Nigerian activists announced on Sunday that they have sued the Senate President for continuing to pay monthly allowances to a senator sent to jail six months ago for grand corruption.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project is asking the Federal High Court in Lagos to “stop the Senate President Bukola Saraki from paying former Plateau State governor, Senator Joshua Dariye, N14.2 million ($39,000) monthly allowances while he serves out a 10-year prison sentence for corruption”.
SERAP said such payment violates Nigerian law and international obligations.
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According to SERAP’s lawsuit, Mr Dariye is still receiving the N750,000 ($2000) salary and N13.5 million ($37,000) monthly allowances from the Nigeran Senate six months after he was sent to jail.
In June, a Federal High Court in Abuja convicted Dariye for diverting N1.162 billion ($3.1 million) state ecological funds while he was governor of the central Nigerian state of Plateau.
He was sentenced to 14 years in prison, a sentence that was later reduced to 10 years by a court of appeal in Abuja.
But despite his conviction, Dariye is said to have been paid N85.5 million as allowances since he was sent to jail.
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He became a senator after leaving office in 2007 as the governor of Plateau.
Many Nigerian governors often end up becoming senators even as cases of corruption against them move forward in court.
Joined as Defendants in the suit are Mr Dariye and the National Assembly Service Commission.
In the suit filed last Friday, SERAP argued that “Mr Saraki and the National Assembly Service Commission are trying to override Nigerian law and the judgment of our court by continuing to pay Mr Dariye’s allowances while he serves out a 10-year prison term and unable to sit and perform the functions of a senator”.
“This action undermines the rule of law and is a great moral failure because it sends a message that corruption pays—it’s the opposite of Nigerian Constitutional principles and international obligations.”
The organisation also argued that “stopping the Defendants would ensure that only sitting and serving senators are worthy of drawing salaries and allowances from the public treasury”.
“It would also further the public interest and general public confidence in the government it elects. The interest in public confidence is greater than the convicted person’s interest in continuing to receive allowances while serving his sentence for corruption in Kuje prison.”
In reaction, the spokesman of the Senate President said Mr Saraki does not have the power to unilaterally stop payment of salaries and allowances to convicted Joshua Dariye.
Mr Saraki’s media aide, Yusuph Olaniyonu, told online newspaper, Premium Times, that only the Attorney-General of the Federation has the power to stop Mr Dariye’s salaries and allowances, arguing that Mr Saraki cannot go ahead to declare his Senate seat vacant.
“The SP (Senate President) does not have such powers except a request is made to him by the AGF who prosecuted the case and get court judgement. The request will be accompanied by the court judgement.
“The SP can then refer the matter to the legal department for advice. This will also require the SP to inform INEC about this development with a consequent need to declare the seat of such a senator vacant and a by-election in the district,” Mr Olaniyonu said.