A former senate president and Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki, has admitted that he got N252 million from the Kwara State Government to build a five-bedroom duplex for himself.
The money was not even enough to build the house, Mr Saraki said, saying he added his own money, to complete it.
He said the money was justified as it was backed by a Kwara State law that he put in place while he was governor.
Mr Saraki, a two-term governor, led the state between 2003 and 2011. He was elected senator in 2011 and elected the eighth senate president in 2015. He left the Senate in 2019.
The N252 million is part of the Kwara funds the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accused Mr Saraki of diverting.
He is accused of diverting not less than N10 billion from the state coffers.
The former governor has denied any wrongdoing.
The anti-graft agency has also insisted that the two Ilorin houses belonging to Saraki must be forfeited to the federal government because they were built with funds allegedly stolen from the coffers of Kwara State.
EFCC made the request before Justice Rilwan Akikawa of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday.
In his defence, Mr Saraki agreed that one of the houses EFCC wants to be forfeited was built, partly, with the N250 million provided him by the state government.
Mr Saraki’s spokesperson, Yusuph Olaniyonu, explained his principal’s stance in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Friday.
According to him, the five-bedroom duplex was built in line with the provision of the Governor and Deputy Governor (Payment of Pension) Law 2010 of Kwara State, which provided N252.2 million for the building of a five-bedroom Duplex for Mr Saraki as a two-term governor.
“…The lawyers also told the court that in line with the provision of the Governor and Deputy Governor (Payment of Pension) Law 2010 of Kwara State, the State Government provided N252.2 million for the building of a five bedroom Duplex for Saraki as a two-term Governor of the State and he added his personal money to enable him fund the construction of the property in question.”
“The personal fund came from earnings from companies in which Dr. Saraki has statutorily declared that he has substantial and controlling interests. Also, the financial contribution Dr. Saraki made to the construction of the house in question was made in installments over several years after he left office as Governor,” Mr Olaniyonu wrote.
The counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, on Thursday, maintained that as long as Mr Saraki failed to explain how he came about the over N700 million, which he added to the N252.2m to develop the houses, the houses were liable to forfeiture.
The houses had earlier been part of the subject of Mr Saraki’s arraignment at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), which acquitted him in 2017.
Law for ‘retirement package’
The law, on which Mr Saraki based his defence, was enacted in 2010 while he was still in power.
In 2010, Kwara State under Mr Saraki, enacted a law which gives former governors of the state two cars and a security car, a 5-bedroom duplex, furniture allowance of 300 per cent of his salary; five personal staff, three security operatives, free medical care for the governor and the deputy, 30 per cent of salary for car maintenance, 20 per cent for utility, 10 per cent for entertainment, 10 per cent for house maintenance.
Mr Saraki benefitted from the law after he left office, with many critics saying he essentially put such largesse in place for himself after office.
A lawyer, however, explained that since it had become law, any former governor, including Mr Saraki could benefit from it.
Adeola Ademuwagun, a legal practitioner at Falana Chambers, explained that although Mr Saraki could have influenced the passage of the law, the provisions of the law remain sacrosanct.
“Irrespective of the time the law was passed, anyone can benefit from it – not excluding the governor who was in power at that time,” he told PREMIUM TIMES on Friday.
Nevertheless, in 2018, Mr Saraki’s successor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, called for the amendment of the law. The amendment was to suspend the entitlements while the erstwhile governors and their deputies hold new political or public offices.
The passage of the amendment bill followed a public outcry that former governors’ pensions were a fiscal burden on the states and that some of them were receiving it even while holding other public offices.
In Mr Saraki’s case, he received the N252 million even while receiving the salaries and allowances of a serving senator.
What the N252 Million could have done in Kwara
Before the new minimum wage of N30,000 was approved last year, Nigeria’s minimum wage was N18,000.
The N252 million Mr Saraki received to build the house could have paid the salaries of 14,000 civil servants on the minimum wage.
The money could have also been used to build tens of primary healthcare centres or schools in deprived Kwara communities that lack such facilities.
Kwara State, like many other states in Nigeria, is yet to make public the exact amount spent on the pension of its ex-officials.
Mr Saraki’s money only became public following investigation by the EFCC.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in January filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court, Abuja, asking the court to order the 36 state governors to publish a breakdown of pensions being paid to former governors and other ex-officials under their respective state pension laws between 1999 and 2019.
SERAP also sought a declaration that “the failure of the 36 state governors to provide SERAP with the requested information on pension law in their respective states as requested constitutes a breach of SERAP’s right under the FoI Act, 2011, and for such further order(s) the court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.”
SERAP, in the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/19/2020, had written a Freedom of Information letter to all state governments requesting for details of the pensions paid to their ex-governors.
The rights organisation revealed that only two governors — Delta State’s Ifeanyi Okowa and Kwara State’s Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq — have responded to its FoI requests.
“Governor Abdulrazaq provided a copy of the pension law and list of former governors and ex-officials receiving pensions in Kwara State under the state’s Governor and Deputy Governor (Payment of Pension) Law, 2010, naming Cornelius O. Adebayo; Mohammed Shaaba Lafiagi; Sayomi Simon Adediji; Bukola Saraki; and Ogundeji Joel Afolabi as recipients of life pensions in the state.
“However, the governor did not state the amounts that have so far been collected, and whether the state would pursue recovery of the pensions paid.
“Both Okowa and Abdulrazaq did not in their responses make any commitment to repeal the pension laws in their states and to seek refund of the pensions already collected by former governors and other ex-officials.”
SERAP said that the suit is in the national interest, public welfare, public interest, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability, adding that there is no justifiable reason for the governors to refuse to provide SERAP with the details of payment of pensions and other related information requested.