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Court grants SERAP leave in suit against payment of jumbo pensions to ex-governors

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A federal High Court in Abuja has granted the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) leave to proceed in the suit against payment of jumbo pensions to former governors.

The leave has brightened the prospect of Nigerians knowing details of payment of life pensions to former governors across the 36 states in the country, and the names and number of former governors and other officials collecting pensions.

Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogunbanjo, in granting the leave, stated: “After going through the application filed by SERAP, supported by 18 paragraphs affidavit, with supporting exhibits, statement of facts, and verifying affidavits and a written address in support, leave is hereby granted SERAP to pursue its suit.”

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The judge, while granting the order following the argument in court on an ex-parte motion by SERAP’s counsel, Kolawole Oluwadare, adjourned to Monday, March 10, 2020, for hearing of the substantive suit.

SERAP had in the suit filed last month sought “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.”

The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests dated December 9, 2019, to the governors, expressing concern that: “granting pension for life to former governors and other officials represents the use of public office to advance private interests, suggests the misuse of legitimate discretion for improper reasons, and has created a more cynical public view of politics and politicians.”

According to SERAP, only two governors – Delta State governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Okowa and Kwara State governor, Mr. Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq – responded to its FoI requests.

Although Okowa directed his Head of Service to send the details requested, no information was received at the time of filing the suit.

SERAP also said: “Governor Abdulrazaq provided a copy of the pension law and list of former governors and former 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.”

The suit is coming on the heels of the landmark judgment delivered last year by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos, ordered 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 former public officials to collect such pensions.

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