…Orders FG to Recover Pensions Collected by Ex-Govs Serving as Ministers, Senators …Directs Attorney General to Challenge Legality of States’ Pension Law The National Industrial Court has declared as null and void, payment of the controversial jumbo pension and gratuity to former Governors and Deputy Governors that’s not in harmony with what is fixed by
…Orders FG to Recover Pensions Collected by Ex-Govs Serving as Ministers, Senators
…Directs Attorney General to Challenge Legality of States’ Pension Law
The National Industrial Court has declared as null and void, payment of the controversial jumbo pension and gratuity to former Governors and Deputy Governors that’s not in harmony with what is fixed by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
The court gave the judgment on Thursday while ruling in a suit brought against the Taraba State Government by Mr Garba Umar, a former acting Governor of the state.
It was the second time in less than a month that a court will dismiss as illegal the pensions former Governors are drawing from their states. In early December 2019, a Federal High Court in Lagos also declared the pension illegal.
Ruling on an application for an order of mandamus in a suit brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo ordered the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.
He also directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former Governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.
Former Lagos State Governor, Mr Bola Tinubu and his Akwa Ibom state counterpart, Mr Godswill Obot Akpabio are fingered as part of those benefitting from juicy pension endorsed by the Houses of Assembly in their states. In Zamfara, Governor Bello Matawalle recently cancelled the payment after signing into law a bill passed by the Zamfara House of Assembly. The annulled law had made a monthly payment of N10 million to the former Governor.
Mr Umar, former acting Governor of Taraba State had dragged the state government to the court, claiming that he was entitled to gratuity as a former Governor of the state, 300 per cent of his salary as medical allowance and other benefits as provided in Taraba State Governor and Deputy Governor’s Pension Law, 2015.
But in its ruling, the court held that it appeared that there was a “contradiction by the provision of section 124(5) ‘of the 1999 Constitution’ which enabled the House of Assembly of a state to provide for pension or gratuity to Governors and Deputy Governors which items are also placed under the exclusive legislative list under Part 1, of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution.”
“The question then is how to reconcile these two provisions of the constitution. The answer is by adopting a purposeful approach by which the court is required to look at the constitution as a whole and construe its provisions in such a way as to give effect to the general and specific purposes for which it was enacted; that is good governance and the welfare of all Nigerians based on the principles of equality and justice.”
The court went further to hold that the state Houses of Assembly in Nigeria lacked the power to fix any amount in remuneration to its past Governors and Deputy Governors as “pension or gratuity unless the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission first of all determined an amount as pension and gratuity to past Governors and Deputy Governors in which case such amount, so fixed, shall not exceed the amount as have been determined by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission.”
It said since the commission had not fixed any amount as pension and gratuity to past Governors and Deputy Governors in Nigeria, any law made by any state House of Assembly granting pension and gratuity to its past governors and deputy governors was therefore null and void.
The court, therefore, ruled that the Taraba State Governor and Deputy Governor’s pension law, 2015 is null and void.”
A former Governor of Adamawa State, Mr Boni Haruna however says there’s too much emotion about the discourse of the pension law. While he concurs that it is illegal for former Governors serving as Ministers or Senators to benefit from pension from their respective states, he argues that there’s nothing wrong for Governors benefiting from pension after serving for 8 years.
“What we should be concerned about is the abuse that has attended the matter with some awarding themselves outrageous pensions. We can’t say Governors should not be entitled to some comfort after serving their states,” he says.
“There’s also misconception that the states originated the pension law. This not true as section 124(5) of the 199 Constitution clearly provides for pension for ex governors. What the State Houses of Assembly have done is to provide details of the pension in their respective states.
Explaining further, Mr Haruna, also a former Minister of Youth, says, “We were very modest with the provisions of our own law which provides for two cars for the ex-Governor every four years. My pension is just a little over N400,000 which is less than what a permanent secretary earns.”
Making a strong case against security votes which may stir the hornet nests, the former Governor reveals that he never collected any security votes for 8 years. “I didn’t see the need for any security votes and never collected any as Governor for eight years,” he says.
In a related development, states paying former Governors and their deputies jumbo pensions, including houses, vehicles, fully-paid vacation, medical insurance and other juicy perks are said to top the list of states with the highest domestic and external debts in the country.
According to the Debt Management Office, the about 26 states that have the pension laws for their ex-Governors owe a total of N3,920,194,580,284.72 (about N4tn), comprising N2,906,789,725,341.46 domestic debt and $3,311,780,571.71 (N1,013,404,854,943.26) foreign debts as of June 30, 2019.
The debt being owed by such states, according to some analysts, is a clear indication that the jumbo pensions for former governors was not sustainable, especially with the low level of development in the states and the struggle by most of them to implement the new N30,000 minimum wage.
Due to the economic crises, many of the states and some others had had to rely on bailouts from the Federal Government to pay salaries and pensions.
Meanwhile, many of the states have continued to pay the jumbo pensions and other benefits to their former state executives despite the dwindling revenues accruing to them from the federation account. However, the benefits captured in the laws varied.
The states, with such pension laws, leading the chart of domestic debtors include Lagos, Rivers, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Osun, Bayelsa, Kano and Kogi states, in the order of their liability. Others are Oyo, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Borno, Edo, Gombe, Abia, Katsina and Zamfara states, which repealed its own law a few weeks ago. Others are Kwara, Enugu, Ebonyi, Niger, Jigawa, Sokoto, Anambra and Yobe states.
In the foreign debt category, the states, with the pension laws, leading the debtors’ list, in the order of their liability, include Lagos, Edo, Oyo, Bauchi, Enugu, Anambra, Abia, Osun, Rivers, Ebonyi and Imo states.
Others include Niger, Nasarawa, Delta, Kano, Katsina, Bayelsa, Kwara, Akwa Ibom, Sokoto, Gombe, Zamfara, Jigawa, Kogi, Yobe, and Borno states.
Among the states, Lagos State, which owes N479bn domestic and $1.4bn foreign debts, and tops the two debtors’ lists, has the first pension law for former governors in the history of the country.
It was signed into law by former governor Bola Tinubu at the twilight of his tenure in 2007.
According to the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) Law, former Governors of the state, who completed two terms consecutively, are entitled to a house each in any location of their choice in Lagos and Abuja.
Also, a former Governor is entitled to six new cars every three years, 100 per cent of the basic salary of the serving Governor (N7.7m per annum), free health care for himself and members of his family as well as furniture allowance, which is 300 per cent of their annual basic salary (N23.3m).
Other entitlements include house maintenance allowance, which is 10 per cent of basic salary.
Photo: Former Lagos State Governor, Mr Bola Tinubu