Copy Gov Otti, SERAP Tells Pres Tinubu

Socio- Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP), has urged president Tinubu to follow the good example of Governor Alex Otti of Abia State by obeying the judgment ordering the Federal government to recover pensions collected by former governors, and to challenge the legality of States’ pension laws that allowed those involved to collect such outrageous pensions

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

Recently, governor Alex Otti 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and Deputy Governors pensions Law No 4 of 2001; following the passing by the Abia state House of Assembly under the repealed law, former governors and deputy Governors in State were paid lifetime salaries and got houses in Abia and abuja respectively.

The letter as 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.

“Nigeria’s democracy needs courts so that public officials and private actors including former governors and their deputies collecting life pensions, exotic cars and other allowances from their states can be held accountable for any infraction of Nigerian laws.

“Mr 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.

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“Constitutionalism and the rule of law are not in conflict with democracy; rather, they are essential to it. Justice Oguntoyinbo’s judgment has pointed the way for your government to provide the leadership to ensure the reform of pension laws allowing former governors and their deputies to collect lifetime salaries and allowances. It is now time for your government to restore the rule of law systemically.

“Like pension laws of several states, the repealed Abia state pension law stipulated that former Abia governors and deputies are entitled to 100 percent of the annual basic salaries of the incumbent governor and deputy; their cooks, stewards, drivers, and gardeners are to be paid by the state; and are entitled to three police officers and two operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).

“Justice Oguntoyinbo in her judgment granted ‘AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the Attorney General 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 Attorney General 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.’

“Justice Oguntoyinbo also indicated that double emoluments for former governors are unacceptable, unconstitutional and illegal.

“SERAP also notes that former president Olusegun Obasanjo this week correctly asked state governors to emulate governor Alex Otti in repealing laws supporting the payment of pensions to former governors and deputies in their states. Mr Obasanjo described life pension laws as ‘rascality’ and ‘acts of daylight robbery’.

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

“Justice Oguntoyinbo who recently retired from the bench expressed ‘regret’ during a valedictory court session held in her honour that the judgment has not been obeyed.

“Justice Oguntoyinbo 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.

“Immediately obeying the judgment would demonstrate your oft-repeated commitment to the rule of law, and respect for the judiciary as the guardian of justice in this country. 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.

“Many of the former governors serving as ministers in your administration and as members of the National Assembly are reportedly enjoying pensions from their states while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.

“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).

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“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.’

“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.”

By Sophina Ovuike, Abuja