SEVERAL civil society groups have filed a lawsuit at the federal high court in Lagos asking that the National Assembly Service Commission be prevented from paying its incoming members a bumper N4.68bn ($12.9m) welcome package.
Tomorrow, Nigeria’s ninth National Assembly will elect its leaders and officially begin business following the election of new legislators in February. Nigerian lawmakers are among the highest paid in the world, as they enjoy some immensely generous packages including a handsome welcome package.
With the minimum monthly wage in Nigeria only recently increased to N30,000 ($65) from N18,000 a month, many political commentators see the elite as callous, uncaring and cold hearted. In a big to prevent lawmakers paying themselves such massive amounts out of public funds, several groups including the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (Serap), BudgIT and Enough is Enough Nigeria, have gone to court.
They claim to be suing on behalf of 1,522 concerned Nigerians. Joined as defendants in the suit are the senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, the National Assembly Service Commission and the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
Their suit read: RMAFC has failed to do any downward review of salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly since 2007 in spite of the economic downturn in Nigeria. Yet, the commission is statutorily required to review the pay of the lawmakers, in conformity with the country’s economic realities and to achieve fiscal efficiency.
“Given many years of extreme poverty in the country and the inability of several state governments to pay salaries of workers and pensions, the refusal or failure of RMAFC to review and cut the salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly is a gross violation of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and the commission’s own act. The duty of the RMAFC to review the salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly is mandatory and the commission cannot choose not to comply.
“Therefore, the failure or refusal by the commission to comply with its own act amounts to arbitrariness. Unless the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs are granted, the defendants and members of the National Assembly will continue to benefit from these outrageous salaries and allowances, in breach of the law and at the expense of millions of Nigerians living in extreme poverty.”
Apparently, the amounts to be paid out to lawmakers will be for furniture and accommodation allowance. According to the plaintiffs, this negates the oath of office under the Seventh Schedule of the 1999 constitution by members to perform their functions in the interest of the well-being and prosperity of Nigeria.
They claim: “The National Assembly comprises of 469 members with 109 in the senate and 360 in the House of Representatives. These public officers form a very tiny percentage of about 200m Nigerians and members are still eligible to collect huge sums of money as monthly allowances and severance pay at the end of their respective terms.
“The RMAFC is required to advise the federal, state and local governments on fiscal efficiency and methods by which their revenue is to be increased. Prescribing N9,926,062.5 and N10,132,000:00 to members of the House of Representatives and senate respectively, as furniture and accommodation allowance, is not in tandem with the commission’s statutory mandate and advisory roles on fiscal efficiency.”