It is unconstitutional for NASS to fix its salaries, court declares
A federal high court, Lagos has declared that it is unconstitutional for the National Assembly to fix its own salaries and allowances.
Delivering judgment in a suit filed by the chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section of Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL), Monday Ubani and John Nwoku, Justice Chuka Obiozor held that National Assembly Service Commission lacks the power to so do.
The plaintiffs had prayed the court through an originating summon to determine whether by combined provisions of sections 70, 84, 124, part one of the third schedule and section 32(d) of the 1999 Constitution the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) can delegate power to determine the salaries or remuneration of the National Assembly or political officer holders and if such power is subject to usurpation by the National Assembly or any other bodies.
They also prayed the court to order the lawmakers to refund humongous and jumbo salaries and allowances in the sum of N13.5 million for monthly running cost and N200 million as yearly constituency project to each member of the senate and House of Representatives.
Defendants in the suit were the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), RMAFC, the Senate, the House of Representatives and the National Assembly Service Commission.
In reaction to the suit, the defendants filed a preliminary objection challenging the locus standi of the plaintiffs to file the suit, arguing that there is no cause of action as well.
They also argued that the plaintiff’s case ought to be dismissed because it was filed by originating summon instead of writ of summon.
But, in his judgment, Justice Obiozor held that the plaintiffs have the locus to file a public interest suit.
He also held that the suit was properly filed through an originating summon.
According to the judge, the power given to RMAFC to fix salaries and allowances of public officers cannot be delegated to any other institution or body.
He, however, refused to make a refund order, on account that the exhibits adduced by the plaintiffs in proof of their claim was a newspaper publication, which constitute inadmissible evidence in proof of the allegation that they earned humongous allowances.
“The aim of an action being commenced by originating summons is to simplify and speed up procedure since it is envisage that there is no serious dispute as to the fact in the case because what is in dispute is the construction of an enactment or instrument made under any law upon which the plaintiff is basing his right to a declaration or claim in his favour.
“Accordingly, it is not the law that once there is a dispute on facts, that a matter should be commenced by Writ of Summons.
The law is that the dispute on facts must be substantial and material and affect the live issues in the matter. Where disputes are peripheral, not material as such to the live issues an action can be sustained by originating summons,” Justice Obiozor ruled.
He said: “I have no doubt in my mind that the Plaintiffs must be commended for standing out in protection of public interest. But then, a court of justice, only metes out justice to the parties in accordance with the law and laid down rules of practice and procedure. For, this reason in the administration of justice, a court of law is precluded form acting on sentiments but must remain dispassionate.
“Quite explicitly therefore, only the RMAFC – the 2nd defendant in this suit – and no other body, is empowered by constitutional imprimatur to determine and/or fix the salary and other allowances for members of the Senate and House of Representatives – 3rd and 4th defendants in the suit.
“The 3rd, 4th and 5th defendants have no vires or authority whatsoever to determine and/or fix any salary ad other allowances for members of the 3rd and 4th defendants. Any attempt to determine and/or fix same shall be a gross contravention of the Constitution, which is very clear in its provisions.”
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