Apr 19, 2016

Ibrahim Abdullahi vs. National Pension Commission & ARM Pension Limited (FHC/ABJ/CS/22/16) by: Kehinde Okunola

Brief Facts:
The Applicant was an employee of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, but whose employment was terminated at some point. He maintains a Retirement Savings Account with the 2nd Respondent (ARM Pensions) in line with the provisions of the Pension Reform Act 2014 and had his Pension contribution remitted into his RSA in line with extant laws of the Contributory Pension Scheme. He sustained an eye injury at the time of his employment and which condition according to him had deteriorated before and after the termination of his employment.

He forwarded an application to the 2nd respondent to allow him access to the balance in his RSA to fund the medical treatment. The 2nd respondent had in compliance with the provisions of the PRA 2014 earlier paid him 25% of the sum in the RSA, flowing from which his subsequent request to access the outstanding balance was denied by the 2nd Respondent (ARM Pensions).

The Applicant (Ibrahim Abdullahi) claimed that this refusal was a breach of his Fundamental Human Right as enshrined in Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Right (Ratification & Enforcement) Act, Cap 10, LFN, 1990; hence he brought an application to enforce his Fundamental Human Rights under the Fundamental Human Right (Enforcement Procedure) Rules.

 Learning Points:

·         Jurisdiction:
This matter was instituted at Federal High Court by the applicant on the authority of Section 34(1) of the 1999 constitution praying the court to enforce his fundamental human rights under the Fundamental Human Rights(Enforcement Procedure) Rules. Being that the matter was brought under Section 34(1) of the 1999 constitution, the Federal High Court will automatically have jurisdiction to determine the suit. However, by virtue of section 254C (1) of the Constitution (Third Alteration) Act, 2010, which conferred jurisdiction on National Industrial Court, disputes arising from payment or nonpayment of pensions is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court.

 Pre-Action Notice
The Pre-action notice requirement under Section 109(1) of the PRA 2014 is only applicable where the suit is brought against any of its officers as mentioned in that section and does not in any way extend to suits brought against the National Pension Commission.
 Fundamental Objective of the Scheme
The fundamental objective of the Contributory Pension Scheme is as stated in Section 1 (1) (c) of the PRA 2014 which is to ensure that every person who works receive their retirement benefits as and when due. ‘the regime which the PRA 2014 introduces in Nigeria is not a medical health insurance scheme.” Per Nnamdi O. Dimgba J. (Ibrahim Abdullahi V National Pension Commission & Arm Pension Limited).

The relationship between a Pension Fund Administrator and a RSA holderis contractual, specifically a statutory contract. This contract is governed by an Act of the National assembly and attempts to vary the terms of the contract as statutorily mandated will be null, void and ultra-vires. “Sums are only accessible as provided by the PRA, and the Applicant has already taken the maximum benefit permissible under the circumstances that he had found himself” Per Nnamdi O. Dimgba J. (Ibrahim Abdullahi V National Pension Commission & Arm Pension Limited).

 Constitutionality of the Provisions of Section 7 & 16 of the PRA 2014
The premise of the argument of the applicant in the case of Ibrahim Abdullahi V National Pension Commission & Arm Pensions Limited is that Sections 7 & 16 of the PRA is unconstitutional as they violate fundamental rights. In what can be termed a landmark judgment and a possible Locus Classicus on the subject matter, the learned judge (Nnamdi Odimgba J.) in resolving this affirmed the provisions of the PRA 2014 thus; “…the premise of the argument to wit,…is flawed…in any event the law is pretty settled that fundamental rights are not absolute, and that their enjoyment is always subject to laws reasonably justifiable in a human society…
 Access to RSA on medical grounds
It is trite that access to the Retirement Savings Account on medical grounds can only be in line with the PRA 2014 and any attempt to circumvent these provisions is unlawful as enunciated in the decision of Nnamdi O. Dimgba J. (Ibrahim Abdullahi V National Pension Commission & Arm Pension Limited)
“I do not agree that the circumstances of this suit fall within the contemplation of suits that can be brought through the fundamental human rights enforcement procedure. I am more inclined to the view that resort to the fundamental human rights procedure here is done in an abusive way to circumvent compliance with a requirement in the pension law, or to avoid complying with an obligation in a statutory contract. As much as I share some sympathy for the present life challenge of the Applicant, this practice must be deprecated.”

It is highly commendable that the court in this matter dispensed the carrot and sticks within an unprecedented timeframe as issues before his lordship were dealt with timeously. In conclusion, the learned judge having adumbrated the ratio decidendi (reasons for the decision) came to an inevitable conclusion that the applicant’s application lacks merit and no order as to costs was made.

Ed's Note: This article was published by the author on 15th April, 2016 on www.linkedin.com via https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ibrahim-abdullahi-v-national-pension-commission-arm-limited-okunola?trk=prof-post