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Sunday, 1 March 2020

Lawyers, CSOs kick as court okays jumbo pensions for ex-govs

Lawyers, CSOs kick as court okays jumbo pensions for ex-govs

Payment of pensions to former governors and ex-deputy governors will not end anytime soon as the National Industrial Court in Abuja has validated it in a recent judgment.

A recent judgment of the court delivered on January 22, 2020 validating the laws creating the payment of pensions and gratuities to former governors and their ex-deputies.

This was despite the criticism of such payment by a judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal in Abuja on May 20, 2019 and another judgment delivered by a judge of the National Industrial Court in Jos, prohibiting it on December 9, 2019.

Payment of pensions to former governors and their ex-deputies has drawn much of public outcry, especially as the various levels of government struggle to generate enough revenues to fund public projects, and pay the N30,000 new minimum wage.

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Declining revenues at both state and federal levels continues to plunge the country into more foreign and domestic debts, with some states giving excuses why they could not pay the minimum wage, yet such states have never ceased to pay ex-governors and their deputies’ their pensions.

In response to the public criticism, the Zamfara State Government recently repealed the law stipulating provision for former governors and deputy governors of the state.

However, Sunday PUNCH on Friday obtained a copy of the National Industrial Court’s judgment validating and declaring as constitutional the laws made by the various states stipulating pensions and gratuities for former governors and their deputies.

The judgment was delivered by the President of the NIC, Justice Benedict Kanyip, in the suit which had 40 persons and civil society groups as claimants.

The claimants sought the nullification of such pension laws which they said were sources of “waste of public funds”.

They sued the governors and the Houses of Assembly of the 36 states, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, as the first to the 74th defendants.

Only Adamawa State governor, the governors and Houses of Assembly of Bayelsa and Kwara states defended the suit.

The claimants argued only the 74th defendant, RMAFC, had the exclusive constitutional power to set the remuneration of such public officials as governors and their deputies, adding that their pension was part of the remuneration of public officials.

They, therefore, contended that any law stipulating pensions for such public officials already covered by the constitutional mandate of the RMAFC, ultra vires, null and void.

But in dismissing the suit, Justice Kanyip held that “the power of the RMAFC under Section 124(1) is one that relates to ‘salaries and allowances’,” adding that “pension is not mentioned at all; and the ‘salaries and allowances’ talked of are those ‘paid to the holders of the offices mentioned in this section’.”

He faulted the main grounds of the claimants’ suit to the effect that Houses of Assembly lacked the power to legislate on pensions or gratuities for former governors and former deputy governors.

He noted that contrary to the claim that the National Assembly and the RMAFC were the rightful bodies constitutionally charged with that responsibility of handling such matter, “the power of the RMAFC under section 124(1) relates to ‘salaries and allowances’, not pensions.”

“The word ‘remuneration’ used in paragraph 32(d) of Part I of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution does not include pensions.

“While Section 124(l) donates the power to prescribe remuneration and the salaries of governor and other public office holders subject to the amount as shall have been determined by the RMAFC, Section 124(5) did not subject the power of the House of Assembly to that of the RMAFC in granting pension or gratuity for former governors and their deputies.”

He added that the court lacked the power to repeal a law validly passed by a legislative body.

But this contrasted the position of the Court of Appeal in Abuja which in its May 10, 2019 judgment described as “morally wrong” the payment of severance allowances to elected or appointed public office holders.

The court, through its three-man panel led by Justice Abubakar Yahaya, expressed the non-binding opinion in a unanimous judgment delivered in a suit that had to do with a dispute between the Kogi State Government and some former members of the Kogi State Local Government Service Commission, who served for from February 2013 to February 2017.

Justice Emmanuel Agim, who read the lead judgment of the court stated that such payment “cannot be justified in the context our present social realities”.

He said, “The political appointees and elected public office holders who do not work as long and as hard as career civil servants quickly get paid huge severance allowances upon leaving office, in addition to the huge wealth they acquired while holding such offices and without having been subjected to any contributory pension schemes.

“It is not morally right to pay an elected public officer or a political appointee pension and gratuity or severance allowance for holding such an office for three to eight years as the case may be. It cannot be justified in the context the present social realities; it amounts to gross social injustice.”

Also, Justice Kenneth Amadi of the Jos Division of the NIC, on December 9, 2019, nullified the Taraba State Governors’ Pension Law.

But while validating the ex-governors’ pension laws made by the various Houses of Assembly in his judgment of January 22, 2020, Justice Kanyip, described the Court of Appeal’s decision as an “admonition”.

He added that “the key reason for the decision of the Court of Appeal was that the letters of appointment of the political office holders in issue did not stipulate their entitlement to such payment; and that they did not produce any law or any document or instrument that entitles them to the payment they seek.”

Justice Kanyip, who awarded N400,000 cost against the 40 claimants, also ruled that Justice Amadi’s conclusion “was arrived at without a consideration of Section 4(3) of the Constitution itself.”

The founding director of one of the claimants, Legal Assistance and Defence Project, Mr. Chnonye Obiagwu (SAN), who doubles as the lead counsel for the 40 claimants, told our correspondent on Friday that he had appealed against Justice Kanyip’s judgment.

Pensioners fault judgment, say it’s a coup against the middle class

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Union of Pensioners Contributory Pension Scheme Sector on Saturday said the judgment was injustice to pensioners who earned little while in service and owed several months in pensions and gratuities by the same governors that the court was backing.

In an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, the Chairman of the union, Sylva Nwaiwu, said that the NIC’s ruling had confirmed a coup by the ruling class to eliminate the middle class, noting that it was a shame that this was happening at a time when governors were struggling to implement the new minimum wage of N30,000 for workers.

He said, “Most of the governors did not pay pensioners while in office and their successors do not deem it fit to pay when they get there.

“In Imo State, the government owes 70 months in pensions. Now, we are talking of a governor that has not paid pensioners receiving a fabulous amount of money in pension for life after leaving office.

“That is the injustice that has taken over our society. They keep doing this to widen the gap between the rich and the poor in society, so much that they have succeeded in eradicating the middle class. It is either you are rich or poor. Pensioners in Nigeria have become endangered species and this is known to everyone.”

Nwaiwu added that the union would continue its agitating for its rights and against the ruling.

He said, “On Thursday we were at the National Assembly and we had an interactive session with the Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service. This issue came up during the session we had with the committee.

“Really, it is disheartening and no pensioner in their right senses will support such agitation or ruling in favour of governors and their deputies. It is dehumanising; this is the sad mood of pensioners in Nigeria.”

Judge did not consider cost of pensions to govs –HEDA

Mr Olanrewaju Suraj, who is the Chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda, an organisation that was part of the claimants in the suit, lamented that the judge did not consider at what cost was the payment of pensions to the former governors and their deputies was to the states.

He said, ‘‘The social reality is very crucial. Judges should ask the Houses of Assembly or the governor to show justification for giving two houses in Abuja and Lagos, N400m to N500m medical allowances to a former governor.

‘‘How do you determine that going round every citizen of the state? How is the life of the citizens of the state bettered by the governor to justify giving that kind of resources to a governor under any guise? Giving pension largesse to a former governor is at what cost to the state? It is sad that we do not have our judges rising to the level of such social consciousness.

“In making decisions, it is not about the legality or otherwise of the process of making the law, it is also about what you are supposed to do. It is about the social engineering of the system.

‘‘It is about the judges in those states also assessing how much they and their families are benefitting from the system.

‘‘Somebody who was governor for eight years, not only did he receive salary, he got security votes , he was paid for clothing and rarely spent a dime from his personal purse for eight years, yet he is automatically entitled to life pension. I think is just unconscionable and irresponsible.”

Culled from Punch

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