SERAP alleges N40bn petition against ex-Govs missing

More than 10 days  after the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) petitioned Attorney-General and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami, to recover about N40 billion from ex-governors and their deputies who were still allegedly drawing double salaries as current ministers or senators, no trace of  the petition can be found, SERAP alleges.

It would be recalled that in a letter dated 14 July, 2017 and signed by SERAP’s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation alleged that some former governors and deputy governors supplement their emoluments in their current positions with life pensions drawn from their states’ meagre resources, thereby prioritizing their private and personal interests over the interests of the majority.

As at Monday, SERAP was yet to receive any information that the letter had been duly allocated for consideration, and was being treated.

This was confirmed by the Lagos zonal coordinator of the group, Mr. Joseph Aboh, who stated that there was yet to be a formal communication on the treatment of the application for the recovery of the public funds.

“Apart from a phone call from the Public Affairs Department of the ministry, nothing else has been heard of it, even as I speak to you,” Aboh told Ripples Nigeria in a phone chat.

He said the body would not give up on the issue even if it would mean doing a reminder to the minister, so long as it would lead to persecution and recovery of the public funds from the public office holders involved.

A detailed copy of SERAP’s 20-paged petition sighted at its Lagos office showed many classified attachments to the original letter to Malami.

No fewer than 20 high profile cases of multiple-wage earnings, involving former governors, their deputies and other government functionaries were cited for possible prosecution for violating the Nigerian Constitution.

SERAP followed the appeal for investigation and prosecution with an accompanying lump affidavit in support of the open letter to the minster.

For instance, SERAP alleged that Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki (Kwara); Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano); Kabiru Gaya (Kano); Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Theodore Orji (Abia); Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa); Sam Egwu (Ebonyi); Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara), are among former governors receiving double emoluments and large severance benefits from their states.

Others mentioned are Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Jonah Jang (Plateau), Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara); Danjuma Goje (Gombe); Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi); George Akume (Benue); Ms Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti); Enyinaya Harcourt Abaribe (Abia); Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti); Chris Ngige (Anambra); and Babatunde Fashola (Lagos).

It urged Malami to use his “good offices as a defender of public interest” 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.

“We seek full recovery of over N40 billion of public funds that have so far been received from those involved; and to begin to take these steps within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute legal proceedings to compel the discharge of constitutional duty and full compliance with Nigeria’s international anti-corruption obligations and commitments.

“SERAP considers double emoluments for serving public officials unlawful, as the laws granting those benefits take governance away from the arena of public interest, and create the impression that former governors acted contrary to the best interests of the general public. Double emoluments and large severance benefits for former governors now serving public officials constitute a blatant betrayal of public trust.

“SERAP is concerned that several serving senators and ministers are receiving salaries and life pensions running into billions of naira from states that are currently unwilling or unable to pay their workers’ salaries. Public office is a public trust, and as such, citizens depend upon their governors, senators and ministers to act in the public interest, not for their own or another’s profit or benefit.

“Under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, it is forbidden for any public official to engage in self-dealing, and place him/herself in a position of conflicting interests, and to hold incompatible functions or illicitly engage in providing to him/herself emoluments deemed unacceptable under international law. This is a clear case of the former governors placing their private or personal interests over and above their entrusted public functions, and unduly influencing the level of benefits they receive.

“SERAP argues that taking advantage of entrusted public offices and positions to enact laws to grant double emoluments and large severance benefits to serving public officials amounts to not only an abuse of office but also incorrect, dishonourable and improper performance of public functions, as per the provisions of paragraph 2 of article 8 of the convention.

“By signing such double emoluments and large benefits laws which they knew or ought to know that they would be beneficiaries, these former governors have abused their entrusted public functions and positions, and thereby obtained an undue advantage, contrary to article 19 of the convention.

“The double emoluments and large severance benefits laws also violate the conflicts of interest provisions of the convention. The fact that these laws are signed by former governors in the exercise of their functions as public officials and now benefiting from the entitlements under such laws while serving as senators and ministers raises serious conflict of interest issue under paragraph 5 of article 8 of the convention.

“We believe that the current Code of Conduct for Public Officials Act is outdated and entirely inconsistent and incompatible with the object and purpose of the UN Convention against Corruption, which requires Nigeria to adopt a comprehensive code of conduct for the performance of public functions and implicitly to prohibit double emoluments and large severance benefits for public officials such as former governors.

“SERAP notes the resolution of the UN General Assembly to the effect that every state has the duty to carry out in good faith its obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law, and it may not invoke provisions in its constitutions or its laws as an excuse for failure to perform this duty.

“As such, your government is mandated to challenge the legality of double and large emoluments states’ laws and bring them in line with Nigeria’s international obligations including under the convention. This position is buttressed by article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Laws of Treaties, which provides that no state can justify the noncompliance with an international treaty with reference to internal law, including even the constitution.”

On the situation with various states, it noted that under the Lagos Pension Law for example, “a former governor will enjoy the following benefits for life: Two houses, one in Lagos and another in Abuja estimated to cost between N500m and N700m. Others are six brand new cars replaceable every three years; furniture allowance of 300 percent of annual salary to be paid every two years, and a close to N2.5m as pension (about N30m pension annually); free medicals including for his immediate families; 10 percent house maintenance; 30 percent car maintenance; 10 percent entertainment; 20 percent utility; and several domestic staff.

“In Rivers, state law provides 100 per cent of annual basic salaries for ex-governor and deputy, one residential house for former governor anywhere of his choice in Nigeria; one residential house anywhere in Rivers for the deputy, three cars for the ex-governor every four years; two cars for the deputy every four years; 300 percent of annual basic salary every four years for furniture; 10 percent of annual basic salary for house maintenance.

“In Akwa Ibom, state law provides for N200m annual pay to ex governors, deputies; pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor/deputy governor respectively; a new official car and utility-vehicle every four years; one personal aide and provision of adequate security; a cook, chauffeurs and security guards for the governor at a sum not exceeding N5m per month and N2.5m for the deputy governor. Others are: free medical services for governor and spouse at an amount not exceeding N100m for the governor per annum and N50m for the deputy governor; a five-bedroom mansion in Abuja and Akwa Ibom and allowance of 300 percent of annual basic salary for the deputy governor; 300 percent of annual basic salary every four years and severance gratuity.

“Similarly, the Kano State Pension Rights of Governor and Deputy Governor Law 2007 provides for 100 percent of annual basic salaries for former governor and deputy; furnished and equipped office; a 6-bedroom house; well-furnished 4-bedroom for deputy, plus an office; free medical treatment along with immediate families within and outside Nigeria where necessary; two drivers; and a provision for a 30- day vacation within and outside Nigeria.

“In Gombe State, there is N300 million executive pension benefits for the ex-governors. In Kwara State, the 2010 law gives a former governor two cars and a security car replaceable every three years; a well-furnished 5-bedroom duplex; 300 per cent of his salary as furniture allowance; five personal staff; three State Security Services; free medical care for the governor and the deputy; 30 percent of salary for car maintenance; 20 per cent for utility; 10 percent for entertainment; 10 per cent for house maintenance.

“In Zamfara State, former governors 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. In Sokoto State, former governors and deputy governors are to receive N200m and N180m respectively being monetization for other entitlements which include domestic aides, residence and vehicles that could be renewed after every four years.”

But when contacted, an aide to the minister, who pleaded for anonymity, said the petition was receiving the necessary attention it deserved, but refused to give any further detail.

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