By OLA MODUPE
There is prospect that Nigerians keen on knowing how exactly the National Assembly is run may soon have some answers.
This followed the victory by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in the latest round in the legal battle to compel the Senate President Dr Bukola Sakari and Speaker of the House of Representatives Mr Dogara Yakubu to account for the spending of N500 billion as running cost for the legislative body between 2006 and 2016, and disclose monthly allowances of each member.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos on Friday ruled that, “I have looked at the papers filed by SERAP and I am satisfied that leave ought to be granted in this case for judicial review and an order of mandamus directing and compelling Saraki and Dogara to account for the spending of the running cost and disclose the monthly income and allowances of each Senator and member.”
Justice Aikawa granted the order for leave following the hearing of an argument in court on exparte motion by SERAP counsel Ms Bamisope Ibidolapo.
The suit numbers FHC/L/CS/1711/16 and FHC/L/CS/1710/16 filed last December followed disclosure by Abdulmumin Jibrin that Nigerian Senators and House of Representatives members have pocketed N500 billion as ‘running cost’ out of the N1 trillion provided for in the National Assembly budgets between 2006 and 2016, and by former president Olusegun Obasanjo that each Senator goes home with nothing less than N15m monthly while each member receives nothing less than N10m monthly.
The order by Justice Aikawa has now cleared the way for SERAP to advance its case against the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The motion on notice is set for Tuesday 12 December, 2017 for the hearing of argument on why Saraki and Dogara should not be compelled to publish details of the spending on the running of the National Assembly and the exact monthly income and allowances of each Senator and member.
The suits read in part: “Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a democratic society, this is meant to be a norm; it is an apostasy for government to ignore the provisions of the law and the necessary rules made to regulate matters”.
“The Defendants will not suffer any injury or prejudice if the information is released to the members of the public. It is in the interest of justice that the information be released. Unless the reliefs sought herein are granted, the Defendants will continue to be in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, and other statutory responsibilities.”
“Up till the time of filing this action the Defendants/Respondents have failed, neglected and/or refused to make available the information requested by SERAP. The particulars of facts of the failure, negligence and refusal are contained in the verifying affidavit in support of the application and shall be relied upon at the hearing of this application. The Defendants/Respondents have no reason whatsoever to deny SERAP access to the information sought for.”
“By virtue of Section 1(1) of the FOI Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution. Under the FOI, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or agency to whom the application is under a binding legal obligation to provide the Plaintiff/Applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.”
“The information requested for by SERAP relates to information about spending of N500 billion as running cost between 2006 and 2016, and the monthly income and allowances of each Senator and member. The information requested by SERAP does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act. The information requested for, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, bothers on an issue of National interest, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.”
“It is submitted that Section 4(a) of the FOI Act 2011 is a mandatory and absolute provision which imposes a binding legal duty or obligation on a public official, agency or institution to comply with a request for access to public information or records except where the FOI Act expressly permits an exemption or derogation from the duty to disclose. Nigerian courts have consistently held that the use of mandatory words such as “must” and “shall” in a statute is naturally prima facie imperative and admits of no discretion.”
The suits are respectively seeking the following reliefs:
- A DECLARATION that the failure and/or refusal of the Respondents to disclose the spending of N500 billion as running cost between 2006 and 2016, and the monthly income and allowances of each Senator and member amounts to a breach of the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability and violates Articles 9, 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
- A DECLARATION that by virtue of the provisions of Section 1 (1) and Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the Defendants/Respondents are under a binding legal obligation to provide the Plaintiff/Applicant with up to date information on the spending allowances of each Senator and member including: Details of projects on which the N500 billion running cost between 2006 and 2016 were spent.
- AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS directing and or compelling the Defendants/Respondents to provide the Plaintiff/Applicant with up to date information on the spending of N500 billion as running cost between 2006 and 2016, and the monthly income and allowances of each Senator and member including: Details of projects on which the N500 billion running cost between 2006 and 2016 were spent.