Animated reactions have continued to trail the June 4, 2021 ruling by a Lagos High Court that the huge allowances which members of the National Assembly pay themselves since the1999 return of civilian governance in the country, is illegal. Ben Nanaghan, a social analyst and respected Ijaw Elder added his voice to commentary on the matter noting that, ‘ The court was right in stating that only the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission(RMAFC) is empowered by law to fix the salary and remuneration of public officers. Senators are not empowered to fix their salaries. And so I stand by this position as the Senators are bound by this decision of the RMAFC which is an arm of the Executive. To me this is another pivotal principle of checks and balances associated with a working democracy. The judgement would probably be upheld by the Court of Appeal and of course the Supreme Court in a sane democracy’
A High Court in Lagos had declared the huge allowances which members of the Senate and House of Representatives collect each month as illegal when two Lawyers, Monday Ubani and John Nwokwu approached the Federal High Court, to challenge the constitutionality of the huge remuneration and allowances of the members of the National Assembly. The judgment was given Monday, June 4, 2021.
Joined in the suit were the Attorney General of the Federation, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the National Assembly Service Commission.
Since the inception of civilian governance in Nigeria in 1999, Nigerians have been demanding to know how much their representatives in the National Assembly collect as salaries and allowances, the members of the National Assembly have kept that information a secret. However, in March 2018 one of the Senators – Senator Shehu Sani in an interview revealed that each Senator receives the sum of N13.5 million monthly as running cost, in addition to N750,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances. Another online publication further revealed that each Senator is entitled to the sum of N200 million annually as constituency project allowance.
Miffed by this revelation, Mr. Monday Onyekachi Ubani and another lawyer John Nwokwu proceeded to the Federal high Court to challenge the constitutionality of this huge amount of money collected by members of the National assembly monthly and annually. The case was handled by Joseph Igwe Esq. led by leading Human Rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN.
The National Assembly filed a defence denying ever collecting such amount of money. However they failed to disclose to the Court how much they collect. The National Assembly Service Commission also filed a defence denying being the one that approach and pay such amount of money to the members of the National Assembly. They also challenged the locus standi of the plaintiffs to institute the action against them, and contended that the Plaintiffs have no cause of action against them, urging the Court to strike out the suit.
In a well considered judgment delivered on the 4th day of June, 2021, Hon. Justice Chuka Austine Obiozor, first dismissed the preliminary objections of the National assembly (sued as the 3rd and 4th Defendants) stating that the plaintiffs have locus standi to institute the action citing the Supreme Court case of Centre for Oil Pollution Watch v. NNPC. The Court held that public spirited individuals (Tax payers) have sufficient interest in ensuring that public authorities submit to the rule of law and that no public authority has power to arbitrarily or with impunity break the law or general statute.
On the substantive suit, the Court declared that:
1. The 3rd , 4th and 5th Defendants ( The Senate, The House of Representatives and the National Assembly service Commission) have no power, close or semblance of power and cannot determine, direct, command and/or instruct the 2nd defendant (Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission) or any person howsoever, to make, determine and/or fix the salaries, wages, remuneration, running cost or allowances of the 3rd and 4th Defendants.
2. The 2nd defendant is the only body responsible for determining the salaries, remuneration and/or allowances of the National assembly or political office holders.
3. In line with Section 32 (b)(d) of part 1 of third schedule of the Constitutional of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, the 2nd Defendant should forthwith downward review and fix the salaries, remuneration or allowances of the 3rd and 4th Defendants to reflect the economic realities in the country.
4.The 5th Defendant cannot or have no power whatsoever and howsoever to fix, determine or allocate the remuneration. Allowances, salaries, emolument or monetary value/s to the 3rd and 4th defendants.
The Court recommended that since the Members of the National Assembly has denied collecting the jumbo remunerations and allowances, the EFCC should look at their books and if it is found that they truly collect such amount of money, they should be prosecuted.
A similar case was filed by SERAP and assigned to the same judge who held that whatever decision is reached in Messrs Ubaniand Nwokwu’s case in Suit No FHC/LA/CS/690/ 2018 should be bind on them.