A pensioner in his eighties was sued for pension overpayment. Here is how the court ruled!

A pensioner in his eighties was sued for pension overpayment. Here is how the court ruled!

Instituting a lawsuit as the plaintiff/claimant does not mean you will win the case as you may also end up losing the case to the defendant.

 

The court has to hear from both sides. It has to be decided by the Judge based on merit and evidence provided. In the end, it may be in your favor or not.

 

The plaintiff has the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt and the facts must be established beyond a reasonable doubt, reports Nairametrics

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In this case, the judge held that the defendant (Mr Abednego Onuaguluchi) who counter-claimed got all the issues in the dispute resolved in his favour, while the main claimant (Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate) lost.

 

The claimant’s case

The claimant (PTAD) submitted that it is a federal public authority set up pursuant to Section 42(1) of the Pension Reform Act, 2014 [PRA] to compute and pay the retirement benefits of retirees and, attend to related complaints under the Defined Benefit Scheme [DBS].

 

It noted that the defendant is a public pensioner, after retiring from the federal military and receives N86,215.84 monthly.

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According to PTAD, the defendant worked from November 1974 to March 1976 in the public service of the defunct East Central State for 1year 4months and was entitled to his share of federal pension in 2002.

 

Following the defendant’s disengagement from the Army in June 1985, he was absorbed into the Anambra State Public Service on March 1, 1985, and on February 5, 1997, he was appointed Director-General [DG]. On January 25, 1999, he was a Permanent Secretary [PS] in the Enugu State Public Service and retired on June 1, 1999.

 

The defendant served cumulatively for 22years in both the Anambra and Enugu States civil services and was entitled to the sum of N99,678.06.which he was being paid by the Enugu state pension.

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In 2015, PTAD carried out an audit exercise and uncovered a lot of discrepancies in pension pay rolls and consequently suspended the pension accounts with discrepancies pending verification of which the defendant was one of them.

 

PTAD alleged that it overpaid the defendant his share of federal pension between September 2006 and July 2015 which amounted to N16,479,218.99.

 

The defendant submitted his documents for verification and was offered an explanation of why his pension was suspended due to an overpayment issue.

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PTAD alleged that the defendant knew that he was not entitled to more than 300% percent of his state pension, as federal share but failed to report the overpayments.

 

The defendant promised to come up with a repayment plan but reneged with the claims that the computation he was given was not correct as he retired as a permanent secretary.

 

On August 31, 2017, the defendant visited the claimant to file a complaint for the re-activation of his pension stating that he used the overpayment to treat his sick wife.

 

PTAD said it later wrote the defendant reminding him of the repayment but he again made complaints that his pension was wrongly computed on GL 17 instead of PS.

 

It told the court that the various increments to the pension, brought the pension to N1,275,400.32 cumulative, against the cumulative N17,754,619.31 received from 2002 to 2021.

 

The claimant submitted that they filed the suit as all efforts to retrieve the money failed.

 

Reliefs sought by claimant

  • The sum of N16,479,218.99 is the total Federal pension overpayment made to the Defendant between September 2006 to July 2015 which the Defendant failed, refused and/or neglected to refund.
  • Interest on the said N16,479,218.99 at the rate of 15% per annum from July 2015 until judgment is delivered in this suit; and
  • Interest on the Judgment debt at the rate of 10% per annum from the date judgment is delivered until the entire judgment sum is fully liquidated by the defendant.
  • Cost of the suit.

 

The Defendant’s case

The defendant counter pleaded that the claimant only had the mandate to pay the pensions inherited but not to redo the computation of the pension, which had already been settled.

 

He said any reconciliation had to be cleared with the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation [OHOSF], which did the computation in the first instance.

 

He submitted that the claimant did not give him a fair hearing, as he was not issued any query to explain his position and was also not placed on half pension but outright stoppage of his pension from 2015 till June 9, 2022.

 

He told the court that he became entitled to federal pension on June 1, 1999, with effect from May 22, 1962, and that he was paid some ex-gratia based on rank as at 1970 with effect from May 29, 2000, in 2008.

 

According to him, he did not knowingly conceal any overpayment as he submitted all documents required by the appropriate authorities before his entitlement was computed.

 

He said the claimant lacked the expertise being claimed, as she did her computation based on the wrong GL 17, instead of PS.

 

He averred that the E-PMS was issued to him after submission of all relevant documents like all other pensioners and had been in use for long before the claimant came into existence in 2014 and tried to reverse payments made over eleven years earlier from 2002–2013.

 

He said the claimant secretly obtained and used his bank statements instead of the records kept by the OHOSF to arrive at her wrong computation.

 

He noted that he was never forwarded the record of payments and auditor’s queries for his reaction.

 

He said he was at no time remorseful and promised to repay but the claimant had promised to restore his pension the following month after his complaint but failed to do so.

 

He argued that the claimant’s failure to clear any alleged error on the E-PMS with the OHOSF, who issued it, before stopping his pension was fatal.

 

He said he PTAD that it was unfair to stop his pension when he had to attend to his sick wife.

 

He, therefore, counter pleaded that the claimant could not rely on the computation of the State Auditor-General when the policy in existence is that, any share above an integer is approximated to the next and, with amnesty seniority reverted to the date of employment in 1962.

 

He said a state Perm sec. is paid in accordance with State Salary Scale and not federal and that some approved parameters were omitted in the computation that PTAD made.

 

He alleged that the claimant’s earlier pleadings and written deposition were contradictory and showed deceit and lies and that, the N16, 181.79 in 2002 was justified by constant official increment granted pensioners.

 

He said the claimant was attempting to arm-twist and intimidate him into abandoning his pension just like some pensioners have been forced to.

 

Under the counterclaim, he noted that his pension, as enrolled by the OHOSF, increased from N16,181.79 in 2002 gradually to N328,165.34 by June 2015, taking into cognizance some approved parameters, applicable to PS and wages reviews by the government.

 

He said even though the claimant, who claimed to resume duty in 2013, paid him till 2015 when she stopped his pension in July.

 

He told the court that the office of the HOS challenged the claimant’s action of stopping his pension without reverting to her.

 

Consequently, he sought the following reliefs in his counterclaim.

  • The sum of N17,064,597.68 being his aggregate or total monthly pension arrears due to him from July 2015 to October 2019 at the rate of N328,165.34 per month which was unjustly withheld by the claimant.
  • The sum of N328,165.34 per month from November 2019 or the upward review of the same for pensioners as determined by the Federal Government from time to time until the determination of this suit.
  • 10% post-judgment interest upon the sum as shall be awarded by the court.
  • The sum of Two Million Naira being the cost of litigation as solicitor’s legal fees in the prosecution of defence and counterclaim (Receipts shall be provided).

 

What the judge ruled

After listening to submissions and arguments from both parties, Justice Oluwakayode Ojo Arowosegbe ruled as follows;

The judge held that “The defendant-counterclaimant won issue 1 while the claimant-defendant lost it. I reiterate too that, the defendant’s counterclaimant also won issue 2 while the claimant-defendant lost it. The defendant’s counterclaimant won in both measures. I reiterate the reliefs granted as follows:

(a) The sum of Seventeen Million, Sixty-four Thousand, Five Hundred and Ninety-Seven Naira, Sixty Eight Kobo (N17,064,597.68) being his aggregate or total monthly pension arrears due to him from July 2015 to October 2019 at the rate of N328,165.34 per month which is unjustly withheld by the claimant.

 

(b) The sum of N328,165.34 per month from November 2019 or the upward review of the same for pensioners as determined by the Federal Government from time to time until determination of this suit.

 

(c) 10% post-judgment simple interest per annum upon the sums awarded in this suit.

 

(d) The sum of N500 thousand only as costs of this action.

 

(e) Thirty-day moratorium to comply with the judgment, failing which the 10% simple interest per annum shall begin to count, till the judgment sums are fully liquidated.

 

The above is the judgment of the Court on this suit. The judgment is entered accordingly.”

 

Note: When there is a counter-claim, then the main plaintiff becomes a defendant that is why the judge referred to Claimant as claimant-defendant.

 

Basis for judgement

The two issues for determination from the claimant and the defendant were;

  • Whether the claimant has proved her claim against the defendant? and
  • Whether the defendant has proved his counterclaim and entitled to judgment?

The judge held that he agrees with the defense counsel that the claimant failed woefully to prove her case.

 

The judge said all the amount calculations done were not even necessary but were done to show that the claimant was wrong on all fronts.

 

The judge said “It is clear that the case of the claimant has gaping holes that left much to be desired for a touted specialized public agency.

 

“I think I need to point out to the claimant for the benefits of the public pension management that, in more responsible nations around the world, issues of public and private pensions are considered a very serious specialization that a full-fledged profession.”

 

He said the claimant failed to show how the initial pension of N249,233.19 contained in Exhibit C3, was wrong.

 

The way by which the claimant abruptly and arbitrarily stopped the defendant’s pension completely without first notifying him of the alleged overpayment, and now, for over 7 years, is definitely wicked, harsh and uncivilised.

 

The claimant intended that the defendant, a pensioner, in his eighties, should starve to death! There is even evidence that the claimant’s wife, who is very sick, has her pension stopped too see Exhibit D2.

 

“Even penal laws recognise that a human being must not be totally deprived of means of livelihood or means to the basic necessaries of life, like feeding and clothing, without which a person would starve to death.

 

“If the claimant felt the defendant was overpaid, the reasonable thing was to revert his pension to what she considered the right pension, and not to totally stop it, so that, the defendant could starve to death!

 

The judge said “Even banks, strictly commercial institutions, recognise bad debts, and the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act, a law for the enforcement of judgments, recognises the need to give immunity to the basic necessaries, like means to earn a living and clothing, in the execution of judgments – see S. 25 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act.

 

“Looking at the time it took the claimant to realise the alleged overpayment, which spanned more than a decade [2002-2015], it is definitely a stale claim that no equitable tribunal would assist the claimant to enforce. If it took the claimant, a statutory body that is supposed to be made up of experts that constantly review pension, more than a decade to unearth overpayment, the Court ought not to assist them to recover it.

 

“Where does the claimant want the defendant to get the money for the repayment of a whopping N16Million and above, being required of him for an error for which she and her predecessor are totally responsible! No bad faith could be traced to the defendant in the instant scenario.

 

“The right of the defendant remains unscathed, and his arrears of pensions withheld, must be paid and his pension right restored. I so find and hold.

 

“It follows that the claimant-defendant to the CC loses issue 2, while the defendant-counterclaimant takes the trophy, “ the judge ruled.

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