The ruling delivered last Wednesday by Lagos State High Court judge Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo is one of the most interesting and potentially one of the most impactful court rulings in this country in recent times. The ruling was in respect of suit FHC/L/1497/2017 brought by Socio-economic Rights and Accountability Project [SERAP] seeking an order of mandamus to compel the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN to institute an action challenging the legality of laws passed by state assemblies that provide generous pensions for former state governors who have also gone on to occupy other public offices such as senators and ministers.
The judge ordered the Federal Government to “recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.” The judge also directed the Attorney General to challenge the legality of state pension laws which permit former governors, their deputies, former state assembly speakers and their deputies to collect pensions. Insofar as many such officials have gone on to become senators and ministers, they end up collecting double or even multiple pay from the public till.
Daily Trust reported last week that more than 50 former governors and their deputies from 25 states fell into this category. Many, though not all of them, are believed to have collected millions of naira in multiple pay from the public till over the years. At present, there are 16 former governors and two former deputy governors who are senators, while nine former governors and two former deputy governors are currently serving as ministers in President Buhari’s cabinet.
Last week’s court ruling came hot on the heels of the controversy that exploded in Zamfara State when its former governor Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar wrote a letter to Governor Bello Matawalle demanding the payment of N10m monthly upkeep allowance. He also demanded payment of monthly salary equivalent to the pay of a serving governor, about N700,000. Yari’s letter caused outrage throughout the country and drew attention to the issue of ex-governors’ pension. Reports said it was Lagos State Assembly that first passed a law creating such pension. In time, most other state assemblies followed suit. While some states made modest provisions, some, such as Akwa Ibom under then Governor Godswill Akpabio, made outrageous provisions including palatial homes furnished to taste, foreign leave and medical travel, cars replaced every few years, personal staff etc.
In the wake of Yari’s letter, Zamfara State House of Assembly hurriedly passed another law revoking the pension law it passed in March, this year, which Yari relied upon to make his outrageous demands. Zamfara Assembly’s example was hailed all over the country and SERAP and other NGOs demanded that other state assemblies should follow ZMHA’s example. We believe that some provision is required for former governors to maintain a small staff, office and travel because they will remain in the public eye for the rest of their lives and could serve good purposes for the state and its people. However, such provisions should be modest and should take into consideration a state’s financial viability. An ex-governor who wrecked his state politically and financially should also be denied this priviledge.
Attorney General Malami, who said he is “studying” the court ruling, is apparently reluctant to enforce it. Certainly, there are legal and practical considerations such as backdating the ruling. Even if the money previously collected cannot be retrieved, it is more important to put a stop to the ugly practice. Instead of the Federal Attorney General to challenge state laws, we urge state Houses of Assembly to revoke such laws as was done in Zamfara, or at least greatly modify them. The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission [RMAFC] has already provided guidelines for ex-governors’ pensions and that should be the guide, though separate provisions could be made for maintenance of personal staff and offices.