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Court Orders FG To Recover Pensions Paid To Saraki, Akpabio, Amaechi, Other Ex-Govs

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A Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos State has ordered the recovery of pensions collected by former governors serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.

The court ordering the Federal Government to recover the earlier paid pensions to these former political office holders, also directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws which allow former governors and other past public officials to be entitled to such bogus pensions.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), disclosing this on Wednesday, said it has obtained a certified true copy of the judgement, in a verdict it said was given by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo in suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 brought by the organisation to the court following an application for an order of mandamus.

In a statement published on its website, SERAP quoted Justice Oguntoyinbo to have said said, “The Attorney General has argued that the States’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged. With respect, I do not agree with this line of argument by the Attorney General that he cannot challenge the States’ pension laws for former governors.”

The SERAP statement as published on its website reads:

The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos in a landmark judgment has ordered the Federal Government to “recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly, and directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.”

A certified true copy of the judgment delivered last week was obtained yesterday.

The judgment by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo followed an application for an order of mandamus in suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

The judgment is coming on the heels of the invalidated pension law for former governors and other ex-public officers in Zamfara State, which provided for the upkeep of ex-governors to the tune of N700 million annually. The state has produced three former governors since 1999.

In the SERAP’s judgment, Justice Oguntoyinbo said: “The Attorney General has argued that the States’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged. With respect, I do not agree with this line of argument by the Attorney General that he cannot challenge the States’ pension laws for former governors.”

Justice Oguntoyinbo also said: “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.”

Justice Oguntoyinbo has adjourned the suit to the 3rd of February 2020 for hearing on report of compliance with the court orders/judgment by the Federal Government.

Justice Oguntoyinbo’s judgment read in part: “I have considered SERAP’s arguments that it is concerned about the attendant consequences that are manifesting on the public workers and pensioners of the states who have been refused salaries and pensions running into several months on the excuse of non-availability of state resources to pay them. SERAP has also argued that there is need to recover such public funds collected by former governors.”

“It is clear from the facts of this case that SERAP had written the Attorney General to institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of States’ laws permitting former governors, who are now senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices and to seek full recovery of funds from those involved.”

“SERAP has stated that since the receipt of the said letter, the Attorney General has failed, refused and/or neglected to institute appropriate legal actions to that effect. In my view, the principle of ‘demand and refusal’ has been satisfied by SERAP. I have also considered the fact that in action to protect a public right or enforce the performance of a public duty, it is the Attorney General that ought to sue.”

“Having considered all the facts presented by SERAP on the need for the suit and the Counter-Affidavit against same, I find no reason why the order of mandamus should not be granted. I am of the view that SERAP’s suit has merit.”

“I resolve this issue against the Attorney General, in favour of SERAP. I hold that the Motion of Notice for Mandamus dated 6th February 2018 and filed on 7th February 2018 has merit. It is therefore granted in the terms sought.”

“In other words, the Attorney General is hereby directed to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, who are now senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices and to identify those involved and seek full recovery of public funds from the former governors.”

“I take judicial notice of the essence of the creation of SERAP. I believe that SERAP has the locus standi to bring this suit. More so, this is a constitutional matter. In constitutional matters, the requirement of locus standi becomes unnecessary to a great extent as it may merely impede judicial function. This issue is therefore resolved against the Attorney General, in favour of SERAP.”

“SERAP is seeking an order of mandamus to compel the Attorney General to file action to challenge States’ pension laws for former governors and recover public funds collected by them in the public interest, since the Attorney General has failed/neglected to institute such action. That is the essence of SERAP’s suit.”

“I believe the Attorney General can institute action in a Court of law to challenge States’ pension laws for former governors. I do not see any substance in the submissions of counsel to the Attorney General on this issue. I therefore resolve this issue against the Attorney General, in favour of SERAP. On the whole, I find no merit in the Attorney General’s preliminary objection. It is accordingly dismissed.”

SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “This ground-breaking judgment is a victory for Nigerian workers and pensioners who have not been paid by state governors for several months and struggle to make ends meet whilst former governors now serving as ministers and senators continue to collect double emoluments and enjoy opulent lifestyles.”

“Justice Oguntoyinbo’s judgment shows the urgent need for state governors in Nigeria to follow the Zamfara example by immediately abolishing the obnoxious pension laws in their states. We commend Justice Oguntoyinbo for her courage and wisdom, and urge President Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Malami to immediately obey the court orders.”

“This judgment should catalyse further action from the Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State governor Dr Kayode Fayemi to use this judgment to abolish pension law in his own state and make a clear public commitment that the Governors’ Forum under his watch will push all governors and ex-governors to abolish life pensions and return public funds collected by them before being compelled to do so.”

Femi Falana, SAN said on the judgment: “SERAP deserves the commendation of all well-meaning people that have agonised over the legalization of obscene pension package for former governors. This is one of the most patriotic public interest litigation ever undertaken in Nigeria. We call on state governors to use the judgment as the basis for formally repealing life pension laws and all other retrogressive laws without any further ado.”

Justice Oguntoyinbo’s judgment also reads: “I have considered the papers filed and it is obvious that SERAP is a human rights non-governmental organization, seeking to protect the public interest. It is also clear that the reason for this suit is to compel the Attorney General to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws for former governors and to identify those who have collected pensions and also seek to full recovery of public funds.”

“Parties ought to be bound by the issues they formulate. They ought not to make arguments outside the issues formulated by them. The Attorney General has failed to give any reason for submitting that SERAP’s suit is incompetent.”

“The argument made is that the reliefs sought by SERAP in this suit cannot be granted; that the Attorney General cannot be compelled to institute actions and that the laws sought to be challenged were duly passed by the House of Assembly, and are therefore legal and ought not to be challenged. However, SERAP on its part has made contrary arguments.”

“The Attorney General has argued that SERAP has not shown any injury it has suffered any injury as a result of the salaries and allowances being given to former governors who are now senators. SERAP is neither civil servants nor public servants who have any issues with the said States’ pension laws for former governors. That the suit was filed to promote transparency and accountability does not confer locus standi on SERAP to maintain this action.”

“The Attorney General has only made argument as to why the suit should be refused on the merit. I believe the Attorney General ought to have incorporated these arguments in his response to the suit rather than incorporating same in a preliminary objection. This is fatal to this issue in this suit.”

It would be recalled that SERAP had in July 2017 requested Mr Malami to urgently institute appropriate legal action to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, who are now senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices and to seek full recovery of public funds from those involved.”

Former Senate President and governor of Kwara state Bukola Saraki said he stopped collecting pension after hearing of SERAP’s suit, and subsequently inspired the passing of the bill by the Kwara State House of Assembly to suspend payment of pensions to former governors and their deputies.

Saraki had said at the time: “No, I’m not collecting pension; the moment I saw that SERAP allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension.”

The repealed pension law in Zamfara State allowed former governors to receive pension for life; two personal staff; two vehicles replaceable every four years; two drivers, free medical for the former governors and deputies and their immediate families in Nigeria or abroad; a 4-bedroom house in Zamfara and an office; free telephone and 30 days paid vacation outside Nigeria.

So far, Ekiti State governor Dr. Kayode Fayemi and Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, and Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola have denied ever receiving double payments and retirement benefits as former governors in addition to other roles in public office.

At least 22 states starting from Lagos State have passed life pensions laws for former governors and other ex-public officials. Other states include Akwa Ibom; Edo; Delta; Kano; Gombe; Yobe; Borno; Bauchi; Abia; Imo; Bayelsa; Oyo; Osun; Kwara; Ondo; Ebonyi; Rivers; Niger; Kogi; and Katsina.

SERAP’s letter to Mr Malami read in part: “According to our information, those who reportedly receive double emoluments and large severance benefits from their states include: Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano); Kabiru Gaya (Kano); Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Theodore Orji (Abia); Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa); Sam Egwu (Ebonyi); Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara); Joshua Dariye (Plateau), and Jonah Jang (Plateau).”

“Others include: Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara); Danjuma Goje (Gombe); Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi); George Akume (Benue); and Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers).”

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Nine-Year Old Boy Passes University-Level Maths Exam [VIDEO]

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The Mathematics Certification Institute of Japan on Tuesday said a 9-year-old boy from the Western Japanese province of Hyogo has passed a university-level maths exam.

According to the Kyodo news agency, the institute said Shogo Ando had been studying for the exam for two years and intended to use his mathematical skills for the betterment of society.

The report said the boy was cited as saying that he would like to use his skills to combat climate change.

Testing and achievement are central to Japan’s highly competitive school system.

However, according to the latest data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Japan has fallen from fifth to sixth place in the ranking of countries by their school pupils’ maths abilities.

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Sowore Vs DSS: National Assembly May One Day Be Invaded, Says Reps Member

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Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu from Delta State said if the invasion of the federal high court allegedly by the DSS is not properly put to check, the National Assembly may one day be invaded.

It will be recalled that some operatives of the DSS broke into the court while in session to rearrest the convener of #Revolution Now protest, Omoyele Sowere barely 24 hours after his release from their detention facility last week Thursday in Abuja.

But the DSS had since denied swooping in on Sowore in the court. Miffed by the alleged invasion, the House at plenary on Tuesday resolved to probe the matter to unravel the circumstances.

“Worried further that if this action is not properly put to check, the National Assembly may one day be invaded and the relevant security agencies will claim not knowing who the offenders are,” Elumelu said.

Elumelu in the motion canvassed for adherence and respect to the concept of separation of powers as enshrined in the laws of Nigeria, fearing that if the invasion was not checked and offenders punished, it might degenerate to National Assembly someday.

He said: “The House notes with dismay, the exhibition of thuggery, brute force, lawlessness, contempt and disregard for the rule of law by yet to be identified persons within the precinct of the Federal high court, Abuja on the 6th day of December, 2019.

“Further Notes that the videos emerging in public domain shows these unidentified person trying to bundle Omoleye Sowore and his co-accused Olawale Bakare away from the courtroom, while Sowore’s supporters were resisting them, which is an abuse to the sanctity of the courtroom.

Concerned that the men of the civil society claims that the unidentified masked man are agents of the Department of the state services (D.S.S).

“The Department of State Services has denied through their spokesman Peter Afunanya that its personnel were never involved in the incident

“Concerned further that section 4,5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution as amended guarantees the separation of powers and the independence of every arm of Government.

“A situation where one arm is seen to be overpowering another in the course of dispensing her duties, will definitely spell doom for the separation of powers as enshrined in the Constitution.

“Worried that the actions of these unidentified persons disrupted judicial proceedings on the 6th day of December 2019 and made the presiding judge to abandon her duty post because of safety concerns.

This is a complete desecration of the temple of justice and such an action should be completely discouraged. “Worried further that if this action is not properly put to check, the National Assembly may one day be invaded and the relevant security agencies will claim not knowing who the offenders are. “

Aware that the invasion of the Federal high court Abuja runs contrary to the avowed assurances of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria “Further Aware that physically assaulting Mr. Omoleye Sowore and his co-defendant Olawale Bakare by the yet to be identified persons inside the court room is the highest act of sacrilege against the judicial arm of government and a complete disrespect to the rule of law.”

Adopting the motion, the House mandated its committees on National Security and Intelligence, Judiciary and Human Rights respectively to investigate the event and report back to the House within two weeks.

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Two Ex-Govs In War Of Words At Airport

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A report by Daily Trust indicate that two former governors of Sokoto state, Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa and Senator Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko engaged in a war of words at the Sultan Abubakar III International Airport, Sokoto on Monday, December 9.

Bafarawa was said to have shunned Wamakko who stood to greet him at the VIP lodge of the airport on his arrival.

According to the report, Bafarawa’s action was the recent statement made by his predecessor, which termed him as a seasonal migrant to Sokoto state.

“You said I am a seasonal visitor to Sokoto, why are you greeting me. I know my father and grand father were born and died here, I can even show you their graves. Can you show me the grave of your grand father?,” he allegedly asked Wamakko.

Wamakko was said to have responded by saying: “I don’t want to know where your father and grant father are buried. All I know is that you are a seasonal migrant in Sokoto, that is all.

“There are other people whose parents and grant parents have been buried here but you called them seasonal migrants as well. So just go and face your businesses.”

The duo, however, boarded the same flight to Abuja after the hot exchange of words. Wamakko, now a senator, deputized Bafarawa for almost eight years before he voluntarily resigned to avoid impeachment.

The senator later succeeded Bafarawa after defeating his anointed candidate who is now the minister of police affairs, Alhaji Muhammadu Maigari Dingyadi in the Sokoto state 2007 governorship election. Meanwhile, a recent media report revealed that former governor of Zamfara state, Abdulaziz Yari, paid himself and his former deputy N525 million two days before they left office.

According to the report, official documents and a bank statement show that Yari was paid N350 million two days before he left office. The money was paid from the state government’s gratuity funds under the pension sub-account with a new generation bank branch in Gusau, the state capital on Monday, May 27.

Also, the then outgoing deputy governor, Ibrahim Wakkala, was paid N175 million from the same account.

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