by Stanley Azuakola
How much do members of the National Assembly earn? What the public knows is mere hear-say, and that’s because the legislators themselves have consistently refused to disclose how much of the nation’s revenue is injected into their salaries and allowances.
Even when a non-governmental organisation, Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) wrote to the National Assembly Management on July 6, 2011, asking it to furnish Nigerians with those details, the assembly ignored the request. The NGO cited the Freedom of Information Act to justify its demand, yet the assembly was unmoved.
Consequently, the group sought judicial intervention. They filed a suit in September 2011, seeking two reliefs namely 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.
On Monday June 25, the Abuja Federal High Court agreed with LEDAP and granted both orders. Jistice B.B. Aliyu who presided ordered the NASS management to release the full details of the salaries, emoluments and allowances which NASS members received between 2007 and 2011.
This ruling directly contradicts that of Justice Yetunde Idowu of a Lagos High Court who had previously ruled that salaries and emoluments of lawmakers were personal information not covered by the FOI act. Justice Idowu made that ruling in a case filed against the Lagos state assembly by another NGO.
However, Justice Aliyu in this suit, said that contrary to the claims of the NASS lawyer that LEDAP has no locus standi to file the suit, they actually did because the payments are made from public funds.
Meanwhile the council to LEDAP, Chino Obiagwu, said that his client would not relent until all the illegal allowances which lawmakers collected between 2007 and 2011 were returned. Obiagwu said that since legislators are the ones who made the law on how much each public office holder should be paid, they are “are liable to refund any excess money collected beyond approved sum.”
Meanwhile the National Assembly, through its Director of Information, Monima Daminabo, has said that it is willing to comply exactly with the court’s ruling.