Hon. Justice Nelson Ogbuanya sitting in Portharcourt Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court has granted an Order of Mandamus, directing the National Pension Commission (PenCom) to furnish Retired Police Officers and the Nigeria Police Force Pensions Ltd, the detailed Template to use for calculating and payment of their category of Pension, being retirees of the Nigerian Police Force, within one (1) month of this Judgment.
The Court further ordered the Nigeria Police Force Pensions Ltd, being a Pension Fund Administrator, licensed and operating under the Pension Reform Act upon receipt of the said Template from the National Pension Commission, to use the said Template and work out the detailed percentage of the Applicants’ accrued gratuity and pension benefits; indicating the formulae of how each of the retired police officers’ pension and gratuity benefits were calculated with payments made or due, and furnish same to them through their Solicitors, within 3 months, and Copies of the said Template and Calculations shall be filed in the casefile for record of compliance.
The Court held that the 1999 Constitution (as Amended) guarantees the retired officers’ entitlement to pension and gratuity, and they can lawfully demand for the template used in calculating their pension and gratuity, particularly when there are complaints of discrepancies and errors; and awarded the sum of N1m each against the National Pension Commission and the Nigeria Police Force Pension Ltd, in favour of the Retired Police Officers Association as cost of action.
From facts, the Applicants- Rtd DSP Benoni Amon and 4 others who are retired police officers and members of the Retired Police Officers Association, Rivers State Branch, instituted the case for themselves and as representatives of the 142 aggrieved members of the Retired Police Officers Association, Rivers State Branch, against the National Pension Commission and the Nigeria Police Force Pension Ltd, for failure to provide them with template and details of calculation of their gratuity and pension payments, which they alleged to be inaccurate and marred with observable anomalies and shrouded in secrecy.
They averred that they had pleaded with the Pencom and Nigeria Police Force Pensions Ltd to address the issue as they live in abject poverty as a result of the underpayment of their terminal benefits, but all were to no avail.
In defence, the National Pension Commission challenged the jurisdiction of the Court on the ground of alleged incompetence of the suit for being filed outside 3 months statutory period stipulated under the Public Officers Protection Act (POPA), and being academic as the Applicants have been paid their terminal benefits, and an explanation was earlier made to them as they requested.
The Nigeria Police Force Pensions Ltd contended that an Order of Mandamus cannot be made against her, not being a public body, and urged the court to strike out its name and award a punitive cost of N50m against the Applicants.
In opposition, the Retired Police Personnel counsel Ola Faro Esq. averred that the suit is not academic, but meritorious and appropriate for judicial review, being a suit bordering on issues of accurate payment of pension, and the responses made by the Respondents were unsatisfactory as the template they requested were not released to them.
In a well-considered Judgment, the Presiding Judge, Justice Nelson Ogbuanya after careful evaluation affirmed the jurisdiction of the Court and dismissed the objection for lacking merit, and held that the date of commencement of the suit was just barely one month of the cause of action, and certainly far within the 3 month-period provided for by both the POPA and Judicial Review Rules of the Court, more so, as POPA is not applicable to employment- related claims.
The Court further held that the National Pension Commission who is laced with the statutory authority to take charge and render effective service in supervision of the use of appropriate Template for calculating pensioners’ terminal benefits cannot shy away by shifting the responsibility to the Police Force Pensions Ltd who apparently is not much trusted by the Applicants.
Justice Ogbuanya ruled that the failure of the National Pension Commission to attach the pension and gratuity template and formulae in their response letters entitles the Applicants to seek legal redress in this Court, by way of judicial review for an Order of Mandamus directing them to furnish them with the said template to aid their enquiry over the acute shortfall and discrepancies in the payment of their pension and gratuity earnings.
Justice Ogbuanya while agreeing with the stance taken by the Police Force Pensions Ltd that it cannot be issued with an Order of Mandamus, not being a public body, however, held that the Police Force Pensions Ltd performs statutory duty under the Pension Reform Act, and therefore a necessary party to this suit, and appropriate orders can be made against it.