receive pension for life; two personal staff; two vehicles replaceable every four years; two drivers, free medical care for former governors and deputies and their immediate families in Nigeria or abroad; a 4-bedroom house in Zamfara and an office; free telephone and 30 days paid vacation outside Nigeria.

Justice Oguntoyinbo said: “The Attorney General has argued that the states’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged. With respect, I do not agree with this line of argument by the Attorney General that he cannot challenge the states’ pension laws for former governors.

“The question that comes to mind is: who should approach the court where a particular law is not in the best interest of Nigeria as a country? Who should approach the court where a particular law is detrimental to the interest of the country? Who should institute actions in court for the purpose of recovering public funds collected?”

In answering the questions, Justice Oguntoyinbo said: “In my humble view, the attorney general 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.

“I have considered SERAP’s arguments that it is concerned about the attendant consequences that are manifesting on the public workers and pensioners of the states who have been refused salaries and pensions running into several months on the excuse of non-availability of state resources to pay them.

“SERAP has also argued that there is need to recover such public funds collected by former governors. It is clear from the facts of this case that SERAP had written the Attorney General to institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, who are now senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices and to seek full recovery of funds from those involved.

“SERAP has stated that since the receipt of the said letter, the attorney general had failed, refused and/or neglected to institute appropriate legal actions to that effect.

“In my view, the principle of ‘demand and refusal’ has been satisfied by SERAP. I have also considered the fact that in action to protect a public right or enforce the performance of a public duty, it is the attorney general that ought to sue.

“Having considered all the facts presented by SERAP on the need for the suit and the counter-affidavit against same, I find no reason why the order of mandamus should not be granted. I am of the view that SERAP’s suit has merit.

“I resolve this issue against the attorney general, in favour of SERAP. I hold that the Motion of Notice for Mandamus dated 6th February 2018 and filed on 7th February 2018 has merit. It is therefore granted in the terms sought.

“In other words, the attorney general is hereby directed to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, who are now senators and ministers, to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices and to identify those involved and seek full recovery of public funds from the former governors,” the judge said.

Justice Oguntoyinbo thereafter adjourned the suit to February 3, 2020 for hearing on report of compliance with the court orders/judgement by the federal government.

 

Reactions

SERAP’s deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “This ground-breaking judgement is a victory for Nigerian workers and pensioners who have not been paid by state governors for several months and struggle to make ends meet whilst former governors now serving as ministers and senators continue to collect double emoluments and enjoy opulent lifestyles.

“Justice Oguntoyinbo’s judgement shows the urgent need for state governors in Nigeria to follow the Zamfara example by immediately abolishing the obnoxious pension laws in their states.”

It would be recalled that SERAP had in July 2017 requested Malami to urgently institute appropriate legal action to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, who are now senators and ministers, to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices and to seek full recovery of public funds from those involved.

A constitutional lawyer and rights activist, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said that states houses of assembly should follow the spirit of the judgement and the lead of the Zamfara  assembly by immediately passing laws repealing the payment of pensions to former governors, their deputies and other political office holders.

He said the new law should make it mandatory for all those that had benefited from the old law to refund all the money they collected, adding that would restore sanity into the polity.

Ozekhome clarified that the judgement of the Federal High Court would apply to all those that had benefited from the old law regardless of their new call in life.

“Irrespective of whatever status the person is holding now, all of them should regurgitate everything they have benefited in the form of pension. It is high time we broke this political lunacy,” he said.

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