Court Asks SERAP to Commence Proceedings to Compel N’Assembly to Disclose Members’ Earnings

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By Tobi Soniyi in Lagos

A Federal High Court in Lagos has given the  Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) leave for judicial review and an order of mandamus  compelling the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu   Dogara, to account for the spending of the running cost and disclose the monthly income and allowances of each senator and member.

A statement by SERAP said Justice Rilwan Aikawa gave the ruling last Friday.

  “I have looked at the papers filed by SERAP and I am satisfied that leave ought to be granted in this case,” the judge reportedly said.

If the case succeeds, it could help Nigerians to know how the National Assembly spent N500 billion as running cost between 2006 and 2016.

However, courts do not grant an order of mandamus as a matter of course. The respondents also have the option of challenging the judgment on appeal.

The case also asks the court to compel the leadership of the National Assembly to disclose monthly allowances of each 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 in December 2016 followed allegation by Abdulmumin Jibrin that  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.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo also alleged that each senator went home with nothing less than N15million monthly while each member received nothing less than N10million 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  December 12, 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.”

SERAP argued that by virtue of Section 1(1) of the FOI Act 2011, it was 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.

It said: “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 seven 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 submitted that Section 4(a) of the FOI Act 2011 was 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 permitted an exemption or derogation from the duty to disclose.