The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has sent Freedom of Information Act requests to both the Senate President Dr Bukola Sakari and Speaker of the House of Representatives Mr Dogara Yakubu requesting them to “urgently provide information about alleged spending of N500 billion as running cost between 2006 and 2016, and the monthly income and allowances of each Senator and member.”
SERAP’s request followed disclosure by Abdulmumin Jibrin that Nigerian Senators and House of Representatives members have pocketed N500 billion as ‘running cost’ out of the N1 trillion 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 N15m monthly while each member receives nothing less than N10m monthly.
The organization threatened to “take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to comply with the request if “the information is not provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.”
In the letter of request dated 25 November 2016 and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization, said that, “We are seriously concerned that details of the National Assembly budgets and income and allowances receive by its members over the years remain shrouded in secrecy, and hidden from Nigerians. Alleged stealing or mismanagement of N500 billions of public funds may be responsible for the economic crisis and attendant hardships being faced by millions of Nigerians.”
The identical FOI requests read in part: “Representative democracy requires more than the simple casting of ballots in periodic elections. Only when Nigerians in general have access to concrete information about the running cost and other critical spending and financial details by the National Assembly can citizens make well-informed choices and can politicians be held accountable.”
“In the face of these overwhelming allegations of corruption, the leadership cannot continue to claim that public perception that many law-makers are in the National Assembly in pursuit of self-interest is off the mark.
“SERAP believes that secrecy in parliamentary spending has resulted in lapse of accountability for Senators and members of the House of Representatives, and this could ultimately endanger the healthy development of the rule of law and good governance in the country.”
“SERAP believes that secrecy in the spending by the National Assembly and the monthly income and allowances of its members contributes to and enables poor governance. It undermines the ability of the government to spend wisely on behalf of Nigerians, and erodes the integrity and authority of the National Assembly to make laws for the peace, order and good government in the country.”
“Transparency in the spending by the National Assembly and income of its members is a key element of justice, which is essential for an open legislative process, and can serve as a confidence building measure by the lawmakers to regain the trust of Nigerians.”
“SERAP argues that the level of transparency in spending by the National Assembly—be it the Senate or the House of Representatives—and the monthly income and allowances of its members is an important measure of the democratic nature of our government, and is especially important for the National Assembly.”
“These are serious allegations, which require your immediate and urgent clarifications and public disclosure. If true, such allegations will clearly amount to a fundamental breach of national anticorruption laws and the country’s international anticorruption obligations and commitments including under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”
“By virtue of Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on the alleged spending of N500 billion by the National Assembly and on the incomes and allowances receive by its members, if the said information is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution.”
“By virtue of Section 4 (a) of the FOI Act when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or urgency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.”
“The information being requested 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 peace and concern, interest of human rights, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.”
“The disclosure of the information requested will give SERAP and the general public a true picture on how exactly the alleged N500 billion running cost has been spent as well as other critical financial details.”