A retired judge of the Lagos High Court, Justice Babajide Candide-Johnson, has filed a suit before a National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) in Lagos, demanding his pension, severance gratuity, and other entitlements from the Lagos State government, a year after his retirement.
He is also seeking an order directing the Lagos State Governor to forthwith calculate his pension based on the provisions of Section 291 (2) and (3a-c) of the 1999 constitution as well as Section 2 of the Pensions Rights of Judges Act to pay him the sum of N21,145,551.6 (Twenty One Million, One Hundred and Forty-Five Thousand, Five Hundred and Fifty-One Naira, Six Kobo).
As well as N10m as general damages for failure to pay his pension and gratuity in accordance with the law.
Justice Candide-Johnson was appointed by the Governor of Lagos on May 22, 2001, and sworn into office on May 24 of the same year. He spent 20 years on the bench and retired on June 27, 2021, having attained the mandatory retirement age of 65.
In documents put before the court, the retired judge says during his years of service, he was enrolled in the contributory pension scheme of the Civil Service of Lagos State. Consequent upon this enrollment, several sums were deducted from his monthly salary by the Lagos State Government as his contribution to his pension.
And in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, and the Pension Rights of Judges Act, he is entitled to a minimum lifetime pension of N21,145,551.6 (Twenty One Million, One Hundred and Forty-Five Thousand, Five Hundred and Fifty-One Naira, Six Kobo).
In addition, the retired judge says that upon his retirement in June 2021, he is entitled to be paid and to receive 300% of his annual basic salary while in office by virtue of the Certain Political, Public, and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, Amendment Act of 2008.
He says that despite these abundantly clear and instructive provisions of the Law, the Lagos State Government, which he sued as the first defendant, has failed to comply strictly with the provisions of the constitution and the Pensions Rights of Judges in ensuring that his pension and other entitlements as well as severance gratuity are paid in accordance with the extant laws.
Apart from the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Attorney General, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Moyosore Onigbanjo, the Lagos State Judicial Service Commission, and the National Judicial Council (NJC) are also joined as defendants in the suit.
The retired judges insisted that it is the duty of the Governor of Lagos to pay the pension, severance, and retirement entitlements of a retired judge, a duty which arises from the fact that the Governor is the appointing authority and duty which has been so declared by the 4th defendant, the NJC by a letter addressed to all heads of courts in Nigeria dated 20th Nov 2009.
Justice Candide-Johnson also submitted that by a letter dated 13th Jan. 2021, the 3rd defendant, the Lagos State Judicial Service Commission wrote him a letter undertaking to pay the retirement benefits while requesting several documents which he promptly made available on the 17th of Jan, 2021.
By his last monthly payslip, his monthly salary and other consolidated allowances stood at N749,166.66 (Seven Hundred and Forty-Nine Thousand, One Hundred and Sixty Six Naira, Sixty-Six Kobo) net earnings, and N561,777.64(Five Hundred and Sixty One Thousand, Seven Hundred and Seventy-Seven Naira, Sixty Four Kobo.
He stated further that the annual salary of one of his domestic staff is N600,000.00 at N50,000 monthly. The retired judge also said he received the sum of N5,414,220.00(Five Million, Four Hundred and Fourteen Thousand, Two Hundred and Twenty Million Naira) as furniture allowance on May 26, 2021.
Thus the annual salary of four of the claimant domestic staff is N2,400,000.00 (Two Million Four Hundred Thousand Naira).
When the matter came up in court today before Justice Maureen Esowe, the counsel representing the Governor and the Attorney-General made an application asking the court to strike out the names of the two from the suit for non-disclosure of a cause of action against them.
In documents put before the court, they stated that “The administration and payment of pension of retired judicial officers have been transferred to the third defendant pursuant to the Pension Right of Lagos State Judicial Officers Law Ch.P3, Volume 9, Laws of Lagos State 2015 with no role assigned to the Ist (Governor) and 2nd (AG) defendants”.
They also stated that the claimant belongs to the third arm of government, the judiciary, which has been constitutionally bestowed with its independence and financial autonomy that is sacrosanct.
In its defence, the third defendant, the State Judicial Service Commission (JSC) urged the court to dismiss the suit as it is vexatious and lacks merit.
It admitted requesting documents from the retired judge to process his retirement benefits but vehemently denies undertaking to pay.
It also stated that the Certain Political, Public, and Judicial Officers(Salaries and Allowances)(Amendment) Act 2008 is a federal law that is not applicable because it has not been duplicated in Lagos State, and therefore, the claimant is not entitled to it.
While the JSC agreed that it is the responsibility of the governor to pay pension and gratuity, it however maintained that payment of severance benefits does not form part of the retirement benefits and as such, the claimant is not entitled to it.
The JSC also stated that the delay in the payment of the claimant and other affected retired judges’ benefits is due to administrative impediments as the commission is working earnestly with other agencies of the state government to ensure that the claimant and other affected retired judges receive their entitlements in good time after all administrative issues must have been resolved.
It stated further that “appropriate representations have been made to the Ist defendant to resolve the matter in line with the proposal submitted by the 3rd defendant”, adding that it was while efforts and processes were ongoing that the claimant filed this suit”.
It, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the suit as it is vexatious and lacks merit.
Justice Esowe has adjourned till April 6, 2022, to hear the pending applications.