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Goodluck Jonathan is constitutionally qualified to run for President

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By Chuef Mike Ozekhome

Introduction

Nigeria is a country of one major news item per day. The issue in the polity currently generating national ruckus, hoopla and bedlam is the presumed intention of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to run for the 2023 presidency. It does not matter that he has never confirmed to anyone, the rumour of his planned defection from his opposition PDP party under which he was once elected President, to the ruling APC party. They are prepared, as ever, to shave his hair in his absence.

I have carefully read the arguments of those who believe that Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is disqualified from contesting the 2023 presidential election, because according to them, he had already done two terms and will thus be ineligible to contest for a third term. They cite the Fourth Alteration (No 16) Act, which was signed into an Act by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 11th of June, 2018. The section they are relying on is section 137(3) of the said Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution, which provides that “a person who was sworn in to complete the term for which another person was elected as president shall not be elected to such office for more than a single term”.

THE ANTAGONISTS ARE DEAD WRONG IN THEIR LEGAL POSTULATIONS

The truth of the matter is that the antagonists of Jonathan running in 2022, in their strange line of argument, are mainly relying on the above section 137(3). They have probably not adverted their minds to sections 141 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, and section 285(13) of the same Fourth Alteration to the 1999  Constitution, as amended, which they are relying on. More revealing is that these antagonists are probably not aware of an extant and subsisting Court of Appeal decision where Jonathan was frontallly confronted and challenged before the 2015 presidential election, on the same ground of being ineligible to contest the said 2015 election, having allegedly been elected for two previous terms of office. The section 137(3) being relied upon by the antagonists was signed into law in 2018, three years after Jonathan had left office. Can he be caught in its web retrospectively? We shall see that anon.

The case in question is CYRIACUS NJOKU V GOODLUCK EBELE JONATHAN (2015) LPELR-244496 (CA). In that case, the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, held that President Goodluck Jonathan had only taken the oath of office once and therefore upheld his eligibility to contest the then Nigeria’s presidential election slated for March 28, 2015.

The intermediate court held that the oath of office President Jonathan took in 2010 was merely to complete the “unexpired tenure” of late President Umar Yar’Adua, who died while in office as President.

The appeal had been brought before the court by one Cyriacus Njoku, who was challenging the ruling of the High Court of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which on March 1, 2013, had dismissed the suit he filed to stop President Jonathan from contesting the 2015 polls.

In a lead judgement delivered by Justice Abubakar Yahaya, the full panel of the court unanimously held that President Jonathan had only spent one term in office as President, going by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

President Jonathan had been empowered as acting President on February 9, 2010, following a motion for operation of the “doctrine of necessity” by the Senate, owing to the protracted stay of late President Umaru Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia on medical grounds.

When President Yar’Adua eventually died on May 5, 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as president to serve the unexpired residue of office of Yar’Adua. Jonathan was later elected President in 2011 for the first time, on his own merit.

Mr. Njoku had contended that Jonathan had already sworn to the oath of office and allegiance twice and therefore, should be disqualified from contesting the 2015 election, as any victory he secured would amount to being sworn in thrice.

However, the court ruled that the oath that Jonathan took in 2010 was merely to complete the unexpired tenure of late Yar’Adua; adding that by virtue of Section 135 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, Jonathan only took his first oath in May, 2011. The Court of Appeal further held that disqualification is through election, not oath taking.

The intermediate court’s judgement read in part:

“In this appeal, it is not controverted by the appellant that the first oath taken by the first defendant (Jonathan) was the oath he took as the Vice President and not as President… But he took the oath in May 2010 to complete unexpired tenure of late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Section 37(1)(b) disqualifies a person from contesting for president if he had been elected twice. Disqualification is through election and not oath taking. Election is a process of choosing a person to occupy a position by voting. When election is given its literal meaning, it connotes when a voting is employed to choose a person for political office. This did not take place when Jonathan stepped into the shoes of his Principal who went to the great beyond. To say these things were done is to import words not used by the constitution.‎ Section 146(1) of the constitution cannot be deemed an election for a VP to step into the office of a President. Election involves conducting primaries by party, nomination, election and announcement of results. All these processes were not done. If a VP succeeds a President that dies, that cannot be challenged. It is a mode of stepping into the vacant office provided for by the constitution. When a President dies, the Vice President automatically becomes President as provided for by S130 (1)(2) of the 1999 constitution… It was not election that produced the first respondent in May 2010, the oath he took then was not an oath of elected President as provided for by Section 180 of the constitution. The process of election was followed in 2011. The oath of office taken in 2011 was the first oath taking by the first respondent as an elected President having fulfilled all the process of election.… Again, the succession of a Vice-President to the office of a President who died, in accordance with Section 146(1) of the 1999 Constitution, cannot be “deemed an election”, especially for the purpose of taking away a right that has been vested. As stated earlier, an election under the 1999 Constitution involves primaries, nominations, voting and declaration of results. That is the mode prescribed in electing a President, and once it is so prescribed, it must be followed, and no other method can be employed. All these processes can be challenged in a Court of law and if successful, the election would be annulled. But if a Vice-President succeeds a President who died, that cannot be challenged because it is a Constitutional provision, and the succession cannot be annulled. It is a mode of assumption to the office of the demised President, an ‘appointment’ by the Constitution, as it were, as no letter of appointment is necessary from anybody. The Vice-President automatically becomes the President, by virtue of his being the Vice-President. An example can be found in Section 130(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.” Per ABUBAKAR DATTI YAHAYA, JCA (Pp 40 – 41 Paras E – D)

The Court of Appeal further upheld the decision of the lower court which had dismissed Mr. Njoku’s suit for lack of locus standi. It noted that “it is fundamental that where a party lacks locus, the court cannot assume jurisdiction….We agree with the lower court that the appellant has no locus to sue”.

On the question of the cause of action, the court held that the case of the appellant was “speculative and imaginary as none of the reliefs he sought accrued to him any benefit”.

Indeed, the Court of Appeal had awarded the sum of N50,000 each as cost to the defendant, President Jonathan.

RETROSPECTIVITY OF LEGISLATION

Aside Jonathan being completely cleansed of the virus of ineligibility to contest the 2023 presidential election by the Court of Appeal decision in Njoku’s case, as Naaman the leper was, after dipping himself in the River Jordan seven times, Jonathan is also aided by the golden canon of interpretation to the effect that an enactment does not operate retrospectively or retroactively to take away from citizens enured rights.

We may now ask the question: What is the effect of Buhari signing into law section 137(3) of the Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution in 2018? The answer is found in section 2 of the Interpretation Act which provides that:

“1. An Act is passed when the President assents to the Bill for the Act, whether or not the Act then comes into force;

  1. Where no other provision is made as to the time when a particular enactment is to come into force, it shall, subject to the following subsection, came into force –

a. In the case of an enactment contained in an Act of the National Assembly, on the day when the Act is passed;

b.In any other case, on the day when the enactment is made”.

It is therefore clear that section 137(3) of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution took effect  from 11th June, 2018, when President Muhammadu Buhari assented to it. Section 137(3) is subject to section 318(4) of the 1999 Constitution which provides that, “the Interpretation Act shall apply for the purposes of interpreting (its) provisions”.

Section 137(3) is one piece of legislation that can be termed retrospective or retroactive legislation.

On retrospectivity of legislation, the apex court, coram Justice Kekere-Ekun, J.S.C, held in the case of SPDC V. ANARO & ORS (2015) LPELR-24750(SC) at (Pp. 64 paras. B), thus:

“There is a general presumption against retrospective legislation. It is presumed that the legislature does not intend injustice or absurdity. Courts therefore lean against giving certain statutes retrospective operation. Generally, statutes are construed as operating only in cases or on facts, which come into existence after the statutes were passed unless a retrospective effect is clearly intended. It was held inter alia, in: Ojokolobo Vs Alamu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.61) 377 @ 402 F-H that it is a fundamental rule of Nigerian law that no statute shall be construed to have a retrospective operation unless such a construction appears very clearly in the terms of the Act or Law; or arises by necessary and distinct implication. See also: Udoh Vs O.H.M.B. (1993) 7 NWLR (Pt.304) 39 @ 149 F – G; Adegbenro Vs Akintola (1963) All NLR 305 @ 308.”

Similarly, in ALEWA V. SOKOTO STATE INEC (2007) LPELR-8388(CA)  (PP. 32 PARAS. A), the Court of Appeal, per Ariwoola JCA ( as he then was), held thus:

“It is however settled law that, unless the law makers expressly state otherwise, a statute operates prospectively but not retrospectively. It is a cardinal principle of English Law that no statute shall be construed to have retrospective operation unless such a construction appears very clearly in the terms of the Act, or arises by necessary and distinct implications. The position is the same in this Country. In Olaniyi vs. Aroyehun (1991) 5 NWLR (pt 194) 652, the Supreme Court held that:- “A construction like other statutes operates prospectively and not retrospectively, unless it is expressly provided to be otherwise. Such legislation affects only rights which came into existence after it has been passed.” See also; Chief C. Odumegwu Ojukwu vs. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo & Ors. (2004) 7 SCM 53 at 93, Afolabi & Ors. v. Governor of Oyo State (1985) 2 NWLR (pt 9) 734, Ojokolobo vs. Aremu (supra).”  

Hear my Lord Kekere-Ekun JCA, (as he then was) in ALEWA V. SOKOTO STATE INEC (2007) LPELR-8388(CA)  (PP. 21-22 PARAS. D):

“There is a presumption that the legislature does not intend what is unjust. Thus, although under our legal system, the Legislature is competent to make retrospective laws, the Courts generally lean against giving a statute retrospective effect unless the terms of the statute so state in clear and unequivocal language. In Afolabi v. Governor of Oyo State (1985) 2 NWLR (9) 734 at 752 E, Aniagolu, JSC stated thus, “The Courts have always leaned against giving statutes a retrospective effect and usually regard them as applying to facts or matters which came into existence after the statutes were passed, unless it is clearly shown that a retrospective effect was intended by the Legislature.” Underlining supplied. See alsoAdesanoye v. Adewole (supra) at 147 B-C & D-E; West v. Gwyne (1911) 2 CH 1; A.G. Federation v. A.N.P.P. (2003) 15 NWLR (844) 600 at 648 G -H; Sa’ad v. Nyame (2004) All FWLR (201)1678.”  

His Lordship Muhammad, J.S.C, in EGUNJOBI V. FRN (2012) LPELR-15537(SC), (PP. 34-35 PARAS. F), held that:

“…It is trite law that the Courts frown at retrospective and retroactive legislations. Ojokolobo v. Alamu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.61) 377 at  34 406; Afolabi v. Governor of Oyo State (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt 9) 734. Although under Nigeria Law, there is a presumption against retrospectivity, where a retrospective operation is clearly spelt out, that legislation must not be declared incompetent; Adegbenro v. Akintola (1963) 2 SCNLR 216; Adeshina v. Lemonu (1965) 1 All NLR 233; The Swiss Air Transport Co. Ltd v. African Continental Bank Ltd (1971) 1 All NLR 37; Attorney General East Central State v. Ugwuh (1975) 5 SC 13…”

Indeed, section 4(9) of the Constitution denies the NASS “in relation to any criminal offence”, the power to “make any law which shall have retrospective effect”. Though this section specifically deals with criminal offences, judicial decisions clearly show that it operates with equal force to civil matters.

Thus, the court held in the case of the ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION V. ALL NIGERIAN PEOPLES PARTY (ANPP) & 2 ORS. (2003) 15 NWLR (Pt. 844) 600 @ pages 648-649, paras. E-B, that:

“A statute is deemed to be retrospective where it takes away any vested right acquired under existing laws or creates a new obligation or imposes a new duty or attaches a new disability in respect of transactions or considerations already past… Based on the presumption that a legislature does not intend what is unjust, the courts have always leaned against giving statutes a retrospective effect and usually regard them as applying to facts or matters which came into existence after the statutes were passed unless it is clearly shown that a retrospective effect was intended by the legislature. In the instant case the constitution came into being on 29th May, 1999 and all rights, liabilities and privileges as contemplated by the circumstance of the arose as of that day. Consequently, its provisions can only be read prospectively.”

Furthermore, the court held at page 649, paras. C-D; 661-662, paras. F-C; 665, paras. A-B as follows:

“One of the cardinal principles of interpretation of statutes is that no rule of construction is that a retrospective operation is not to be given to a statute so as to impair an existing right or obligation otherwise that as regards matters of procedure, unless that effect cannot be avoided without doing violence to the language of the enactment…”.

The court nailed it when it held at page 667, paras. C-D that:

“A constitution, like other statutes, operates prospectively and not retrospectively unless it is expressly provided to be otherwise. Such legislations affect only rights which came into existence after it has been passed.”

A cursory examination of the various provisions of the constitution and all the appellate court decisions cited above make it crystal clear that the purported disqualification of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is grossly misconceived by the antagonists, as the Constitution must be progressively and not retrogressively construed. More significantly, the Alteration Act itself does not make any express provision that the said inserted sub-section 137(3) would operate retrospectively. The principle of expressio unius est exclusio alterius (the express mention of one thing is the exclusion of others) applies here. See MADUMERE & ANOR V. OKWARA & ANOR (2013) LPELR-20752(SC).

CONCLUSION

It is clear that those deliberately misinterpreting the clear position of the law may be baying for Jonathan’s blood, possibly as a potential candidate who may subvert the chances of their preferred candidates. I do not view issues from such a narrow ad homine prism and blurred binoculars. It will be grossly unfair, unconstitutional, unconscionable and inequitable to deny Jonathan of the right to contest the 2023 presidential election when our extant laws and appellate court decisions permit him to. The question of whether Jonathan really needs to subject his glittering and internationally acclaimed reputation and credentials to the muddy waters of a fresh competition with persons, some of whom were his personal appointees as president, is another matter altogether. Only him, and not the present state of the laws in Nigeria, can answer that question and decide his own fate. But, as regards his eligibility to contest, Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan is pre-eminently constitutionally, morally and legally qualified to contest the 2023 presidential election.

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Opinion

White Lion is everywhere, but blind, frustrated critics won’t find him

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Yahaya Bello
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As an indigene of Kogi State from Ijumu Local Government, I am always concerned about any issue that has to do with Kogi State’s affairs and I do my best to be involved, even if modestly, in her development. I love my state and I love my people, without necessarily compromising my patriotism to Nigeria, my country.

For some time now, I have come to notice that certain dark interests, often political, like to project all that is negative about Kogi State with a glee that is symptomatic of zonked-out analysts.

The latest half-witted article by Tunde Olusunle on Kogi State and its immediate past Governor, Yahaya Bello, portrays the journalist as seemingly away with the fairies. I will hold forth about it in a bit.

I am not a member of the APC nor a beneficiary of Yahaya Bello’s political largesse while in office. In fact, I’m not a politician in the real sense of the word. I’m an entrepreneur.

The best selling comic play titled ‘Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again’ authored by Professor Olawale Gladstone Emmanuel Rotimi and published in 1977 best captures how to describe Tunde Olusunle as related to his recent article titled ‘Abeg, Where Is “White Lion?”‘

One would have assumed that at his age with decades of professional experience, he would have been circumspect about certain issues. Even if he wished to satisfy his paymasters who must have contracted him to pen trash about his state or an individual, he would have made an attempt not to fritter away whatever little honour he had left.

I know that the country is hard and some individuals whose best lives are behind them would crunch even on faeces just to survive another day, especially those in the category of pretending that all is still well with them when they are actually floundering financially – a typical tragedy of living in the illusion of past glory. That’s quite understandable.

The precis of Olusunle’s uninformed article is that it is a worthless vituperation of a frustrated and failed political wannabe whose attempts at political relevance in Kogi State have met with catastrophic denouement. I don’t want to bore the reader with bouquets of unsupported asseverations imputed by Olusunle against Yahaya Bello. Investing valuable time in such would be counter-productive. I just want to address the obvious elements of insanity in the article.

During the 2023 presidential election, a lot of the people who unleashed negative propaganda against candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu did so out of implacable personal hatred for the man.

The hatred in their speeches and writings was so clear. It was aggressive hatred without substance. It was so bad that some people were praying for him to die! Many fake prophecies from agitated prophets saturated traditional and social media on a daily basis. But the man weathered all the storms, beat them silly and eventually emerged as Nigeria’s President.

Not that his detractors have stopped, but they have been decimated significantly by the shame they bear consequent upon his victory. Former President Muhammadu Buhari also suffered the same fate.

Buhari would be the first presidential candidate in Nigeria to read his own obituary while still alive. A sitting Governor then, Ayodele Fayose, took front-page advertorials in major newspapers in the country and added Buhari’s picture to the list of Nigeria’s dead presidents and heads of state.

He claimed that Buhari might not last even one year in office. Therefore, why burden the country with such a walking vegetable? The hatred was that bad! Buhari went ahead to complete eight years in office and departed healthier and younger than he came in.

Yahaya Bello is the latest victim of deliberate personal hatred and relentless blackmail by his detractors and those he has trumped in the slick, yet complex terrains of Kogi State politics. A lot of political cavilers in Kogi State have yet to come to terms with the divine intervention that produced Yahaya Bello in 2016.

Kogi’s ethnopolitical warlords who have arrogated to themselves the permanent mandate to govern the confluence state found themselves suddenly vanquished by higher terrestrial forces beyond human comprehension. They could not believe that Yahaya Bello, from where he came, could be such a candidate for divine benevolence.

They rebelled and kicked. From day one, they chose blackmail and crude propaganda as weapons of foul warfare. For these ignoble characters and their ubiquitous social media goons, every woman who suffered a miscarriage did so because of Yahaya Bello. If their dogs died, it was Yahaya Bello. If they failed to prepare well for an election and lost, Yahaya Bello was their ready scapegoat. It was a loathsome circle of certainty.

The hatred in Olusunle’s baseless article is poorly disguised, if at all. Authentic professional journalists base their submissions on hard, indubitable facts. They do not orchestrate a bum steer, as the Americans would say. But this is what someone who, to all intents and purposes, should be a respected veteran in the field of journalism has chosen to do for survival stipends.

His claims that Yahaya Bello is in hiding are particularly spurious and nauseating. I live in Abuja and I can confirm that Yahaya Bello has been in his Zone 4 residence for a long time. He has been seen observing Taraweeh and receiving guests for Iftar throughout the Ramadan period. He goes to the Mosque for Jumat prayers every Friday.

For goodness sake, the man left Abuja for Okene to celebrate Eid in the full glare of thousands of Kogites, and entertained hundreds of Muslim faithful and his political associates for Sallah before returning to Abuja two days later. He even travelled to Lagos to pay homage to President Bola Tinubu for the Eid-el Fitr celebrations. What a way to hide!

Olusunle claims that Yahaya Bello is on the run and hiding under a bed. My question is “For what in particular?” Security agencies are not the types to base their investigations and arrests on phoney allegations as all those raised in Olusunle’s mucky script are.

They don’t pay attention to hideous misinformation being peddled by discombobulated political midgets in desperate search for long-lost relevance.

Olusunle seems to be suffering from nomenclature attachment syndrome. Psychologists have impressed on us from time immemorial that a person’s name is more than just identification.

They have educated us that when we hear our names, it triggers a unique psychological response. In this case, we may be dealing with a syndrome called pervasive egosyntonic sadistic behaviour.

In Yoruba language, Olusunle means “Olu has burnt the house”. And the Yoruba say “orukọ ọmọ lo n ro ọmọ”, meaning a child’s name influences his/her behaviour.

But if Olu must burn anybody’s house, he should choose his father’s house to burn, not another person’s house of honour. Meanwhile, Kogi State is a house that no jackass can burn down.

Exacerbated insanity defines the character of purveyors of allegations that cannot be substantiated. To answer your question, writer Olusunle, White Lion is everywhere, going about his normal activities, and discerning Nigerians are aware. But blind, frustrated critics won’t find him.

– Olorunfemi Obadofin Braimoh, a security consultant and public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja.

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Opinion

Abia repeal of life pensions for ex-govs, deputies: Matters arising (2)

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Map of Abia State
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By Ehichioya Ezomon

While most Nigerians still clink wine glasses in toast to Abia State Governor Alex Otti for belling the monstrous cat of life pensions for former governors and deputy governors, three Abia ex-governors have punctuated Dr Otti’s enviable limelight, by denying drawing pensions, and the accompanying perquisites of office.
Under the repealed law, former governors and deputies were to be paid lifetime salaries; get houses in Abia and Abuja; receive 100 per cent of annual basic salaries of the incumbent governor and deputy; get two brand-new vehicles worth N20 million every four years; and have three police officers and two operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), and cooks, stewards, drivers, and gardeners.
The denial by immediate past Governor Okezie Ikpeazu (2015-2023) came on March 20 – a day before Otti signed into law the bill repealing the pensions. A statement by Dr Ikpeazu’s chief press secretary, Onyebuchi Ememanka, refuted reports “mischievously couched to give the false impression” that Ikpeazu’s among former governors receiving pensions from Abia State.
Ememanka stated: “Dr Okezie Ikpeazu wishes to make it abundantly clear that since after handing over the reins of power as Governor of Abia State on May 29, 2023, he has neither requested for, nor received from the Abia State Government, any dime under any guise whatsoever, and has no intentions of doing so.
“Former Governor Ikpeazu has since moved on with his life and is currently engaged in other areas of interest to him and advises the Abia State Government and her various organs to face the business of governance and desist from engaging in needless media sensationalism. The general public should be properly guided, please.”
Former Senator and ex-Governor Theodore Orji (2007-2015) also debunked claims of benefiting from the pension largesse, saying on March 21 that, “he hasn’t received any pension, he hasn’t asked for it, and he’s not interested in it.” Orji spoke via his former chief liaison officer, Hon. Ifeanyi Umere.
Umere said: “Nobody should link Senator Orji with the said pension law because nobody has paid him any pension after leaving office as Governor. He transited from Governor to Senate and he made it a point of morality that he will not, and he didn’t ask for any pension or question anybody about it because he is not interested in it. He didn’t receive any pension from Okezie Ikpeazu and he didn’t pay anybody, too.”
And Sen. and former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu (1999-2007) – whose government established the pension law in 2001 – said he didn’t receive any pensions since 2007. One of Kalu’s aides was quoted: “As a former governor of the state, T. A. Orji did not pay him (Kalu) a dime as pension, and Okezie Ikpeazu continued in the same manner.”
Recall that Dr Kalu, fielding questions from journalists at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) in Abuja on February 20, 2017, distanced himself from the 108 ex-governors that a national daily claimed were “living off their states through pensions and other entitlements.”
As reported by Vanguard on February 21, 2017, Kalu said he hadn’t received “any payment, entitlements or privileges of any sort from his successors (Sen. Orji and Dr. Ikpeazu), adding that the Abia State government had “withheld and refused to pay his pensions and entitlements, making him the only ex-governor in the 36 states that does not receive pension.”
Kalu said on leaving government on May 29, 2007, he left behind “all the government vehicles and every other thing that belonged to the government,” and that, “none of the privileges, like security details or vehicles that accrue to former governors has been extended to him.”
Asked if he’s broke because of non-payment, and his next line of action, Kalu said: “It is not about being broke or not. The pension law of the state did not exclude me from being paid as expected. In fact, it is illegal, according to the law, to deny one his rights and privileges.”
Also reacting to the abolished pension benefits, former Deputy Governor Ude Chukwu, under the Ikpeazu regime, said: “Nobody has given me a dime. I am aware of the law. For me, it (the law) is as good as not being there. If all past governors said they have not been paid anything, what is the essence of the existence of the law?”
Relatedly, former Lagos State Governor and ex-minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), has revealed that his monthly pension is N577,000, after eight years in office (2007-2015). Mr Fashola, appearing on ARISE TV programme, ‘Perspectives,’ on January 20, said:
“The benefit I get, I think, is a N577,000 monthly pension from Lagos State. So, in spite of all the stories that we got several billions of money (after leaving office), I’ve come out to deny that repeatedly. Well, I don’t know how long it lasts, but all I know is that I get N577,000 per month consistently,” without stating if he’d enjoyed the “full package” pre and post-effort by the Lagos State House of Assembly (LGHA) to halve the pensions in 2021.
The poser: If Otti’s predecessors in office denied receiving any pensions, why the Labour Party (LP) governor’s bravado to sign into law the pensions repeal bill passed by the Abia State House of Assembly (ABHA)? Was it to score political points by painting black Dr Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sen. Orji (PDP), and Sen. Kalu of All Progressives Congress (APC)?
Perhaps, Otti wanted to fulfil a campaign promise, and guard against any governor resurrecting the dead law in future. Signing the law on March 21, Otti stated: “Even before this new law came into place, a lot of people, who have followed our views in the national discuss (discourse), understand that we were not going to continue the practice of paying pensions and allowances to this set of former government officials.”
That said, pensions for former governors and deputy governors aren’t “illegal,” as the issue is perceived in the public. What Nigerians detest and question is the morality of and insensitivity in awarding huge severance pay, lifetime pensions, allowances and material benefits to former governors and deputies.
Some former governors-turned senators or ministers also receive emoluments in a couple of places: pensions from their states, and salaries and allowances from the National Assembly (NASS) or the Executive, against the rules that exempt farming as the only avenue to possibly earn extra pay, while boosting the country’s food production and security.
In 2023, some members of NASS were enticed by the mouth-watering pension packages for federal and state executives, and proposed same for the President and Deputy President of the Senate, and Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives – an incentive for State Houses of Assembly to follow suit. But the bill was shot down due to public outcry.
In the oft-quoted Lagos High Court judgment of November 26, 2019, in suit no: FHC/L/CS/1497/2017, filed by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo queried the legality or validity of pensions for former governors and deputy governors, but pushed the burden of discovery to the Attorney General of the Federation.
Justice Oguntoyinbo had differed from the position of then Attorney General Abubakar Malami (SAN) that, “the States’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged,” and said, “I do not agree with this line of argument by the Attorney General that he cannot challenge the States’ pension laws for former governors.”
“In my humble view, the AG 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,” the judge said, and then gave the following commands:
“AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the Attorney General, AG, to urgently identify former governors and their deputies collecting pensions from their states and to seek full recovery of public funds from those involved.
“AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the AG to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, serving as senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.”
Based on the orders, SERAP asked President Bola Tinubu, in a letter on March 23, “to immediately obey,” to recover pensions collected by former governors, and to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting those involved to collect such “outrageous pensions.”
Equally instructive is an Appeal Court ruling, in suit no. CA/A/810/2017, against the Kogi State Government seeking pensions and severance packages in the state, which’s referenced by Alex Enumah in an opinion piece, “Pension Laws for Ex-Govs: The Abia Example,” published by THISDAY on March 31, as follows:
“The court held that the fact that elected public office holders and political appointees were paid huge amounts of money as monthly salaries and other forms of allowances while in office makes it morally wrong for them to demand pensions, gratuities or severance allowances for holding such an office for four to eight years as the case may be.
“The three-man panel of the appellate court, which had Justice Emmanuel Agim, Justice Abubakar Datti Yahaya and Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, submitted that it amounted to gross social injustice, and unjustified in the context of the nation’s present social realities.
“The lead judgment, which was delivered by Justice Agim (now JSC), said it was wicked and morally wrong for political office holders and political appointees, who helped themselves to public funds while in office, to claim entitlement to pension and severance allowances.
“He submitted that it was wrong for political appointees and elected public office holders, who do not work as long and as hard as career civil servants to 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.”
So, controversies trail pensions for former governors and deputies not for being “illegal” but because they’re overbloated, and a huge drain on the lean resources of many states, which owe months and even years of backlogs to retirees, some of who spent over 35 years in service and retired into penury, as their pensions are withheld by governors, who are “qualified” for hefty pensions and adds-on for life, and even pay themselves upfront part of the packages before they leave office.
It’s reassuring though that former Governors Ikpeazu, Orji and Kalu have denied receiving pensions, and challenged Otti’s sweeping statement that, “we were not going to continue the practice of paying pensions and allowances to this set of former government officials.” But can hundreds of other former governors – accused of drawing huge pensions and entitlements from their states – emulate the Abia trio by disavowing the allegations against them? The ball, as they say, is in their court!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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Abia repeal of life pensions for ex-govs, deputies: Matters arising (1)

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

Abia State Governor Alex Otti’s the rave of the moment among his peer governors, and most Nigerians, for “infrastructural development,” and particularly for signing into law a Bill passed by the Abia State House of Assembly (ABHA) to repeal life pensions for former governors and deputy governors of the state.
Under the repealed law, former governors and deputies were paid lifetime salaries, and got houses in Abia and Abuja, prompting ex-Head of State and former President Olusegun Obasanjo – on a visit to Dr Otti to commend his novel move – to describe the life pension laws by state governors as “rascality” and “acts of daylight robbery,” and urged other governors to emulate the Otti example.
But did retired Gen. Obasanjo, Ph.D, also send similar entreaty to President Bola Tinubu and the National Assembly (NASS), to repeal pensions and entitlements for former presidents, vice presidents and heads of state? Or only former governors and deputies should curb their appetite for free money and materials after “retirement” from government?
Obasanjo’s advocacy should touch all former elected or appointed executive officeholders, as we shouldn’t have a “special breed” of Nigerians: former military heads of state, presidents, vice presidents, governors and deputy governors, who enjoy government’s freebies, and live in luxuries at the expense of toiling Nigerians in need of the bare essentials of life.
It’s as well to recall that in a valedictory session of the Federal Executive Council at the State House, Abuja, on May 24, 2023, then Vice President Yemi Osinbajo called for an upward review of pensions for former presidents and vice presidents.
Osinbajo, referencing President Muhammadu Buhari’s “personal integrity,” said: “Part of the problem with that is that sometimes, you and I end up getting the very short end of the stick. If you look at the laws today, our retirement benefits, yours (Buhari) will be N350,000 a month by law and mine will be N250,000 per month.
“Those, of course, as you can imagine, are very tiny amounts of money. And I think that one of the things that we must do is to, perhaps, see how we can amend that law so that I will not come to you in Daura (Buhari’s hometown in Katsina State) and ask for some of your bulls to sell in order to survive.”
As Sunday PUNCH findings, first reported on May 28, 2023, indicate, “severance packages for Buhari and Osinbajo, state governors and other political appointees leaving office in 2023 might cost the country about N63.45bn,” adding that, as stipulated by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMAFC), “President Buhari will get a severance pay of N10.54m, which is 300 per cent of his annual basic salary, while Vice-President Osinbajo will receive N9.09m.”
In a manner of, “What a man can do, a woman can do it, and even better,” then First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, also solicited increased out-of-office benefits for ex-presidents and vice presidents, and for the incorporation of former first ladies “among the beneficiaries.” She spoke on May 25, 2023, in Abuja, at the launch of a book, ‘The Journey of a Military Wife,’ written by Mrs Vickie Irabor, wife of then Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor (retd).
Mrs Buhari’s plea: “The Federal Government should consider us as people that need help not as magic makers. And on the privileges given to the former presidents of Nigeria, they should do more. It is still not enough considering what people go through in that house (Presidential Villa). And at the same time, I want them to incorporate women, the former first ladies, among the beneficiaries.”
Many Nigerians have lent voices to the Otti gesture, especially coming at an time of economic strangulation of the average and below-average citizens since the advent of the Tinubu administration, following the withdrawal of subsidy on petrol, and floating the Naira, which’s crashed against major foreign currencies, and sent inflation and the cost of living sky-high.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Tinubu to swiftly obey a court judgment, which orders the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors, and to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting those involved to collect such “outrageous pensions.”
Following a SERAP suit no: FHC/L/CS/1497/2017, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo in a 20-page judgment on November 26, 2019, granted “AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the Attorney General, AG, to urgently identify former governors and their deputies collecting pensions from their states and to seek full recovery of public funds from those involved.”
“Justice Oguntoyinbo also granted ‘AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the AG to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, serving as senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.'”
Then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had argued that “the States’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged.” But Justice Oguntoyinbo differed, saying, “I do not agree with this line of argument by the Attorney General that he cannot challenge the States’ pension laws for former governors.”
“In my humble view, the AG 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,” the judge said, adding, “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.”
Justice Oguntoyinbo didn’t expressly pronounce on the legality of awarding life pensions to former governors and deputy governors. Perhaps, the plaintiff, SERAP, didn’t include that in its averments and prayers. Which somehow left the judge to push the responsibility to the Attorney General – “being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation” – of finding out the “legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians.”
But the National Industrial Court – as posted on the African Law eJournal on March 25, 2020 – had ruled that pensions for former governors and deputy governors are legal, as nothing in the amended 1999 Constitution of Nigeria precludes or prevents state houses of assembly from enacting laws to give such benefits to former state chief executives.
Michael Dugeri of University of Ottawa, Canada, posted the court’s ruling in the case of Incorporated Trustees of Human Development Initiatives & 39 Others v. Governor of Abia State & 73 Others, which borders on “legal validity of state pensions laws for political office holders in Nigeria.”
“The National Industrial Court, in this case, was invited to determine the question of whether any law, especially by the State Houses of Assembly, that stipulates pension of such public officials already covered by the constitutional mandate of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation & Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), is ultra vires, null and void. The Court answered in the negative,” the report said.
Yet, as first reported by Vanguard on March 24, SERAP, while noting inaction by the Buhari administration on the Justice Oguntoyinbo judgment, urges President Tinubu, in a March 23 letter by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, “to emulate the good example of Governor Otti by urgently obeying the judgment.”
“Unless the judgment is immediately obeyed, former governors and their deputies, including those now serving as ministers in your administration and members of the National Assembly who receive pensions, would continue to evade justice for their actions,” SERAP says.
“Immediately obeying the judgment would show the sovereignty of the rule of law in Nigeria and go a long way in protecting the integrity of the country’s legal system. Obeying the judgment would also show you (Tinubu) as a defender of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended), the rule of law, and public interest within government,” SERAP adds.
SERAP lists former governors, “who continue to collect double emoluments and large severance benefits” from 22 states, including Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta, Ekiti, Kano, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Abia, Imo, Bayelsa, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Ondo, Ebonyi, Rivers, Niger, Kogi, and Katsina.
As reported by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on March 20, the Abia pensions repeal law isn’t the first, as a few states had moved to abolish the law, but “many states showed nonchalant attitude toward doing so.” Still, the “Abia State Governors and Deputy Governors’ (Repeal) Law 2024,” which took effect immediately on Thursday, March 21, 2024, after Governor Otti signed it, forecloses former governors and deputy governors earning pensions.
But did the Abia repealed pensions law include other perquisites of office, which make the pensions per se to look like pocket money for a boarding-house student, who doesn’t really need extra money, as their parents or guardians have settled accommodation, feeding and provisions for them?
This and more will be explored in part 2 of the series, amid denial by two former governors of Abia State, Sen. Theodore Orji and Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, of receiving pensions since they left office, even as Governor Otti continues to enjoy the limelight of abolishing pensions for former governors and deputy governors of Abia State!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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