In a major boost to the rule of law in Nigeria, the Federal High Court, today in Abuja ordered the Clerk of the National Assembly to release to the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), details of the salaries, emoluments and allowancesthat were collected by national legislators between 2007 and 2011.
In a judgment delivered by Hon Justice B.B. Aliyu in a suit filed by LEDAP, against the leadership of the National Assembly under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), the court held that the law Act permitted the non-governmental organization to demand any public information such as the details of salaries, emoluments and allowances earned by the legislators, being of public interest since they were from public funds.
Last September, LEDAP filed a suit to compel the clerk of NASS to furnish it with the information, claiming that the legislators were overpaid beyond the rate approved by law. LEDAP had earlier written to the clerk of the national Assembly for the information on the earnings of the legislators and demanded refund of overpayments. The request was ignored, leading to the suit.
The National Assembly argued through its counsel, Yunus UstazUsman, that the information requested by LEDAP was not permitted to be released under the FOI, and that the NGO lacked the locus standi to make such request. Overruling the objections, the judge said every citizen is entitled to have access to public information under the FOI Act, and ordered the Clerk of NASS to release the requested information within 14 days of the judgment.
It will be recalled that at the end of the 6th National Assembly in June 2011, it was widely reported that some legislators collected as much as N100m per quarter in allowances, excluding official salaries and emoluments, and that principals officers collected even more.
LEDAP considered the outrageous payment of allowances to legislators beyond the rate allowed by the statute to be unlawful.Through its lawyer, Chino Obiagwu, LEDAP said, “Legislators are those who made the law on how much each public officer should be paid in salary and allowances. It is unlawful and irresponsible for them to break the law and collect for themselves from public coffers much more than permitted by law. They are liable to refund any excess money collected beyond approved sum, and we will pursue this issue in thecourts until all unlawful overpayments to the legislators of the 6thAssembly are repaid to public coffers.”
Today’s judgement, which will have the principal aim of demystifying one aspect of the accounts of the National Assembly, could see many former and serving legislators having to repay vast sums of money.