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Trim N228.1 billion National Assembly budget or face suit, SERAP threatens Lawan, Gbajabiamila

By Silver Nwokoro
16 January 2023   |   4:08 am
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, to promptly cut their “outrageous National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion...

Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila PHOTO:Twitter

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, to promptly cut their “outrageous National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion, including the N30.17 billion severance payments and inauguration costs for members (the highest ever).”

It urged the national legislature to propose a fresh budget that would reflect current economic realities and retrogressive economic measures.

The group advised the duo to act within seven days of receipt and/or publication of the document or face legal action.

The National Assembly had increased its 2023 budget from N169 billion proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari to N228.1 billion. The approved budget shows an increase of about N59.1 billion. The country’s budget of N21.83 trillion is based on a N10.49 trillion revenue and a N11.34 trillion deficit.

In the letter dated January 14, 2023 and signed by SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation observed: “It is a grave violation of public trust and constitutional oath of office for members of the National Assembly to increase their own budget at a time when some 133 million Nigerians are living in poverty.

“Cutting the National Assembly budget would reduce the growing budget deficit, address unsustainable debt burden and serve public interest.”

According to SERAP, increasing its own (National Assembly) budget, the legislature has “unjustifiably and disproportionately reduced the budget for UBEC (Universal Basic Education Commission).”

This, the rights group said, was a travesty, especially given that Nigeria currently has over 20 million out-of-school children and half of all poor people in the country being children.

The letter reads in part: “Rather than exercising its oversight functions to check the persistent borrowing by President Muhammadu Buhari and scrutinising the apparently unlawful overdrafts and loans obtained by the Federal Government from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the National Assembly is increasing its own budget.

“This outrageous waste of public money would substantially increase the cost of governance and exacerbate the debt crisis. It is unlawful and unfair to Nigerian people.

“The budget should reflect national development priorities and not serve as a tool to satisfy the lifestyles of lawmakers or provide them with severance payments or parting gifts.

“The increase in National Assembly budget, including the unnecessary proposed spending of N30.17 billion on severance payments and inauguration expenses is a fundamental breach of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the country’s international human rights obligations.

“It is unjustifiable and unreasonable for the National Assembly to arbitrarily increase its own budget when the Federal Government and many of the 36 states are clearly in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress.

“The National Assembly’s budget of N228.1 billion would increase the country’s borrowing and debt crisis. Growing debt burdens and debt repayment difficulties will have negative impacts on the ability of poor and vulnerable Nigerians to enjoy basic socio-economic rights.”

“Long-term unsustainable debt can be a barrier to the government’s ability to mobilise resources for human rights and may lead to taxes and user fees that impact negatively on poor and vulnerable Nigerians.

“The leadership and members of the National Assembly should properly discharge their constitutional and fiduciary duties to Nigerians by ensuring judicious spending of public funds, especially given the current economic and financial realities of Nigeria.

“Cutting the budget would show that the National Assembly could discharge its constitutional responsibility of amplifying the voices of Nigerians. It will also show that the body is acting in the best interest of the people.

“Nigerians have a right to honest and faithful performance by their public officials, including lawmakers, as public officials owe a fiduciary duty to the citizenry. All those who hold the strings of political power and power over spending of Nigeria’s commonwealth ought not to use their entrusted positions for personal gains.”