Excess pay refund: Supreme Court shelves hearing in Okonjo-Iweala’s appeal

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Excess pay refund: Supreme Court shelves hearing in Okonjo-Iweala’s appeal

The Supreme Court has put off hearing in the appeal filed by former Finance Minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iwuala against a judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, ordering her and others to refund the excess salary they allegedly earned under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

In suspending hearing in the appeal, the apex court noted irregularities in the number assigned to it, which is similar to the one assigned to another appeal filed in the name of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who was also ordered, in the Appeal Court verdict, to recover the excess money paid to Okonjo-Iweala and ex-Foreign Affair Minister, Olu Adeniji.

At the mention of the appeal, on Monday, Chinasa Onyegbunam announced appearance for the appellant (Okonjo-Iweala); another lawyer, Chima Okereke, announced appearance for the second respondent.

Okereke said his client also had an appeal with similar number.

When the court queried him on this, the lawyer said his appeal was filed on August 17, 2007, while Onyegbunam told the court that her client’s appeal was filed on August 21, 2007.

On why an appeal was filed in the name of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Okereke said: “My client and the Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala were asked to refund some money and the Federal Government was criticised for over-paying certain ministers.”

Clement Onwuenwunor, who appeared for the first respondent – the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) – confirmed noticing the irregularities in the numbering of the appeals.

and that he planned to file an application for his name to be substituted with another.

Justice Mary Odili, who led a five-man panel of the Supreme Court on Monday, wondered why lawyers in the matter did not earlier rectify the error in the appeals’ numbering.

In a ruling, Justice Odili held that there was confusion about the appeal number and other issues.

“Parties are to proceed to the court’s Registry to sort out all pending issues. This appeal is October 27, 2020, for hearing of all pending applications,” she said.

Also on the panel were: Justices Olukayode Ariwoola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, John Okoro and Amina Augie.

Following her appointment as minister in 2003, the Federal Government paid Okonjo-Iweala about $240,000 in foreign currency, while Adeniji was paid $120,000.

Angered by the development, Fawehimi challenged the government’s decision and filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Abuja.

He claimed, among others, that paying the ministers in foreign currency was illegal.

At the Federal High Court, Justice Binta Nyako struck out the case on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to challenge government’s decision.

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the decision by the Federal High Court and ordered the ministers to refund what was paid to them in excess of what was allowed under the law.

The Court of Appeal also held that the payment of the ministers in U.S dollar violated “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances) Act Number 6 of 2002,” but deemed to have come into effect on May 29, 1999.