Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos, has ordered the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former and serving senators as well as former and serving ministers who served as governors.
Justice Oluremi, who delivered the landmark judgment, 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 Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) made an application for an order of mandamus in suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 birthed by the court’s resolution on 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 group filed a suit against the Federal Government in 2017 over its failure to stop former governors from receiving double pay and life pensions.
SERAP also sued the government for failing to seek the recovery of over N40 billion unduly received by the former governors who are now serving senators and ministers.
Individuals named by SERAP as beneficiaries of this policy are Rabiu Kwankwaso, Theodore Orji, Abdullahi Adamu, Sam Egwu, Shaaba Lafiagi, Joshua Dariye, Jonah Jang, Ahmed Sani Yarima, Danjuma Goje, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Adamu Aliero, George Akume, Biodun Olujimi, Enyinaya Abaribe, Rotimi Amaechi, Kayode Fayemi, Chris Ngige and Babatunde Fashola.
Justice Oguntoyinbo stated: “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 a 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 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 same, I find no reason 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 February 6, 2018, and filed on February 7, 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.
“SERAP is seeking an order of mandamus to compel the attorney general to file an action to challenge states’ pension laws for former governors and recover public funds collected by them in the public interest since the attorney general has failed/neglected to institute such action. That is the essence of SERAP’s suit.
“I believe the attorney general can institute an action in a court of law to challenge states’ pension laws for former governors. I do not see any substance in the submissions of counsel to the attorney general on this issue. I, therefore, resolve this issue against the attorney general in favour of SERAP. On the whole, I find no merit in the attorney general’s preliminary objection. It is accordingly dismissed,” Justice Oguntoyinbo stated.
Speaking after the judgment, the deputy director, SERAP, Kolawole Oluwadare, described the judgment as a victory for unpaid Nigerian workers and pensioners.
Oluwadare 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.
“This judgment should catalyze further action from the chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, to use this judgment to abolish pension law in his own state and make a clear public commitment that the governors’ forum under his watch will push all governors and ex-governors to abolish life pensions and return public funds collected by them before being compelled to do so.”
He commended Justice Oguntoyinbo for her courage and wisdom, urging President Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Malami to immediately obey the court orders.
Meanwhile, Justice Oguntoyinbo adjourned the suit to February 3, 2020, for hearing on the report of compliance with the court orders/judgment by the Federal Government.