FORMER governors are to have the handsome pension packages they allocated forfeited to the federal government after a Lagos high court authorised the attorney general of the federation to collect all past payments and review the laws allowing it.
Nigerian governors can serve a maximum of two four-year terms but what several of them have done when they leave office is to get their state houses of assembly to pass bill offering them bumper severance packages. In many instances these governors gave paid themselves pension packages equivalent to their salaries when they were in office.
Yesterday, however, a federal high court sitting in Lagos ordered the federal government to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly. In addition, the court has also directed the attorney-general of the federation Abubakar Malami to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such payments.
Among those affected by the ruling are former senate president Bukola Saraki and current Niger Delta affairs minister Godswill Akpabio. Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo delivered the judgement following an application for an order of mandamus brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (Serap).
Justice Oguntoyinbo ruled: “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.
“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. 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 also argued that there is a need to recover such public funds collected by former governors. According to Serap, since it wrote to the government the attorney-general has failed, refused and/or neglected to institute appropriate legal actions to that effect.
Kolawole Oluwadare, Serap’s 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. This judgment should catalyse further action from the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) Governor Dr Kayode Fayemi to use this judgment to abolish pension laws in his own state and make a clear public commitment that the NGF 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.”