July 19, 2024
Judgment: SERAP files contempt suit against FG for failing to recover double pay from ex-governors
SERAP sues Akpabio, Abass over ‘plan to spend N110bn on bulletproof cars, others’
– By Godswill Odiong

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a contempt suit against the Federal Government and Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice “for failing to recover over N40 billion double pay and life pensions from former governors who are serving as lawmakers and ministers.”

Justice Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos had in November 2019 ordered the Federal Government to “recover life pensions collected by former governors serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.”

Justice Oguntoyinbo also directed Mr Malami to “challenge the legality of states’ life pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.”

However, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to implement the judgment. Justice Oguntoyinbo who last month retired from the bench expressed “regret” during a valedictory court session held in her honour that the judgment has not been implemented.

She stated: “I remember with pride my landmark judgment in SERAP vs. The Attorney-General. Regrettably, that order is yet to be obeyed. I find it very disappointing that Court orders are often not obeyed. If there’s anything I wish to change, it is the impunity towards judicial decisions and the disrespect for the bench.”

SERAP last Friday moved to enforce the judgment by filing Form 48 contempt suit at the Federal High Court, Lagos. SERAP said: “A certified true copy of the judgment of 26 November, 2019 by Justice Oguntoyinbo has long been served on Mr Malami.”

Form 48 which is the notice of consequence of disobedience of court orders reads in part: “Unless you obey the orders of the court contained on the reverse side of this process you shall be deemed to have disobeyed the orders of the court and shall be liable to committed to prison for contempt.”

In a statement dated 7 May 2023 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said, “It’s unacceptable to take the court, which is the guardian of justice in this country, for a ride. A democratic state based on the rule of law cannot exist or function, if the government routinely ignores and/or fails to abide by court orders.”

The statement, read in part: “Despite the service of the certified true copy of the judgment on the Attorney General of the Federation, the Buhari administration has failed and/or refused to obey it.”

“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.”

It would be recalled that SERAP had in July 2017 requested Mr Malami to “institute appropriate legal action to challenge the legality of state laws allowing former governors to enjoy life pensions while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices and to fully recover public funds from those involved.”

SERAP’s letter to Mr Malami read in part: “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); 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 Honourable Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo reads in part: “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.”

“The question that comes to mind is: who should approach the Court where a particular law is not in the best interest of Nigeria as a country or National interest? Who should approach the Court where a particular law is detrimental to the interest of the country? Who should institute actions in court for the purpose of recovering public funds collected?

“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 has also argued that there is need to recover such public funds collected by former governors.”

“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.”

“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 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 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.”

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