Scio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Governors' Forum, Ekiti state governor Dr Kayode Fayemi and Sokoto state governor Aminu Tambuwal, and other 34 governors urging them to use their "leadership position to urgently disclose details of payment of pensions to former governors and other ex-officials between 1999 and 2019 under your state's pension law, and to provide a copy of the said pension law."
The organization is also urging each of the 36 state governors to "provide information on whether any such pension law exists in your state, and if so, to provide the names and number of ex-governors and other ex-officials receiving pensions in your state, and to publicly commit to repealing the law, and to pursue recovery of funds collected under the pension law."
In the letter dated 9 December, 2019 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: "Public officials should not encourage, sustain, or implement jumbo pension laws that show an appearance of conflict of interest, impropriety or create 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."
SERAP also said: "Any such pension law also represents the use of public office to advance private interests at the expense of some public interest, suggests the misuse of legitimate discretion for improper reasons, and has created a more cynical public view of politics and politicians."
According to the organization, "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."
SERAP's FoI request read in part: "Repealing any such pension law would demonstrate your commitment to public service and the requirements of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). It would show that you would not tolerate the use of public office in a manner which ignores the public interest in order to achieve personal advantage."
"We would be grateful if the requested information is provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the FoI Act to compel you to comply with our request."
"Pension law for former governors and other senior ex-officials represents a conflict with the constitutional and legal conflict code of conduct for public officials, and would seem to prioritise private interest of former state officials over and above the public interest and public duties of state governors."
"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."
SERAP's request 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 Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN to challenge the legality of states' pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.
The judgment followed 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.
SERAP's FoI request further read: "This request is consistent with your constitutional, fiduciary and public service roles, and the spirit of the landmark judgment delivered last week by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos in the suit brought by SERAP."
"By Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on any life pension law for former governors and other senior ex-officials in your states and the details of payments to such officials over the years."
"By Section 4 (a) of the FoI Act, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or urgency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received."
"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 in your states 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 information being requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FoI Act. The information requested for as indicated above, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FoI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public concern, interest of human rights, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability."