Mr Femi Falana
Onwuka Nzeshi in Abujaâ€¨
Legal luminary and human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), Thursday challenged members of the National Assembly to declare publicly their pay package to prove or dispel the widely held perception that they are the richest parliamentarians in the world.
Falana spoke in Abuja at a special parliamentary session to mark the second anniversary of the seventh House of Representatives; an event that attracted members of the academia, civil society groups, human rights activists, traditional rulers as well as former presiding officers of the House.
The demand came just as some eminent politicians warned against the consequences of absence of internal democracy among political parties in Nigeria.
Falana said over the last two years, the federal legislators had suffered so much from poor public perception and it was in their own interest to be transparent about what they earn.
He said last year, while the National Assembly drew N150 billion from the national budget, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), had N300 billion as its budget.
According to Falana, given the lifestyle of the legislators and the way their constituents swarm around them seeking favours, many Nigerians believe the statement credited to an eminent scholar, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), that the members of the National Assembly were the highest paid legislators in the world.
“In order to end the diversionary controversy on the matter I had, in Femi Falana Vs National Assembly, challenged the constitutional validity of the jumbo emoluments of federal legislators. But the Federal High Court upheld the objection of the defendants that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to maintain the suit.
“While I was ruminating over the verdict, the same court directed the defendant in LEPAD vs National Assembly to disclose the details of the salary and allowances of members of the National Assembly to Nigerians in line with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011,” he said.
Falana lamented that rather than complying with the judgment, the National Assembly had curiously taken the matter to the Court of Appeal.
He urged the National Assembly to exhibit transparency and maturity on the issue to lay to rest the jumbo pay controversy.
He said the House had done well in the last two years but must guard against the incursion of reactionary forces who might want to break its ranks.
Falana who also commented on the recent emergency rule declared in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, endorsed the position of the House on the proclamation.
According to him, the lower chamber was right when it rejected the clause which sought to give President Goodluck Jonathan access to the statutory allocations of the three troubled states.
“The House of Representatives deserves kudos for striking out the provisions of the emergency regulations which had empowered the president to spend the statutory allocations of the affected states and local governments on prosecuting the war against terror. The decision of the House cannot be faulted on the authority of the case of Attorney-General of Lagos State v Attorney-General of the Federation (2005) 2 WRN 1, where the Supreme Court held that the president has no power or control whatsoever over funds allocated to local governments under section 162 of the Constitution,” he added.
He also commended the decision of the National Assembly to insist on the full implementation of the nation’s budget, saying the resolution was in line with the tenets of the rule of law.
Earlier, Speaker of the House, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, had rendered an account of his stewardship in the last two years. According to him, 512 were presented to the chamber during the period and all of the bills had passed first readings.
Similarly, Tambuwal said 60 bills had been passed into law, while one 134 were undergoing legislative action, having undergone second reading and were at the committee stage.
Some of the bills passed include NNDC Statutory Appropriation Act; State of the Nation Address Act; Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act; and Terrorism (Prevention) Act.
Furthermore, Tambuwal said over 700 motions were raised on the floor and resolutions passed on matters of concern to the citizens such as national disasters, communal violence, governmental oppression, among others.
In a goodwill message to the House, Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, commended the lawmakers for their innovative approach to the review of the 1999 Constitution.
She said the public sessions held across the 360 federal constituencies took legislation closer to the people.
Former Speaker of the House, Alhaji Ghali Na’Abba, who spoke shortly after, harped on the need for internal democracy in political parties in Nigeria, adding that internal democracy would ensure fairness and competitiveness in the leadership recruitment process.
He decried the situation where the political parties have jettisoned primary elections and resorted to dashing party tickets to whomsoever the party godfathers chose.
He condemned the practice where an elected president or governor becomes the leader of his party while the leadership of the party becomes puppets in hands of an individual.