The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, “over failure to give account of the spending of 500 billion Naira as running cost between 2006 and 2016 and the monthly income and allowances of each Senator and member”.
The suits filed last Friday at the Federal High Court Ikoyi followed two Freedom of Information requests dated November 25, 2016 sent to both Dr Saraki and Mr Dogara.
The group in that request asked the leaders of the National Assembly to “urgently provide information about alleged spending of 500 billion Naira as running cost between 2006 and 2016, and the monthly income and allowances of each Senator and member of the House of Representatives”.
The originating summons, with suit numbers FHC/L/CS/1711/16 and FHC/L/CS/1710/16 respectively, were brought pursuant to section 4(a) of the Freedom of Information Act, and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni.
SERAP’s suits against Dr Saraki and Mr Dogara followed disclosure by Abdulmumin Jibrin that Nigerian Senators and House of Representatives members had pocketed N500 billion as ‘running cost’ out of the one trillion Naira 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 15 million Naira monthly while each member receives nothing less than 10 million Naira monthly.
SERAP is asking the court to determine the question “Whether by virtue of the provision of section 4(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the Defendants are under an obligation to provide the Plaintiff with the information requested for”.
The suits read: “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 seven days after the application is received.
“The information requested for by SERAP relates to information about spending of 500 billion Naira 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.
“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.
“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.
“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 suits are seeking a declaration that the failure and/or refusal of the Respondents to disclose the spending of 500 billion Naira 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.
They are also seeking 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.
SERAP wants 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 500 billion Naira 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 500 billion Naira running cost between 2006 and 2016 were spent.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suits.