Kudos greet court orders on ex-govs to refund pension

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Commendation has greeted the Federal High Court’s order that former governors serving either as members of the National Assembly or ministers refund the pension that had collected.

A Federal High Court presided over by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo, in a suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) 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 to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.

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.

At least 22 states including Akwa Ibom; Edo; Delta; Kano; Gombe; Yobe; Borno; Bauchi; Abia; Imo; Bayelsa; Oyo; Osun; Kwara; Ondo; Ebonyi; Rivers; Niger; Kogi; Katsina and Lagos have passed life pensions laws for former governors and other ex-public officials.

SERAP’s letter to 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).”

But Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi; Minister of Labour and Employment, 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.

Reacting yesterday, Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Chief Anthony Sani, said the order was long overdue.

“We have said it over and over again that it is morally preposterous for ex-governors who are in the senate or in the cabinet to collect severance allowances and pensions which are equivalent to what are due and payable to sitting governors, and still collect what are due and payable to sitting senators and ministers.

“I, therefore, support the court’s ruling only to the extent that ex governors who are sitting senators and ministers should forfeit what they collect from their state governments as pensions.

But former minister of Information and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), Prince Tony Momoh, said much as it was a welcome development, the Federal Government cannot supervise the states on what they do with the money given to them during allocation.

“The court has only made pronouncement on an issue that was brought before it but it cannot ask the FG to audit the accounts of the states because it has no powers to do.”

He advised that the law enforcement agencies could be asked to investigate them, “but I don’t see how the FG can ask the state governments to account for the money. What they will do is that the AGF will have to look at the possibility of that recovery through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or some other agencies in government. The FG does not have the constitutional capacity to audit the account of the state governments.”

The Trade  Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) also applauded the ruling.

In a statement  by  Quadri Olaleye and Musa Lawal, president and secretary general respectively, the union thanked SERAP for suing the Federal Government over its failure to stop former governors from receiving double pay and life pensions.

“Truth is there are too many illegalities going on in the system and unless organisations and individuals challenge them, there may be no end in sight. It is indeed preposterous to permit laws that allow former governors to collect such pensions while retirees are queuing for peanuts. Nigeria is in a dire situation economically. The unemployment rate is at an alarming rate. We  were categorised as the poverty headquarters of the world, yet over N40 billion has been unduly received by the former governors who are now serving senators and ministers. This is wicked and inhuman. Above all, it presents the country in bad light,” TUC said.

Reacting, former labour leader, Frank Kokori described the action of the former governors as evil.

He said: “It is evil that in a country that is so pauperised by various governments and many people find it difficult to even have one good meal a day, all these type of bogus arrangements were made by the former governors and their surrogates in their own state assemblies. I think this judgment is a good development for the country.”

Rights activist and legal practitioner, Malachy Ugwummadu, described the judgment as not just sound but also legal.

“I commend the judgement and hope that the government of the day will have the will to pursue this to a logical conclusion while advising  that there will not be any appeal and even if there is, I am sure the judiciary understands the sensitivity of the matter and will be able to deal with adequately.”

Other legal practitioners also praised the verdict, saying it is well deserved.

Former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, described the court order as a brilliant decision. According to him, the recovery will be easier because the people involved have property, shares etc.

Femi Falana, SAN said: “SERAP deserves the commendation of all well-meaning people that have agonised over the legalisation of obscene pension package for former governors.

“This is one of the most patriotic public interest litigation ever undertaken in Nigeria. We call on state governors to use the judgment as the basis for formally repealing life pension laws and all other retrogressive laws without any further ado.”

Two other Senior Advocates, Emeka Ngige and Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, said it was wrong for a public officer to collect salary and pension at the same time.

On his part, former president of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike said the judgement was morally right and should be pursued to conclusion.

According to Ngige, such a judgment should be commended because nobody who is a serving public officer and a pensioner should be earning both salary and pension at the same time.

“That would amount to double emolument and payment. So, the decision that those who have done so should refund what they have earned is in order.”

For Adegboruwa, it is a welcome development for those earning multiple pensions to return them.

“I commend the court for this landmark judgment and the boldness and courage behind it. It is left for the Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation to ensure that the judgment is enforced to the letter.”

Uwazuruike however said caution must be applied in making the judgement stand.

While Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chijioke Okoli, said  he had not seen the court order to properly analyse and discuss it, he said: “Speaking generally on the subject, however, the sooner we do away with bizarre burden of pension for  governors, the better for the country and its impoverished citizens.

Former speaker pro tempore, Anambra State House of Assembly, Ben Chuks Nwosu, similarly described the judgment as courageous.

“The time to face fiscal and economic realities in this country is now. The judgment is in the right direction.”

A newspaper columnist, Mr. Lekan Shote and a  financial consultant in Lagos, who also works in the Bank of America, Washington, Mr. Kunle Gbenro, also commended the judgment.

A legal practitioner and APC former governorship aspirant in Osun State, Kunle Adegoke, said it was a gross anomaly for former governors serving as ministers or National Assembly members to be collecting pensions.

“The Federal Government should go ahead and recover the pensions collected by such former governors. After all, they can not be collecting pensions and at the same time collecting salaries as ministers or National Assembly members because both pension and salary are government money. I give kudos to the Federal Court. I support the decision of the court.”

Another Osun State-based legal practitioner, Kanmi Ajibola said: “The order of the court is quite proper and just. The ministers cannot be enjoying double benefits from the government at the same time.”

A lawyer, Gabriel Ogwuche said: “If the order is not appealed against, stayed and/or set aside, then this is about the best thing that will be happening in Nigeria since the advent of this Buhari/APC government. I am 100 per cent in support of it. It makes no sense to me to compensate people who misgoverned our states and other institutions with the outrageous pensions we are hearing. This is not withstanding the humongous and unjustfied allowances approved for themselves at the National assembly.”

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