Corruption in political high places, in Nigeria, takes place at several levels. It can be outright theft of public funds or it may come by way of using the law to take from the public treasury money that you have not earned. This latter has been common with political office holders since the return to democratic governance in 1999. Hopefully, this legalization of corruption is about to stop.
A Federal High Court in Lagos recently ruled that former state governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly should be made to refund money they collected as pension since leaving office. The court ruled in a case brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) that the Federal Government should take steps to recover the funds. It also directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other public officials to collect such pensions.
SERAP, in a series of tweets Wednesday on its official Twitter handle, said “We’ve obtained a landmark judgment from the federal high court ordering @NigeriaGov to recover life pensions collected by Saraki, Akpabio, others & directing the AGF to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors to collect such pensions. Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo delivered the judgement following an application for an order of mandamus brought by the SERAP.
“Justice Oguntoyinbo had disagreed with the Attorney General and Minister of Justice who had maintained that the states’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged. She insisted that 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.
“In the words of Justice Oguntoyinbo, ‘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’.”
The judgement has come on the heels of the decision of Zamfara State House of Assembly abolishing pension for former governors and other public officers in the state. The Appeals Court in Abuja also in October 2019 ruled that it was “morally wrong” for former governors and other political office holders who spent 4 to 8 years in office to claim pensions while public servants who worked for 35 years had hard times claiming theirs.
The three-man Appeals Court panel maintained that the practice was morally wrong and unjustifiable, especially in the face of the current socio-economic challenges facing the country. It wondered why someone who held office for not more than eight years would allocate huge public funds to themselves in the name of pension and severance package. Meanwhile, civil servants that worked for about 35 active years are denied their retirement benefits.
In the judgment marked “CA/A/810/2017”, filed by the governor of Kogi State and three others, the appellate court, led by Justice Emmanuel Agim, ruled: “I must state here that the claimants’ claim for payment of severance allowance, because the tenure of their appointment has come to an end, is as unfounded as is morally wrong. Their letters of appointment did not stipulate their entitlement to such payment. They did not produce any law or any document or instrument that entitles them to such payment.
“The fact that elected pubic office holders and political appointees are paid huge amounts of money as monthly salaries and other forms of allowances, while in office, is common knowledge in Nigeria and is not reasonable to open question. It is also common knowledge that many of them after an office tenure of between three to eight years become stupendously wealthy, exhibiting mind-blowing opulence and splendor. Yet these office holders insist on being paid severance allowance for holding such offices.”
We welcome these brave decisions and urge those with powers to implement them to do so at once. This plundering of the public treasury must not go on. The majority of Nigerians who have been pauperized by this subterfuge deserve better from their political leaders.