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March 24, 2024

SERAP to Tinubu: Emulate Otti, obey court judgment stopping pensions to ex-govs

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Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu

By Olasunkanmi Akoni

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has urged President Bola Tinubu to emulate the good example of Governor Alex Otti of Abia State by immediately obeying the judgment ordering the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors, and to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting those involved to collect such “outrageous pensions.”

The judgment dated 26 November, 2019, was delivered by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo following a suit by SERAP.

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Otti, last week signed into law the bill to repeal ‘The Abia State Governors and Deputy Governors Pensions Law No 4 of 2001,’ following the passing by the House of Assembly. Under the repealed law, former governors and deputy governors in the state were paid lifetime salaries and got houses in Abia and Abuja.

Also, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, last week asked state governors to emulate Governor Otti in repealing laws supporting the payment of pensions to former governors and deputies in their states, describing life pension laws as ‘rascality’ and ‘acts of daylight robbery.”

In the letter dated March 23, 2024, by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “We urge you to emulate the good example of governor Otti by urgently obeying the judgment, something which former President Muhammadu Buhari blatantly failed to do.”

SERAP said, “Unless the judgment is immediately obeyed, former governors and their deputies including those now serving as ministers in your administration and members of the National Assembly who receive pensions would continue to evade justice for their actions.”

The letter, read in part: “SERAP agrees with former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s conclusion that states’ pension laws are ‘acts of daylight robbery’, and his call for such laws to be abolished by other state governors.

“Immediately obeying the judgment would show the sovereignty of the rule of law in Nigeria and go a long way in protecting the integrity of the country’s legal system.

“Obeying the judgment would also show you as a defender of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended), the rule of law, and public interest within government.

“Buhari turned a blind eye to the judgment. State governors have failed to provide names of former governors and their deputies who have collected and continue to collect pensions from their states and the amount so far spent on these ex-officials.

“Justice Oguntoyinbo in her judgment granted ‘AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the Attorney General, AG, to urgently identify former governors and their deputies collecting pensions from their states and to seek full recovery of public funds from those involved.

“Justice Oguntoyinbo also granted ‘AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the AG to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, serving as senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.

“Over N40 billion have reportedly been collected by former governors serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.

“SERAP is concerned that while many Nigerian workers and pensioners have not been paid by state governors for several months and struggle to make ends meet, former governors continue to collect double emoluments and enjoy opulent lifestyles.

“According to our information, those who are reportedly receiving double emoluments and large severance benefits from their states include: Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano); Kabiru Gaya (Kano); Theodore Orji (Abia).

“Others are Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa); Sam Egwu (Ebonyi); Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara); Joshua Dariye (Plateau), and Jonah Jang (Plateau).

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

“The 20-page judgment in suit no: FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 signed by Justice Oguntoyinbo reads in part: ‘The Attorney General, AG, 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 AG 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.”