The recent ruling by a Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos state, which ordered the federal government to recover pensions collected by former governors serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly is a good omen for the nation’s democracy. This is so because the profligacy and corrupt tendencies of public office holders in the country have robbed the mass of the people of enjoying the dividend of democracy, thereby pauperising the populace.
The court also directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.
The judge ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice “to identify those involved and seek full recovery of public funds from the former governors”. Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo also ruled that the AGF should report compliance with the judgment on February 3, 2020.
These are the highlights of the Federal High Court judgment in the suit seeking an Order of Mandamus compelling the AGF to recover the pension paid to former governors. The suit was filed by the Social-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in 2017, seeking the stoppage of the benefits.
According to details of the judgment delivered penultimate week, but made available last week by SERAP, many states have pension laws which take care of former chief executives with generous post-office package. The justice minister declined to take any step on the laws as requested by SERAP because they were duly passed by the Houses of Assembly.
However, delivering his judgment, 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?”
The judge, who proffered answers to these puzzles, 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.”
Justice Oguntoyinbo added that 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.”
The judge added: “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.”
Oguntoyinbo also pointed out that after considering “all the facts presented by SERAP on the need for the suit and the counter-affidavit against same, there was “no reason why the order of mandamus should not be granted.”
He added: “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.” The judge adjourned till February 3, next year hearing on the report of compliance with the court judgment by the federal government.
In its letter to Malami before instituting the matter, SERAP said: “According to our information, those who reportedly receive double emoluments and large severance benefits from their states include Kwankwaso; Kabiru Gaya (Kano); Akpabio; Orji; Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa); Sam Egwu (Ebonyi); Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara); Joshua Dariye (Plateau), and Jonah Jang (Plateau). Others are: Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara); Danjuma Goje (Gombe); Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi);George Akume (Benue); and Rotimi Amaechi(Rivers).”
Ekiti state Governor Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Labour Dr. Chris Ngige, and Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola had denied ever receiving double payments and retirement benefits as former governors. Former Senate President and one-time governor of Kwara state Dr. Bukola Saraki had said he stopped collecting pension after hearing of SERAP’s suit. He claimed that he inspired the passing of the bill by the House of Assembly to suspend payment of pensions to former governors and their deputies.
We commend the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, for accepting to comply with the court order, directing the recovery of payment to former governors serving or have served as senators and ministers. We urge the minister not to leave any stone unturned as he recovers every single kobo acquired in this melee of illegality and greed.