Court Orders FG to Recover Pensions Collected by Ex-governors Serving as Ministers, Federal Lawmakers

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*Directs AGF to challenge states’ pension laws

By Akinwale Akintunde

Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ordered the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.

The judge in a landmark judgment delivered last week also directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.

Justice Oguntoyinbo gave the jugment following 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).

A certified true copy of the judgment has been obtained by the applicant, SERAP.

The judgment is coming on the heels of the invalidated pension law for former governors and other ex-public officers in Zamfara State, which provided for the upkeep of ex-governors to the tune of N700 million annually. The state has produced three former governors since 1999.

Delivering the judgement, the judge held that “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 or National interest? 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 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.”

Justice Oguntoyinbo has adjourned the suit to the 3rd of February 2020 for hearing on report of compliance with the court orders/judgment by the Federal Government.

The judgment read in part: “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 has 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.

“I take judicial notice of the essence of the creation of SERAP. I believe that SERAP has the locus standi to bring this suit. More so, this is a constitutional matter. In constitutional matters, the requirement of locus standi becomes unnecessary to a great extent as it may merely impede judicial function. This issue is therefore resolved against the Attorney General, in favour of SERAP”, the court held.

SERAP in a statement signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare said it had in July 2017 requested Mr 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.”

Former Senate President and governor of Kwara state Bukola Saraki said he stopped collecting pension after hearing of SERAP’s suit, and subsequently inspired the passing of the bill by the Kwara State House of Assembly to suspend payment of pensions to former governors and their deputies.

Saraki had said at the time: “No, I’m not collecting pension; the moment I saw that SERAP allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension.”

The repealed pension law in Zamfara State allowed former governors to receive pension for life; two personal staff; two vehicles replaceable every four years; two drivers, free medical for the 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.

So far, Ekiti State governor Dr. Kayode Fayemi and 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