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.
He told reporters that in his four years in the National Assembly, he had never seen where a standing Committee of the House on Education inserted 181 projects into the budget.
“On the aspect of individual corruption and issues of corruption, I have given a lot of instances with allegations against the Speaker and some other members of the House of Representatives.
“On the issue of systemic corruption in the next few days, I will be talking in a more indepth manner how investigative hearing and oversight are used to parpetrate corruption in the House.
“Also, you can imagine, isn’t it ridiculous that 360 members, nobody has the internal budget of the house copies. There is nothing that we did not do with Dogara to release the internal budget of the House.
“These are facts. He should come out in light and just say Jibrin is lying.
“I have been saying this thing for eight weeks, he hasn’t come out to talk,” he told reporters.
Mr Jibrin also alleged that lawmakers had kept quiet over the issue because there was ‘systemic blackmail’.
“They have swallowed allowances. So you cannot talk, even though they are unhappy about the situation. The leadership always use that as a blackmail,” he claimed.
According to him, apart from the allegations already contained in his petition to anti-graft agencies, he would be speaking to the public in the days ahead about how some individuals in investigative committees commit corruption with their office.
A court in Abuja will on October 21 hear a suit filed by the former chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriation Committee, Mr Abdulmumin Jibrin, against the Speaker of the House, Mr Yakubu Dogara.
Mr Jibrin had filed a suit against Mr Dogara after the House passed a resolution, barring him from being part of 180 sitting days.
He claims that the decision to suspend him contravenes the law, since there was a case in a court on the issue.
Mr Jibrin was suspended for allegedly breaching the practices and precedents of the House of Representatives.
According to the House presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Representative Yusuf Lasun, Representative Jibrin is also required to tender a formal written apology to the House, before his future resumption of duties.
He is also barred from positions of authority in the House till the end of the 8th assembly.
The House of Representatives has three sitting days in a week and going by that the lawmaker will be away for 60 weeks.
After the suspension was issued, Mr Jibrin described the decision as ‘completely inconsequential’.
“Whatever product comes out of that process, as far as I am concerned, is completely inconsequential and cannot stand anywhere.
“The matter is in court and it is a matter of litigation,” he told Channels Television.
Mr Jibrin said he had asked his lawyer to file a suit against the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, for contempt.
“While I wait for the formal correspondent from the House, I have in anticipation instructed my lawyer, Femi Falana, to charge Speaker Dogara for contempt, because he is aware that the matter is in court and he went ahead to table the matter before the House and referred it to the ethics committee.
“Of Cause, predictably, this is what they wanted and as far as I am concerned, it is not an issue,” he stressed.
The House had asked him to apologise, but the lawmaker said he would not apologise.
“I can tell you very clearly. I will never, ever, apologise to anybody in the House of Representatives.
“I did not commit any offense, I didn’t do anything wrong. I have said it repeatedly that in the five years that I have spent in the House of Representatives, I have never abused my office. I have never corruptly enriched myself, so I have no reason to apologise to anybody,” the lawmaker from Kano State said.
A day after the suspension was issued, the House of Representatives began the implementation of the resolution, changing the locks of the lawmaker’s office and sealing it off.
Jibrin’s office within the legislative chambers was on Thursday sealed and the locks changed by officials of the House.
Other officials took an inventory of items found in the office.
No Court Papers
Defending the decision of the House, the spokesman for the House, Abdulrazak Namdas, said the lower legislative chamber had not been served with court papers since its resolution to suspend Jibrin.
He said that the House could not be stopped from performing its constitutional duties.
“On this issue of court, I want it to be clear that there is clear separation of powers in this country. We have the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
“No arm of government is to gag another, and I can assure you, if decisions are taken here and someone is aggrieved, he can run to where actions can be taken.
“But for us, we have done what is within the rules. The constitution empowers us to have our rules, to implement it and this has been implemented.
“If he goes to court tomorrow, we will brief you accordingly, but for now, nothing has happened,” Namdas said.
Members of the National Assembly and leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bauchi State have taken their case against the State Governor, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, to the national leadership of the party.
The delegation, led by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, comprised of federal lawmakers; the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu and leaders of the APC in Bauchi State, northeast Nigeria.
The delegation had a closed-door meeting with the National Chairman of the party, Mr John Oyegun, at the APC National Secretariat in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
Addressing journalists after the meeting, the Senator representing Bauchi-South, Ali Wakili, said the delegation discussed the non-payment of workers’ salaries, non-utilisation of bailouts from the Federal Government among others.
His counterpart from Bauchi North, Senator Suleiman Nazif, also said that they came to brief the party on the developments in the state.
Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, has held a meeting with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, in his office in the Presidential Villa.
It is the second time the Speaker of the House of Representatives is visiting the Presidential Villa within two weeks.
Political watchers say Friday’s visit may be in connection with the rift in the National Assembly and how to improve on the relationship between the Executive and Legislative arms of government, following allegations of padding of the 2016 budget.
But the Speaker told reporters after the meeting that he just came to see the President and would not say anything to the press because he is on vacation.
Also at the Presidential Villa was the General Overseer of the Later Rain Assembly Pastor Tunde Bakare.
Pastor Bakare entered the Villa at about 2:45pm local time and went straight to the President’s office for a meeting also said to be private.
After the meeting that lasted for about an hour, Pastor Bakare told reporters that he was happy that the President was doing well health wise.
In answer to the questions on the performance of the administration, he called on Nigerians to be patient with the administration, which he said inherited a lot of rot.
“There is no pain without gain,” he said, assuring nigerians that President Buhari will not disappoint them.
Following days of media reports on allegations of sexual misconduct brought against three members of the House of Representatives in Nigeria, one of the lawmakers, Mark Gbillah, has called for a detailed public investigation into the matter.
The lawmaker stated that the allegations, made by the Ambassador of the United States to Nigeria, Mr James Entwistle, did not occur.
Mr Entwistle had lodged a formal complaint to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on the issue.
But the lawmaker emphasised that he believed the allegations were meant to tarnish the image of the members involved and the legislative house.
He further demanded a detailed and open investigation into the matter.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, who has ordered an investigation into the matter, said that the allegations were not conclusive enough to decide that anyone is guilty.
The allegations of sexual misconduct involving three members of the House of Representatives has continued to generate newspaper headlines.
In her contribution, the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, appealed to Nigerians for caution on the matter.
As the matter was not up for the debate, the Speaker of the House, rounding up, made it clear that the matter was a serious one.
The House has mandated a joint Committee of ethics and Foreign Affairs to investigate the matter and report back to the House.
Their report is expected to guide the House on the position it will take on the matter.
Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, has sent a supplementary budget of 465.6 billion Naira to the National Assembly for appropriation.
The President also sought for an upward review of the initial 882.1 billion Naira borrowing in the 2015 budget to 2.103 trillion Naira to finance the budget.
Of the 465.6 billion Naira supplementary budget, a total of 413.363 billion Naira was set aside as payment of subsidy for Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) also known as petrol.
The President, in a letter addressed to Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, urged both chambers of the National Assembly to expeditiously treat the supplementary budget.
The supplementary budget is coming at a time that the nation is witnessing scarcity of PMS, a situation that has resulted in queues at different service stations across the oil-rich nation.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company had last week said there was no cause for panic buying across Nigeria, as enough PMS had been provided to serve the nation till the end of November.
Despite this claim, vehicle users, both commercial and private, are finding it hard to get petrol.
The House of Representatives has reduced the proposed levy on oil companies for the operation of Petroleum Host Communities Fund from 10 per cent to 7.5 per cent.
The lower chamber of the National Assembly made this change as it continued with the clause-by-clause consideration of the Petroleum Industry Bill at plenary.
The fund, which is expected to cater for the mitigation of all negative environmental impacts on host communities arising from exploratory activities of oil companies was slashed, as lawmakers noted that any attempt to retain the 10 per cent levy may have negative effect on future investment in the sector.
The provision, as contained in clause 116 to 118 of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) currently being considered in the House, is seeking to create the fund independent of whatever interventionist funds already in existence.
The Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee on PIB, Reps Ishaka Bawa, suggested a reduction of the proposed percentage, asking the House to be mindful of the implication of the levy on future investments in the Petroleum, Oil and Gas Sector.
Youths and Women from the Northern Nigeria, under the umbrella of Arewa Youth and Women Coalition For Good Governance, held a rally in Kaduna on Saturday to drum support for the zoning of the House of Representatives Speaker to the Northeast.
During the rally, the Groups called on the National Leadership of the All Progressive Congress (APC) to ensure it carries along every part of the country in its power sharing arrangement for National Assembly leadership positions and other political offices.
They explained that zoning the House of Representatives Speaker to the Northeast is in the interest of justice and fairness.
Addressing Journalists at the rally, Spokesman of the Group, Ado Suleiman, explained that their agitation will give the north east region, that has been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency, a sense of belonging, also considering the overwhelming vote it gave to the APC during the presidential election.
The Groups also endorsed the member representing Tafawa Balewa, Bogoro, Dass Federal Constituency in Bauchi State, Mr Yakubu Dogara, as their preferred choice for Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Eighth National Assembly.
Although the tenure of the Seventh National Assembly will expire in June to pave way for the inauguration of the newly elected members, those interested in assuming leadership of both Chambers of the National Assembly have already started lobbying for the positions.