An Abuja Federal High Court has ordered the National Assembly to release, in 14 days, details of the salary, emolument, and allowances received by its members between 2007 and 2011.
Justice B.B. Aliyu gave the ruling, on Monday, in a suit filed by Legal Defense and Assistance Project (LEDAP), a non-governmental orgainsation.
LEDAP had last year written to the National Assembly management to furnish it with details of payments made to lawmakers. The NGO made the request on July 6, 2011, citing the Freedom of Information Act which was signed into law in May 2011.
In a manner characteristic of government agencies, the National Assembly refused to respond to the group’s request.
Following the refusal by the NASS management, LEDAP filed its suit in September last year seeking two reliefs which were: an order declaring that the refusal of NASS’ management to provide the required information was illegal; and an order mandating the NASS management to release the required information within 14 days.
Mr. Aliyu granted both orders.
Yusuf Usman, counsel to the National Assembly, argued that legislators earnings were beyond the purview of the FOI, and that LEDAP had no locus standi to institute the suit.
In giving his ruling, Mr. Aliyu disagreed with the National Assembly lawyers, saying the payments are of public interest since they were made from public funds.
Mr. Aliyu’s ruling is a clear distinction from that made by Yetunde Idowu of a Lagos High Court. Ms. Idowu had ruled that salaries and allowances of lawmakers were personal information, and not covered under the FOI act; in a suit filed by an NGO against the Lagos State House of Assembly.
Nigerian lawmakers are considered the highest paid lawmakers in the world with each Senator believed to be getting a quarterly sum of N45 million and each member of the lower house, N36million.
These sums are outside their legally approved salaries and allowances.
Chino Obiagwu, counsel to LEDA said his client would not relent until all the illegal allowances collected by lawmakers between 2007 and 2011 were returned.
“Legislators are those who made the law on how much each public officer should be paid in salary and allowances. They are liable to refund any excess money collected beyond approved sum, and we will pursue this issue in the courts until all unlawful overpayments to the legislators of the 6th Assembly are repaid to public coffers.” Mr. Obiagwu said.
The Director of Information of the National Assembly, Monia Daminabo, has expressed the willingness of the assembly to comply with the ruling.
“We are going to comply exactly in line with the court order,” said Mr. Daminabo, who categorized the controversial earnings of the lawmakers as “operational expenses.”