John Ameh, Leke Baiyewu and Olaleye Aluko
Members of the National Assembly sacked by the Supreme Court and ordered to refund wrongly earned salaries and allowances have failed to do so, Saturday PUNCH investigations have revealed.
Most decisions of the court against the affected former lawmakers arose from pre-election suits, where it was found that they were not validly nominated by their political parties to contest the elections.
In a number of cases, the court, in its declaratory judgment, ordered the sacked lawmakers to refund all salaries and other entitlements they enjoyed during the period they had illegally occupied their seats at the National Assembly.
For instance, in 2011, members of the Senate removed by the Supreme Court included Senators Abdu Umar ‘Yandoma and Ahmad Sani.
Eight members of the House of Representatives were also sacked in 2011. They were Murtala Isa; Muntari Dandutse; Musa Salisu; Aminu Ashiru; Umar Adamu-Katsayal; Muhammad Tukur; Tasi’u Doguro; and Abdu Dankama.
Last week’s judgment of the apex court in which it sacked the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Federal Capital Territory, Mr. Herman Hembe, and the senator representing Taraba-North, Sani Abubakar-Danladi, brought the issue to the fore again.
While in the case of the senator, the court directed the Independent National Electoral Commission to issue a Certificate of Return to Shuaibu Isa-Lau as the lawfully-elected candidate to represent Taraba-North; in the case of Hembe, the court replaced him with Mrs. Dorothy Mato, as the elected person to represent Vandikiwa/Konshisha Federal Constituency of Benue State.
In both cases, the court directed them to refund all salaries and allowances they received from 2015 to date to the National Assembly “within 90 days.”
But while Hembe and Abubakar-Danladi had yet to complete 90 days post the judgment, findings at the Senate and the House of Representatives showed that several similar directives of the court given in the past were ignored.
For instance, checks conducted by Saturday PUNCH at the finance department of the National Assembly showed that no such remittances had been made by lawmakers previously removed by the court and asked to refund salaries and other allowances.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that “political considerations” and “influence peddling,” among other factors, reportedly ensured that the affected ex-legislators walked away with the money they took from taxpayers.
Officials at the department expressed surprise that Saturday PUNCH was asking whether former lawmakers directed to return their salaries had actually done so.
One of them said, “Return salaries? How? In such matters, it is difficult to get the money back principally because the prosecutorial powers may not reside with the National Assembly.
“A whole lot of agencies were involved in bringing members to the National Assembly, importantly, INEC, political parties and so on. Prosecution or enforcement of this directive may go back to them.
“Even the beneficiaries of the judgment, do they bother to insist that it should be followed to the letter? They get sworn in and the matter is over. The aspect of enforcement is another leg that will require returning to court. In the absence of such fresh resort to the court, what happens when the member has long taken his leave?
“It is easier for the National Assembly to retrieve money from members who have served out their four years and are entitled to severance package than to retrieve money that was already paid out and spent.
“In the case of the former, deductions can be made from the severance package for any outstanding debts or obligations against the member before the balance is handed over to them.”
Similarly, in April, a member of the House, Mr. Sopuluchukwu Ezeonwuka, was also sacked by the apex court in a pre-election suit in respect of the Orumba-North/South Federal Constituency seat in Anambra State.
In his place, the court returned Mr. Ben Nwankwo.
The court had directed, “It is further ordered that Ezeonwuka shall refund to the National Assembly all monies collected by him by way of salaries and allowances since he took the seat within 90 days.”
However, checks conducted by Saturday PUNCH at the finance department of the National Assembly showed that no such remittances had so far been made since the April 17 judgement. By July 17, it would have been 90 days since Ezeonwuka was removed from office.
Saturday PUNCH got one of those affected by such Supreme Court judgments, Ashiru, to speak on the issue and he tried to rationalise why those sacked by the court would not remit their salaries.
Ashiru identified the bureaucracy of the National Assembly as preventing affected lawmakers from returning salaries and allowances they had collected, as they had already been paid out.
He said, “Nobody returns any money. Where will the person get the money from? The person was working all those years and he took the salaries for the work. That is the logic that is applied.
“The only successful thing is that the member has been kicked out and at least, the right person has assumed his seat.”
A National Assembly source told Saturday PUNCH that it was not the fault of the removed lawmakers that they were initially declared winners in an election.
The source said, “Election is a process that takes many stages. As of the time the member was here working, it was believed that he was legally-elected, declared winner after fulfilling the national requirements of the law. He then collected salaries for the work he was elected to do.
“Until a judicial pronouncement is made on the matter, the member had no way of knowing that he didn’t win the election that got him to the National Assembly. Were such affected members supposed to have kept their salaries and allowances untouched, waiting to see whether a court would remove them or not?”
Another source in the National Assembly argued that asking legislators to refund salaries was “part of the conspiracy of the executive and the judiciary to undermine the legislature.”
The source asked, “Why is it that in the case of governors, they don’t direct them to return their salaries and allowances? Have you heard of such before? Or has any impeached or sacked governor been prosecuted for not returning salaries?”
When contacted for comments on why the sacked lawmakers don’t return their salaries as directed by the apex court, the Director of Information and Publications at the National Assembly, Mr. Dibal Ishaku, told Saturday PUNCH that he was not the appropriate officer to give the reason.
He said the Secretary, Finance and Accounts, Mr. Lasisi Bukoye, was the officer who could say whether such returns were made by ex-lawmakers or not, as the matter had to do with finances.
Bukoye was said to be out of the country.
At the Senate, a source in the management of the legislature told Saturday PUNCH that attention was usually paid to the occupation of the affected legislative seats by the beneficiaries (parties and candidates) of the judgments.
The senior official of the National Assembly Management said he could not remember any sacked lawmaker making such refunds.
The source said, “Since I have been working here, I cannot cite an example of when a senator was sacked by a court and asked to refund money and the person actually returned the salaries paid to him in compliance with the court’s judgment.
“Everybody seems to be after which candidate or party gets which seats in the National Assembly. The winner at the court does not usually run after his opponent to ensure that such emoluments are refunded.”
In February, a Federal High Court sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, had sacked the lawmaker representing Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District, Bassey Akpan. The court ruled that Bassey Etim and not Akpan was the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2015 senatorial election in the state.
Apart from ruling that INEC should immediately issue a certificate of return to Etim, who is a former member of the Federal House of Representatives, the court asked the Senate to swear him in as the senator representing the district.
Furthermore, the court gave Akpan 90 days to refund all the money he had received as emoluments so far from the National Assembly. But the embattled lawmaker had since appealed the judgment.
Earlier in June 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the election of Atai Ali Aidoko as senator representing Kogi East Senatorial District.
The apex court faulted and dismissed the appeal filed by Isaac Alfa challenging the decision of the Court of Appeal that had earlier declared Ali winner.
The court also faulted the ruling by the Federal High Court that sacked Ali from the Senate.
When contacted on Friday to speak on the level of compliance to courts’ orders on refund of emolument by sacked lawmakers, the Clerk to the Senate, Mr. Nelson Ayewo, said notices on such judgments were usually addressed to the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly.
“I don’t have the judgments of the courts. Of course, they will be addressed to the CNA, who is the overall boss (for clerks). I don’t know anything about the judgments,” he said.
Efforts to get the CNA, Mr. Mohammed Sani-Omolori, on Friday failed as an official in his office said he was not in when one of our correspondents visited. Also, his telephone line indicated that it had been switched off, even as of the time of filing this report.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, however, said there are methods to enforce payments of allowances by sacked lawmakers and executives after a court order, one of which is to sell their property.
Ali said while he had handled some cases of sacked federal lawmakers and governors in the past, he was not sure any of them paid back the allowances as ordered by the courts.
He said, “The solution to the problem of refunding allowances is simple. Once a court orders you to pay money and if you don’t pay, there are methods of enforcement of payment under the law.
“There is what we call money judgments, which should be paid immediately after delivery. If you don’t pay, they will come and levy your movables, except your bed and clothes.
“Every other luxury (items) in the house, including cars could be carried away. If those ones are not enough to cover the payment, houses can also be sold. So, it is not hopeless. Those who got the judgments know what to do. The allowances are supposed to go to the rightful lawmakers, not the National Assembly.
“I could claim to be a champion of matters like this because I have handled such cases. I handled a case related to the 2011 general elections. Our client won the primaries and someone else was sworn in. My client went to court and the Federal High Court said he was the right candidate and should be sworn in.
“I argued then at the Supreme Court hearing on the refund of money and the court ordered the vacating official to pay (back money collected). I wouldn’t know if he eventually paid.”
But a civil society organisation, Campaign for Democracy, said the allowances should not be refundable since the National Assembly could not refund “the lawmakers’ ideas and contributions” during the time they were in office.
President, Campaign for Democracy, Bako Abdul Usman, said, “If really the electoral system is prudent enough to deal with issues like this before the swearing-in, this will not happen.
“To be emphatic, these sacked members might have contributed to laws made for the country. If you ask them to return such salaries and allowances, will their contributions during plenary and committee sessions be returned to them too?
“I believe we should treat this with caution. I don’t know where it is in the constitution that sacked members should refund the monies earned while in the National Assembly. If there is no law that says those monies should be returned, then we will not be doing justice to the affected lawmakers.”
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Source: The Punch