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Court orders FG to recover pensions collected by former governors serving as ministers, NASS members

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The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos in a landmark judgment, 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, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.

This was disclosed in a statement by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), on Wednesday, by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare.

The judgement was delivered by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo, following an application for an order of mandamus in suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 brought by the SERAP.

The judgement is coming against the backdrop of the recent decision of the Zamfara State House of Assembly, abolishing the pension for former governors and other public officers in the state, which provided for the upkeep of ex-governors to the tune of N700 million annually.

Delivering the 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?

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

Justice Oguntoyinbo’s judgment further 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.”

Reacting to the judgment, the SERAP deputy director said: “This ground-breaking judgment 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 judgment shows the urgent need for state governors in Nigeria to follow the Zamfara example, by immediately abolishing the obnoxious pension laws in their states. We commend Justice Oguntoyinbo for her courage and wisdom, and urge President Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Malami to immediately obey the court orders.”

At least 22 states starting from Lagos State have passed life pensions laws for former governors and other ex-public officials.

Other states include Akwa Ibom; Edo; Delta; Kano; Gombe; Yobe; Borno; Bauchi; Abia; Imo; Bayelsa; Oyo; Osun; Kwara; Ondo; Ebonyi; Rivers; Niger; Kogi; and Katsina.

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