The National Assembly is constitutionally mandated to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the country. It is also responsible for executive oversight and passing the country’s budget. Therefore, as civil society organizations, we are committed to ensuring that the nation has a credible and functional National Assembly that works for all Nigerians.
Lack of accountability in the National Assembly is very dangerous for our fledgling democracy because those we elect to exercise oversight function over the executive arm’s implementation of our budget can not effectively discharge this function, provide leadership and ensure accountability when they have refused to be accountable with resources allocated to them.
Over the last 3 years, the National Assembly has consciously violated its own law, the Freedom of Act, with failure to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and a subsisting court order to provide its detailed budget. Over the last one year, both the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives have promised to make the details of the National Assembly spending public. They are yet to do so.
It is against this back-drop of a failure to be accountable in something as basic as a budget, that our National Assembly has been rocked from one crisis to another including trying to gag social media through a bill regulating the use of social media; pushing a bill that would seriously undermine the work and independence of civil society and thereby violate constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association; purchasing of new cars at exorbitant prices under not transparent processes; fraud allegations against the leadership and members that has paralyzed proceedings on several occasions; deliberating immunity and life pension for the leadership when they already get a gratuity after every term; and alleged violation of the Constitution by not sitting for the requisite number of days.
The most recent crisis are the allegations and counter allegations between Mr Abdulmumin Jibrin, former Chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the House, against Mr Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker, other principal officers of the House of Representatives and 12 other members of the House of Representatives on a flawed budgeting process and the haphazard allocation of constituency projects that are less about the communities’ needs and more about the legislators’ wants.
Allegations for urgent investigation are:
- Amendments to the Budget
We are clear that the constitution empowers the legislature to make additions, subtractions and deletions in the budget estimates presented by the executive, that is power is not exercised arbitrarily, without the consent of all members and definitely not in a manner that enriches individuals and detrimental to the citizens they were elected to represent. It has been alleged that amendments were made to the budget by a few officers and Mr Jibrin, as Chairman of Appropriation Committee, without the knowledge of other members of the National Assembly.
- Constituency Funds
N100 billion of the budget is surreptitiously allocated to constituency projects – zonal intervention projects. These funds are usually shared equally on a zonal basis between the 6 geopolitical zones. It was alleged that N40 billion was shared by the few principal officers for their constituencies to the detriment of other constituencies.
- Fraud and Misappropriation of Funds
Allegations of insertion of over 2,000 projects worth N284 billion in the budget; living above their salaries; wasteful procurement; and secrecy in the management of the finances of the House against the principal officers and members of the House of Representatives.
- Controversial Allowances
Allegations of 10 principal officers receiving over N10 billion in illegal allowances since 2011; and allocation of running cost in billions to Chairmen and principal officers.
Rebuilding the National Assembly
There are overwhelming allegations of abuses in the discharge of National Assembly’s legislative and oversight duties. At the heart of these allegations are corrupt enrichment, conspiracy to act corruptly, embezzlement, diversion and misappropriation of public funds for lavish lifestyles, abuse of office and public trust.
It is of great concern to Nigerians that members of the National Assembly are oblivious of content of their own budget, yet they hold court over how the budget of the country is spent. Public auditing of spending by the National Assembly and several reports on allegations of corruption that have been investigated remain shrouded in secrecy. This does nothing for an institution that seeks to be ‘responsive, accessible, representative and accountable’.
Given the seriousness and gravity of allegations against the House leadership in particular, an open and credible investigation into the allegations above is imperative. The public petition committee is charged to conduct an effective, transparent and independent investigation.
- An Open Investigation of these Allegations
We have read reports in the media of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigation into the alleged budget manipulations of the National Assembly.
We are by this petition demanding an internal National Assembly investigation that is transparent and an open hearing that allows for Nigerians to fully participate in the process.
- Zero-Based budgeting and citizens involvement in the budgeting process.
Spending public funds on vague line items like ‘Youth Empowerment’ to the tune of N450 million and ‘Strategic Youth Empowerment’ to the tune of N500 million is ludicrous! The budgeting process needs to include budget details not just estimates. In addition, the technical capacity of the Budget Office in the National Assembly should be enhanced.
- Reform Constituency Projects
To ensure that the provision for constituency projects is not used as conduit to siphon funds, its implementation must be integrated into the budgeting process of MDAs, based on a needs assessment, consulting the legislators who represent those constituencies and satisfying Public Procurement laws.
- An Open National Assembly – #OpenNASS
The National Assembly should: (1) Publish its detailed 2016 budget, (2) Scrap voice voting and use the e-voting system already installed; (3) Activate the switchboard in the National Assembly Complex so citizens can engage their representatives; (4) Ensure the National Assembly’s website is updated regularly with bills and contact information for members; (5) Provide an online attendance register for plenary sessions.
Finally, we would like to reiterate that these allegations are weighty and if true, the 2016 Budget must be amended accordingly in line with the constitution which remains the pillar from which this government derives its powers.
The National Assembly is a critical institution in our democracy and we will ensure that it is repurposed to serve all Nigerians, not just a few. We urge the National Assembly to take appropriate action to put the House in order before the year ends.
We shall look forward to your prompt action and response to this petition.