Court orders AGF to recover N40bn pension from ex-govs

The Federal High Court in Lagos has pronounced that it is illegal for National Assembly members and ministers who were once state governors to continue to earn emoluments and life pension as ex-governors from their states.

The court, in a judgment by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo, decried the situation where “former governors, who are now senators and ministers, enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.”

The court ordered the Attorney General of the Federation to take immediate legal action towards the abolishment of state laws permitting such pension arrangement.

Justice Oguntoyinbo further ordered the AGF to take steps to “seek full recovery of funds from those involved.”

The judge made the order in judgment delivered in favour of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project against the AGF.

In the public interest suit filed in 2017, SERAP had prayed the court to compel the AGF to go after and recover over N40bn collected as life pensions and emoluments by senators and ministers, who were once state governors.

The group told the court that information at its disposal showed that “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).”

SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, said in a statement on Wednesday that Justice Oguntoyinbo delivered judgment in its favour.

A part of the judgment, according to Oludare, read, “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 see full recovery of public funds from the former governors.

“SERAP is seeking an order of mandamus to compel the Attorney General to file 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 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 for 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.”

Oludare described the judgment as ground-breaking and 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.”

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