N40bn: Court Affirms SERAP’s Right To Stop Outrageous Pensions For Akpabio, Others’

N40bn: Court Affirms SERAP’s Right To Stop Outrageous Pensions For Akpabio, Others

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Godswill Akpabio

The Federal High Court in Lagos has ruled that Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has “sufficient right to bring its suit to stop former governors and now serving senators and ministers from receiving double pay and life pensions.

The court has also affirmed its right to to seek recovery of over N40bn of public funds unduly received by the 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 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.”

Sarai in his letter had 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.