By Chinenye Ugonna
A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the National Assembly to disclose financial details of its highly secretive constituency allowances, in a landmark judgment that may unearth the true scale of allowances earned by Nigerian lawmakers.
The judgment was delivered by Justice Abdu Kafarati in a Freedom of Information suit, filed against the National Assembly by a nongovernmental organization, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP.
Although the judgment was delivered back in February, PREMIUM TIMES obtained copies of the judgment Tuesday.
Details of the judgment shows the court directed the Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa, to declare all budgetary allocations to members of the National Assembly for Constituency Projects between 2011 and 2013.
The National Assembly was ordered to provide LEDAP the details of every project earned for each constituency from 2011 to 2013, details of all budgetary allocations made in respect of each constituency project, and the details of the progress of the projects.
The court demanded that Mr. Maikasuwa provide the requested information within seven days.
Mr. Maikasuwa has not complied with the order more than two months after. He has appealed the ruling.
In his defence, the Clerk argued that he had no knowledge of the requested information, referring LEDAP to the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Appropriation Acts.
But the judge insisted that the National Assembly should provide all the information regarding Constituency Projects and how they are funded.
Section 2(1) of the FOI Act requires all public institutions to ensure that it records and keeps information about all its activities, operations and businesses. The act also gives the right to access the stored information to any person upon request, and when in denial can be taken to court.
Constituency Projects were conceived in the 4th assembly to help lawmakers go beyond their legislative duties to funding physical projects in their constituencies.
It is believed to have since been abused and turned into a slush fund for lawmakers who often use the money to finance their expensive lifestyles.
The amount of money the National Assembly receives – or sets aside – for constituency projects annually and how it is disbursed has for years been shrouded in secrecy.
Lawmakers are believed to receive huge sums, running into tens of millions, as Constituency Allowance every quarter.
The judgment is the first successful legal move to open up National Assembly spending on Constituency Allowance.
Culled from PREMIUM TIMES