The National Industrial Court in Abuja on Tuesday declared as lacking in merit, a suit filed by a former Speaker Cross River House of Assembly, Mr Larry Okori-Odey, seeking pension for his tenure as acting governor.
In the virtual judgment, Justice Sanusi Kado held that the Cross River State Gubernatorial Pension Law (as amended) 2015, which made the initial provision did so without requisite power, and therefore declared it null and void.
Kado said the provisions of the constitution that confer the power to the state assembly to enact pension law clearly does not make provision for acting governor, speaker house of assembly and his deputy.
The judge, therefore, ruled that the house of assembly had no vires to have made provisions of pension for an acting governor.
He said `’The provisions of Section 318 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended clearly and in unequivocal terms defines ‘Governor’ or ‘Deputy Governor’ to mean the Governor of a State or a Deputy Governor of a State.
“There was no mention of Acting Governor or Speaker of the House of Assembly or his Deputy.
“The combined effect of these constitutional provisions will reveal that an acting governor is not a governor for the purpose of provisions of Sections 124(5) and 318 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
“Likewise the Speaker or his Deputy are equally not Governor or Deputy Governor in the real sense, so they are never contemplated by the Constitution meant to benefit from pension provided by Section 124(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
“However, there is no equivalent power in Section 124(5) of the constitution for making provision for pension for the Acting Governor of the State or the Speaker of the House of Assembly of the State.
“This means that the Gubernatorial Pension Law ( as amended) 2015, which came into force on May 19, 2015, that was made with the sole aim of making provisions for payment of pension to Acting Governor and Speaker and Deputy Speaker was made without vires.”
From facts, the claimant who served as Acting Governor of Cross River from Jan. 27, 2012, to Feb. 2012, was at the same time the Speaker of the State House of Assembly from June 2011 to June 2015.
He averred that the government of the state commenced payment of his pension entitlement in August 2015 as a former Speaker, however, not as a former governor.
He added that the state government did not take into cognizance the fact that he served as acting governor of the state and had not received a pension from March 2019 till date.
His counsel, Mr Mba Ukweni, SAN, submitted that though Cross River State Gubernatorial Law, 2005 did not make provisions for the payment of pension to acting governors, but the law was amended to include such persons in 2015.
He, therefore, urged the court to grant his client the reliefs he sought for payment of his entitlements.
The defence said that even if granted, the payment of pension to the claimant would become effective only after he would have faced the verification/audit exercise for pensioners.