By Chimezie Godfrey
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Bola Tinubu over “the failure to stop the former governors who are now serving as ministers in his administration from collecting life pensions and other ‘retirement benefits’ from their states while they serve as ministers.”
The ministers mentioned in the suit are: Badaru Abubakar; Nyesom Wike; Bello Matawalle; Adegboyega Oyetola; and David Umahi. Others are: Simon Lalong; Atiku Bagudu; and Ibrahim Geidam.
In a statement signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadsre, SERAP said, “the ministers are to be joined in the suit as Defendants.”
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1855/2023 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Lagos, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Tinubu to instruct the former governors who are now serving as ministers to stop collecting life pension, and other ‘retirement benefits’ from their respective states.
SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Tinubu to instruct the former governors who are now serving as ministers to forthwith return any pensions and ‘retirement benefits’ collected by them since leaving office to the public treasury.”
SERAP is also seeking: “a declaration that the failure by President Tinubu to publicly instruct former governors who are now serving as ministers to stop collecting life pensions, exotic cars, and other ‘retirement benefits’ from their states while serving as ministers is a violation of his constitutional oath of office.”
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “Compelling and directing President Tinubu to stop the former governors from collecting any ‘retirement benefits’ while serving as ministers would serve the public interest, especially given the current grave economic realities in the country.”
SERAP is also arguing that, “The appointment of those who collect life pensions and other ‘retirement benefits’ as ministers is an arbitrary and unlawful exercise of discretion and presidential power of appointment.”
According to SERAP, “While many pensioners are not paid their pensions, former governors serving as ministers get paid huge severance benefits upon leaving office, and are poised to enjoy double emoluments on top of the opulence of political office holders.”
SERAP is also arguing that, “The Tinubu government has constitutional and international legal obligations to stop the former governors from collecting any ‘retirement benefits while serving as ministers.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Andrew Nwankwo, read in part: “The appointment of former governors who collect life pensions while serving as ministers is implicitly forbidden by the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international legal obligations.”
“Constitutional oath of office requires public officials to abstain from all improper acts, including collecting ‘retirement benefits’ while serving as ministers. This is clearly inconsistent with the public trust and the overall objectives of the Constitution. A false oath lacks truth and justice. The oath statements require the oath takers to commit to uphold and defend the Constitution.”
“Stopping the former governors from collecting double emoluments would ensure that the country’s wealth and resources are used for the common good and benefit of the socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians rather than to satisfy the opulent lifestyle of a few politicians.”
“Compelling President Tinubu to stop the former governors from collecting any ‘retirement benefits’ would ensure that the exercise of presidential power of appointment is entirely consistent with requirements of the Nigerian Constitution and the fundamental principles of integrity and honesty.”
“The following former governors are now ministers in the Tinubu administration: Badaru Abubakar (former governor of Jigawa State and Minister of Defence); and Nyesom Wike (former governor of River State and FCT Minister).”
“Others include: Bello Matawalle (former governor of Zamfara State and Minister of State for Defence); Adegboyega Isiaka Oyetola (former governor of Osun State and Minister of Transportation); and David Umahi (Minister of Works).”
“Others are Simon Bako Lalong (former governor of Plateau State and Minister of Labour and Employment); Atiku Bagudu (former governor of Kebbi State and Minister of Budget and Economic Planning); Ibrahim Geidam (former governor of Yole State and Minister of Police of Affairs.”
“The states currently implementing life pensions and other ‘retirement benefits’ for former governors reportedly include Jigawa, Kebbi, Jigawa, Ebonyi, Yobe, and Rivers. Many of these states owe workers’ salaries and remain the poorest in the country.”
“Several of the pension laws in these states include provisions for six cars every three years, a house in Lagos worth N750 million, and another in Abuja worth N1 billion, unrestricted access to medical attention, and pensionable cooks, stewards, and gardeners.”
“Other provisions include 100 per cent annual salaries of the incumbent governor, security operatives and police officers permanently assigned to former governors.
“In President Tinubu’s inaugural speech as president, he promised that his administration would be guided by ‘the principle of the rule of law, a shared sense of fairness and equity’, and that ‘Nigeria will be impartially governed according to the constitution.’”
“These commitments are consistent with the constitutional duties under sections 5, 130 and 147, and oath of office, under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).”
“By the combined reading of these provisions, the Tinubu government has a legal obligation to appoint as ministers former governors whose conduct is entirely consistent and compatible with constitutional and international legal requirements.”
“The country’s international legal obligations especially under the UN Convention against Corruption also impose a legal commitment on public officials to discharge a public duty truthfully and faithfully.”
“Life pensions for former governors serving as ministers are entirely inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s obligations under the UN Convention against Corruption.”
“The convention specifically in paragraph 1 of article 8 requires the Tinubu government to promote integrity, honesty and responsibility in the management of public resources.”
“Furthermore, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo in a judgment dated 26 November, 2019 also indicated that double emoluments for former governors are unacceptable, unconstitutional and illegal. Indeed, former governors collecting ‘retirement benefits’ while serving as ministers would clearly amount to taking advantage of entrusted public positions.”
“‘Public function’ means activities in the public interest, not against it. The alleged collection of ‘retirement benefits’ by former governors now serving as ministers amount to private self-interest or self-dealing. It is also detrimental to the public interest.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.