A Federal High Court 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 court 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 Oluremi Oguntoyinbo delivered the judgment last week following an application by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
In the suit marked FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 SERAP sought for an order of mandamus compelling the AGF to recover the funds.
SERAP said it was concerned about “the attendant consequences that are manifesting on 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.”
The human rights group also argued that there is a need to recover such public funds collected by former governors.
The group said it wrote a letter to the AGF to recover the pensions from several ex-governors, but that the government failed to do that.
The AGF opposed SERAP’s prayer.
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 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 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 adjourned till February 3, 2020, for hearing on the report of compliance with the court orders/judgment by the Federal Government.
SERAP’s letter to Mr. Malami read in part:
“According to our information, those who reportedly receive double emoluments and large severance benefits from their states include: Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano); Kabiru Gaya (Kano); Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Theodore Orji (Abia); Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa); Sam Egwu (Ebonyi); Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara); Joshua Dariye (Plateau), and Jonah Jang (Plateau).
“Others include: Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara); Danjuma Goje (Gombe); Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi); George Akume (Benue); and Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers).”
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.
In answering the questions, the judge 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.”
In granting the order in SERAP’s favour, the judge said there was evidence that SERAP wrote the AGF “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 inaction to protect a public right or enforce the performance of 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 the 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 to merit. It is therefore granted in the terms sought.”