Court Stops Omehia From Refunding N696million Received As Pension, Other Benefit

Justice Daketima Kio of the Rivers State High Court has declared that Mr Celestine Omehia cannot be held accountable for the payment of millions of naira in pension benefits from the state government.

The judge noted this while delivering judgment in the suit brought by Omehia against the Rivers State Governor, Attorney General of the State, Speaker, and the State House of Assembly, challenging the directive of the government to refund over N696 million paid to him as pension and other benefits until his derecognition.

The court also declared that Omehia could not be held liable for the errors of the defendants in the suit, even as it acknowledged that Omehia had never officially served as governor of Rivers State under proper interpretation of the governor and deputy governor pension and free benefits law.

The court added that the state pension law precludes him from benefiting from the pension scheme.

Justice Kio emphasised that Omehia never sought recognition from the state government or the House of Assembly and thus cannot legitimately demand the funds paid to him erroneously.

Affirming the Supreme Court’s characterization of Omehia as an imposter, the court held that he should not be accorded the status of a former governor or benefit from the governor and deputy governor pension law.

The court refrained from awarding costs in favour of any party, directing that each party should bear its costs.

Counsel for the Rivers State Government and House of Assembly, Success Gibert, expressed satisfaction with the aspect of the judgment favouring his clients.

However, he declined to comment on the ruling regarding the repayment of funds by the claimant, stating that the government will address the matter accordingly.

Counsel for Omehia declined to comment on the judgment.

In a related development, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Sunday urged President Bola Tinubu to obey a court judgment ordering the Nigerian government to recover pensions collected by former governors.

SERAP asked President Tinubu “to emulate the good example of governor Alex Otti of Abia State by immediately obeying the judgment ordering 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”.

According to the civil society organisation, the judgment, dated November 16, 2019, was delivered by Honourable Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo following a suit by SERAP.

Mr Otti recently signed into law the bill to repeal ‘The Abia State Governors and Deputy Governors Pensions Law No 4 of 2001′, after it was passed by the House of Assembly.

Under the law that was repealed, former governors and deputy governors in the state were paid lifetime salaries and got houses in Abia and Abuja.

In the letter dated March 13, 2024 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “We urge you to emulate the good example of governor Otti by urgently obeying the judgment, something which former president Muhammadu Buhari blatantly failed to do.

“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.”

The letter read in part: “SERAP agrees with former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s conclusion that states’ pension laws are ‘acts of daylight robbery’, and his call for such laws to be abolished by other state governors.”

SERAP identified those reportedly receiving double emoluments and large severance benefits from their states as including Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano); Kabiru Gaya (Kano); Theodore Orji (Abia).

It said, “Others are Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa); Sam Egwu (Ebonyi); Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara); Joshua Dariye (Plateau), and Jonah Jang (Plateau).

“At least 22 states starting from Lagos State have reportedly passed life pensions laws for former governors and other ex-public officials. Other states include Akwa Ibom; Edo; Delta; Ekiti; Kano; Gombe; Yobe; Borno; Bauchi; Abia; Imo; Bayelsa; Oyo; Osun; Kwara; Ondo; Ebonyi; Rivers; Niger; Kogi; and Katsina.”