A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, ordered the Clerk of the National Assembly to release to a human rights group, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, details of the salary, emolument and allowances collected by legislators between 2007 and 2011.
Trial judge, Justice B. Aliyu, gave the order following the suit by LEDAP against the leadership of National Assembly under the Freedom of Information Act.
The court held that the FoI Act permits the group to demand for any public information such as the details of salaries, emoluments and allowances earned by the legislators.
It noted that these were of public interest since the payments were from public funds.
LEDAP had, in September 2011, filed the suit to compel the clerk of the National Assembly to furnish it with the requested information. LEDAP argued in the suit that the legislators were overpaid beyond the rate approved by law.
LEDAP had earlier written to the Clerk of the National Assembly for the information on the earnings of the legislators and demanded refund of excess payments. The request was ignored, leading to the suit.
The National Assembly argued through its counsel that the information requested by LEDAP was not permitted to be released under the FoI Act, and that the group lacked the locus standi to make such request.
Overruling the objection, the court said every citizen was entitled to have access to public information under the FoI Act, and ordered the Clerk of National Assembly to release the requested information within 14 days of the judgment.
It will be recalled that at the end of the 6th National Assembly in June 2011, it was widely reported that some legislators collected as much as N100 million per quarter in allowances, excluding official salaries and emoluments, and that principal officers collected even more.
‘We ‘ll not give up’
LEDAP’s lawyer, Mr. Chino Obiagwu, said: “Legislators are those who made the law on how much each public officer should be paid in salary and allowances.
“It is unlawful and irresponsible for them to break the law and collect, for themselves from public coffers, much more than what is permitted by law.
“They are liable to refund any excess money collected beyond approved sum, and we will pursue this issue in the courts until all unlawful over-payments to the legislators of the 6th Assembly are repaid to public coffers.”