Why Appeal Court declared illegal retirement benefits, pension paid political office holders

The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has declared the severance allowance, pension or gratuity paid to political elected office holders and political appointees illegal and unfounded in law.

National Daily learned that a three-man panel of the Appeal Court, Abuja, in a judgment on an appeal marked: CA/A/810/2017 filed by the Governor of Kogi State and three others held that no law substantiates or justifies politicians who hold office for not more than eight years to allocate huge public funds to themselves in the name of pension and severance package after they have sustained themselves in office with public funds.

It was indicated that the appellants were contesting the judgment of Justice R. B. Hastrup of the National Industrial Court (NIC), Lokoja, Kogi State, on October 10, 2017, on a suit filed by some former political appointees in Kogi State, seeking to compel the state government to pay their severance allowances, gratuity, among others.

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The suit marked: NICN/LKJ/03/2017 was said to be filed by the Chairman of Kogi State Local Government Service Commission 2013 -2017, Alhaji Nuhu Ahmed, and the Commission members, who were appointed Permanent members II. The litigants include M. O. Sule, Momoh Steven Azia, Michael Nuhu Akeji, James Olusoji Olumorin and George Agbogun.

Justice Hastrup had directed the parties to file a suit of pleadings not of judgment after taking arguments on the originating summons and preliminary objection raised by the defendants. This is indicated that the plaintiffs are not legally entitled to retirement benefits since they were not on career appointments.

National Daily further learned that Justice Emmanuel Agim in the lead judgment of the Appeal Court had declared: “I must state here that the claimants’ claim for payment of severance allowance, because the tenure of their appointment has come to an end, is as unfounded as is morally wrong.

“As I have held that their letters of appointment did not stipulate their entitlement to such payment. They did not produce any law or any document or instrument that entitles them to such payment.

“The fact that elected pubic officeholders and political appointees are paid huge amounts of money as monthly salaries and other forms of allowances, while in office, is common knowledge in Nigeria and is not reasonable to open question.

“It is also common knowledge that many of them after an office tenure of between three to eight years become stupendously wealthy, exhibiting mind-blowing opulence and splendor.

“Yet these office holders insist on being paid severance allowance for holding such offices.

“Meanwhile, career civil servants, who have served this country or their states or Local Governments, all their life, can hardly collect their pensions and gratuity when retired.

“They are now being subjected to contributory pension schemes in which they contribute part of their monthly meagre salaries that are always paid in arrears while in service, to be able to earn pension and gratuity upon retirement.

“The political appointees and elected public office holders, who do not work as long and as hard as the career civil servants 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.

“It is not morally right to pay an elected public officer or political appointee pension and gratuity or severance allowance for holding such an office for three to eight years as the case may be.

“It cannot be justified in the context of our present social realities it amounts to gross social injustice.”

Justice Agim was said to have faulted Justice Hastrup’s decision to order pleadings rather than dismissing the suit, owing to the plaintiffs’ failure to prove their case.

“The reasons the trial court gave for ordering a retrial, by pleading and the oral evidence of witnesses, are that the affidavits of both sides raise substantial issues and dispute of facts or contentions issues as to the payment or non payment of arrears of salaries and whether the claimants were among the duly verified staff and appointees that have been paid their arrears of salaries and that the reliefs claimed for cannot be resolved by affidavit evidence alone with pleadings and the testimonies of witnesses.

“These reasons are not correct. There is no substantial dispute of facts between the affidavits of both sides on the factual basis for the action and the reliefs claimed for.

“Both affidavits agree on the fact that the respondents were appointed as Chairman and permanent members respectively, of Kogi State Local Government Service Commission.

“The respondents herein, as claimants, in their originating summons, claimed for the sum of ”$5,420,000.00 as total of the various amounts of money due to them as arrears of salaries for 17 months, four years leave bonuses and severance payment for the end of the tenure of their appointments.

“The monetary value of each entitlement is particularised in the originating summons. But there Is no evidence, in the affidavits in support of the originating summons, stating the exact amount each claimant was earning as monthly salary.

“There is no evidence in the said affidavits showing the allowances or other emoluments the claimants were entitled to by virtue of their appointments,” the judge further declared.

Justice Agim, accordingly, dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the appellants filed to first obtain the leave of the court before it commenced the appeal.

Justices Abubakar Datti Yahaya and Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, also on the panel, were said to be in agreement with the lad judgment, delivered on May 20, 2019.

Other appellants in the suit were identified to include the Secretary to Kogi State Government, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Kogi State and Kogi State Local Government Service Commission.

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