Waiting for EFCC to recover jumbo pensions from ex-governors, By Yemi Adebowale

It has been almost four years since Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos ordered the federal government to recover life pensions collected by former governors serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly. The judge, who retired from the bench last month, expressed regret during a valedictory court session held in her honour that the judgment had not been implemented.

At least 22 states starting with Lagos State have passed life pensions laws for former governors and other ex-public officials. Aside from the huge monthly pension, some of the affected former governors got houses in Lagos and Abuja.

Some others are entitled to six new cars every three years, 100 per cent of the basic salary of the serving governor (N7.7 million 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 (N23.3 million). It was a clear case of corruption as declared by the court (for those who went on to become ministers and senators) and the EFCC ought to have moved in to recover the looted funds. It did not happen. It can only happen in Nigeria.

It is heartwarming that the NGO that obtained the judgement, i.e., Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a contempt suit against the federal government for failing to recover over N40 billion double pay and life pensions paid to former governors serving as lawmakers and ministers.

SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare stated: “It’s unacceptable to take the court, which is the guardian of justice in this country, for a ride. A democratic state based on the rule of law cannot exist or function, if the government routinely ignores and/or fails to abide by court orders.

“Despite the service of the certified true copy of the judgment on the Attorney General of the Federation, the Buhari administration has failed and/or refused to obey it. While many Nigerian workers and pensioners have not been paid by state governors for several months and struggle to make ends meet, former governors continue to collect double emoluments and enjoy opulent lifestyles.”

The second aspect of Justice Oguntoyinbo’s judgement was the directives to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to challenge the legality of states’ life pension laws, permitting former governors to collect such pensions.
The judge stated: “The question that comes to mind is: who should approach the court where a particular law is not in the best interest of Nigeria as a country or national interest? Who should approach the court where a particular law is detrimental to the interest of the country? Who should institute actions in court for the purpose of recovering public funds collected?”

In answering the questions, Justice Oguntoyinbo said: “In my humble view, 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, being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation.”

Malami has so far refused to obey this order. This is the tragedy of this country called Nigeria. The good news is that some states have on their own revoked the pension laws for governors.

Unfortunately, those that had drawn from it have refused to make refunds. For now, I challenge the EFCC to act appropriately.

Source: First published by Thisday Newspaper

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