By Akanimo Sampson
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sparked off a potential hot controversy that will shake the polity for a while.
The civic group has named some top-ranking ministers and senior-ranking senators as public functionaries in Nigeria receiving jumbo double pay.
The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice had requested SERAP to furnish it with the names of former governors and ministers that are allegedly collecting and/or have collected double emoluments and large severance benefits from their states.
In a letter responding to the request, the group listed the public functionaries to include Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano); Kabiru Gaya (Kano); Theodore Orji (Abia); Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa); and Sam Egwu (Ebonyi).
Others are Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara); Joshua Dariye (Plateau), and Jonah Jang (Plateau), Senators Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara); Danjuma Goje (Gombe); Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi); and George Akume (Benue).
Continuing, SERAP says Labour and Employment Minister, Chris Ngige, his Works and Housing counterpart, Babatunde Fashola, Transportation Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, and former Mines and Steel Development Minister, Kayode Fayemi, the incumbent governor of Ekiti State, have denied ever receiving double payments and retirement benefits as former governors.
The group is, therefore, urging the Attorney General, Abukabar Malami, SAN to urgently ask the anti-corruption agencies and other appropriate agencies of government to verify the claims, and investigate the cases of other former governors and ministers that have collected and/or still collecting double pay and life pensions, and to publish the findings of any such investigations.
In a letter dated February 24, 2020, which SERAP said it received on March 2, Malami states: ‘’I am writing to inform your esteemed organisation to furnish me with the full list of the former governors and ministers which are affected by the judgment by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo.
The letter with Reference Number MJ/LIT/ABJ/CMC/661/793 was signed by the Director Civil Litigation and Public Law Department, Anne C. Akwiwu (Mrs).
It explains that the list will enable the Federal Government to enhance and ensure compliance with the ruling of the court.
SERAP’s response was endorsed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare. It says Nigerians cannot wait for Malami to take legal action to scrap states’ pension laws and fully recover the public funds collected.
“Immediate obedience to the judgment will be a victory for the rule and provide an impetus for the government’s anti-corruption fight.
“It will also be a rare piece of good news for the people of Nigeria, as it will send a powerful message to former governors and ministers that have collected and/or collecting double pay that they will be held to account for their actions and mark the end of this state-level impunity. We hope this judgment will be implemented duly and promptly for the sake of integrity, accountability and proper management of public resources by state governors.”
“Complying with the judgment as promised will enhance the authority, integrity and independence of the judiciary.
“It will be entirely consistent with the government’s constitutional responsibility and international human rights and anti-corruption obligations.
“By implementing the judgment, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari will be demonstrating the important role that our judiciary can play in the fight against corruption in the country.”
“Former Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki stated that he stopped collecting pensions while in the Senate the moment he saw the allegation by SERAP. However, it is unclear if he has returned all the public funds collected as pension from Kwara State.
“Similarly, public records also show that at least 22 states have passed life pensions laws allowing payment of life pensions to former governors and other ex-public officials.
“These states include Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Edo, Delta, Kano, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Abia, Imo, Bayelsa, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Ondo, Ebonyi, Rivers, Niger, Kogi, and Katsina.
“In your legal action, we urge you to focus on challenging the pension laws in these states while taking steps to verify the number of former governors and ministers that have collected and/or still collecting double payments and retirement benefits, the amount collected with a view to ensuring the full recovery of the public funds collected,’’ SERAP says.
Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo in suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 delivered a landmark judgment in December 2019, ordering the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.
The court also directed the government to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.
Justice Oguntoyinbo said: “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.’’