A Federal High Court, Lagos has granted a group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) right to sue former governors who are serving senators and ministers for allegedly receiving double pay and life pensions.
In its ruling on the matter at the weekend, the court also held that SERAP had sufficient interest to seek recovery of over N40billion public funds unduly received by the affected public officers.
SERAP filed the suit last year to compel the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to challenge the legality of states' laws that allow former governors who are now senators and ministers to still enjoy governors' emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices. The group wants the Federal Government to identify those involved and fully recover the public funds from them.
Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo held that SERAP could not be considered a meddlesome interloper or busybody in seeking to stop double pay and life pensions for former governors. The court said all that mattered was for SERAP to show sufficient interest in the application for leave to apply for an order of mandamus.
The judge quoted from several Supreme Court judgments to establish the fact that "the court shall not grant leave in
mandamus application unless it considers that the applicant has sufficient interest in the matter to which the application relates."
Oguntoyinbo, who said she was "mindful of the fact that in an application of this nature, the judge should not delve into the substance of the main issue", however, ruled that "having reviewed the papers filed by SERAP, the court is satisfied that the organization has met the criteria set by the rules of the court, and
as such does not consider SERAP a meddlesome interloper."
Justice Oguntoyinbo gave the ruling after listening to an argument in court by SERAP's counsel, Timothy Adewale, on the exparte application. The case has been adjourned to March 22, 2018 for the hearing of arguments on the
motion on notice.
SERAP had on October 4, 2017 filed the suit praying the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos to compel the AGF to use his position as a defender of public interest to institute legal actions to stop public officers receiving double pay.
The suit read in part: "Public function should be exercised in the public interest. Double emoluments promote private self-interest or self-dealing. By signing double emoluments laws, which they knew or ought to know that they would be beneficiaries, these former governors have abused their entrusted positions, and thereby obtained an undue advantage, contrary to article 19 of the United Nations (UN) convention against corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.
"Senators and ministers should not be receiving salaries and pensions running into billions of naira from states that are currently unwilling or unable to pay their workers' salaries and pensioners' entitlements. National and international laws implicitly forbid public officials entrusted with public resources from granting to themselves emoluments for life while serving in other public offices including as senators and ministers."