Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) says it has filed a suit asking the Federal High Court, Abuja, to order the 36 state governors in Nigeria to publish details of pensions to each of the former governors between 1999 and 2019.
The suit, FHC/ABJ/CS/19/2020, filed last Friday, SERAP is seeking: “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and/or compel the 36 state governors to publish names and number of former governors and other officials that have received pensions and the total amounts received between 1999 and 2019 and have at the same time served and/or serving as members of the National Assembly.”
According to SERAP, only two governors—Delta state governor, Mr Ifeanyi Okowa and Kwara state governor, Mr Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq—have responded to its FoI requests.
“Governor Abdulrazaq provided a copy of the pension law and list of former governors and ex-officials receiving pensions in Kwara State under the state’s Governor and Deputy Governor (Payment of Pension) Law, 2010, naming Cornelius O. Adebayo; Mohammed Shaaba Lafiagi; Sayomi Simon Adediji; Bukola Saraki; and Ogundeji Joel Afolabi as recipients of life pensions in the state. However, the governor did not state the amounts that have so far been collected, and whether the state would pursue recovery of the pensions paid,” SERAP said.
According to the Kwara state pension law (as amended), governors and deputy governors “from the year 1967 shall be entitled to a pension for life at the rate equivalent to the annual basic salary of the incumbent and other benefits as provided by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission. The pension shall include: furnished 5-bedroom duplex, 300% for furniture replaceable every 4 years; free medical treatment for governor and deputy governor and their immediate families; car maintenance; drivers [pensionable]; house maintenance; and two cars for the governor in addition to 1 pilot car to be replaced every 3 years.”
SERAP’s suit is coming on the heels of the landmark judgment delivered last week by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos, ordering the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.
SERAP said, “There is a statutory obligation on the 36 state governors, being public officials, to proactively keep, organize and maintain all information or records about its operations, personnel, activities and other relevant or related information or records such as payment of pensions to former governors, in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or record.
“The public interest in the disclosure of details of payment of pensions to former governors and names of the recipients of such pensions sought by SERAP outweighs any private interest the 36 state governors may be protecting.
“The suit is in the national interest, public welfare, public interest, social justice, good governance, transparency, and accountability. There is no justifiable reason for the governors to refuse to provide SERAP with the details of payment of pensions and other related information requested.
“Public officials should not encourage, sustain, or implement jumbo pension laws that show an appearance of a conflict of interest, impropriety or create a situation of personal enrichment. The pension law negates the duty to act honestly and to represent the needs and concerns of the people, and to refrain from activities, which interfere with the proper discharge of public functions.
“Those who manage the resources of the state ought to protect the interest of the people in their states. Public officials, while entrusted with duties and discretions, are not to act in their own best interest, but to discharge those duties and exercise those powers in the interests of the public.
“The duties on public officials including governors flowing from their position as trustees to the public also include the duty to refrain from activities which interfere with the proper discharge of their functions, and the duty not to place themselves in a position where public duty conflicts with private interest.
“By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FOI Act, there is a binding legal duty to ensure that documents containing information relating to any life pension law for former governors and other senior ex-officials and the details of payments to such officials over the years are widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means.
“The right to truth allows Nigerians to gain access to information essential to the fight against corruption. This is in line with the Government’s anti-corruption strategy of citizen involvement in the fight against corruption. Access to information will ultimately foster the development of democratic institutions in Nigeria.”