The Federal High Court in Lagos has ruled that Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has “sufficient interest to bring its suit to stop former governors and now serving senators and ministers from receiving double pay and life pensions, and to seek recovery of over N40bn of public funds unduly received by these public officers.”
Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo stated this last Friday while granting leave in the suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/17 filed last year by SERAP to compel the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN to “challenge the legality of states’ laws that allow 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 them.”
In a considered ruling granting leave to apply for Judicial Relief, Justice Oguntoyinbo held that, “SERAP cannot be considered a meddlesome interloper or busybody in seeking to stop double pay and life pensions for former governors”, emphasising that all that mattered was for SERAP to show “sufficient interest in the application for leave to apply for an order of mandamus.”
Extensively reviewing and relying on Order 34, Rules 1(1) a, 2, Rule 3 (1) and (2) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009, and quoting from several Supreme Court Judgments, Justice Oguntoyinbo insisted that, “the court shall not grant leave in mandamus application unless it considers that the applicant has sufficient interest in the matter to which the application relates.”
While stating that she was “mindful of the fact that in an application of this nature, the judge should not delve into the substance of the main issue”, she however ruled that “having reviewed the papers filed by SERAP, the court is satisfied that the organization has met the criteria set by the Rules of the Court, and as such does not consider SERAP a meddlesome interloper.”
Justice Oguntoyinbo’s ruling followed the hearing of an argument in court on exparte application by SERAP counsel Timothy Adewale. The case is adjourned to 22 March 2018 for the hearing of arguments on the motion on notice.
It would be recalled that SERAP had on 4 October, 2017 filed the suit at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, praying the court to compel “the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN to use his position as a defender of public interest to institute legal actions to stop former governors from enjoying emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their positions as senators and ministers.”
The suit read in part: “Public function should be exercised in the public interest. Double emoluments promote private self-interest or self-dealing. By signing double emoluments laws, which they knew or ought to know that they would be beneficiaries, these former governors have abused their entrusted positions, and thereby obtained an undue advantage, contrary to article 19 of the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.
“Senators and ministers should not be receiving salaries and pensions running into billions of naira from states that are currently unwilling or unable to pay their workers’ salaries and pensioners’ entitlements. National and international laws implicitly forbid public officials entrusted with public resources from granting to themselves emoluments for life while serving in other public offices including as senators and ministers.
“Taking advantage of entrusted public offices and positions to enact laws to grant double emoluments and large severance benefits to serving public officials amounts to not only an abuse of office but also incorrect, dishonourable and improper performance of public functions, as per the provisions of paragraph 2 of article 8 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.”
It would be recalled that following SERAP’s letter to Mr. Malami, Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki last year told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja that he wrote a letter to the state government to stop the payment of the pension “the moment I saw that SERAP allegation.” He said, “No, I’m not collecting pension; the moment I saw that allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension.”
So far, Dr. Kayode Fayemi Minister of Mines and Steel Development and his counterparts in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, and Minister of Power, 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.
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).
“Under the Lagos Pension Law a former governor will enjoy the following benefits for life: Two houses, one in Lagos and another in Abuja estimated to cost between N500m and N700m. Others are six brand new cars every three years; furniture allowance of 300 percent of annual salary every two years, and a close to N2.5m as pension (about N30m pension annually); free medicals including for his immediate families; 10 percent house maintenance; 30 percent car maintenance; 10 percent entertainment; 20 percent utility; and several domestic staff.
“In Rivers, state law provides 100 percent of annual basic salaries for ex-governor and deputy, one residential house for former governor anywhere of his choice in Nigeria; one residential house anywhere in Rivers for the deputy, three cars for the ex-governor every four years; two cars for the deputy every four years; 300 percent of annual basic salary every four years for furniture; 10 percent of annual basic salary for house maintenance.
“In Akwa Ibom, state law provides for N200m annual pay to ex governors, deputies; pension for life; a new official car and utility-vehicle every four years; one personal aide and provision of adequate security; a cook, chauffeurs and security guards for the governor at a sum not exceeding N5m per month and N2.5m for the deputy governor; free medical services for governor and spouse totaling N100m for the governor per annum and N50m for the deputy governor; a five-bedroom mansion in Abuja and Akwa Ibom; and allowance of 300 percent of annual basic salary for the deputy governor; 300 percent of annual basic salary every four years and severance gratuity.
“Similarly, the Kano State Pension Rights of Governor and Deputy Governor Law 2007 provides for 100 percent of annual basic salaries for former governor and deputy; furnished and equipped office; a 6-bedroom house; well-furnished 4-bedroom for deputy, plus an office; free medical treatment along with immediate families within and outside Nigeria where necessary; two drivers; and a provision for a 30- day vacation within and outside Nigeria.
“In Gombe State, there is N300 million executive pension benefits for the ex-governors. In Kwara State, the 2010 law gives a former governor two cars and a security car replaceable every three years; a well-furnished 5-bedroom duplex; 300 per cent of his salary as furniture allowance; five personal staff; three State Security Services; free medical care for the governor and the deputy; 30 percent of salary for car maintenance; 20 per cent for utility; 10 percent for entertainment; 10 per cent for house maintenance.
“In Zamfara State, former governors receive pension for life; two personal staff; two vehicles replaceable every four years; two drivers, free medical for the former governors and deputies and their immediate families in Nigeria or abroad; a 4-bedroom house in Zamfara and an office; free telephone and 30 days paid vacation outside Nigeria. In Sokoto State, former governors and deputy governors are to receive N200m and N180m respectively being monetization for other entitlements which include domestic aides, residence and vehicles that could be renewed after every four years.
“The abolition of such laws therefore is a necessary first step towards delivering on the constitutional promise of equal protection and equal benefit of the law for a distressingly large number of Nigerians. Otherwise, public officials will remain seriously out of touch with a major source of poverty and discrimination in the country.”