Akpabio and Abbas dragged to court over failure to clarify details of N344.85bn national assembly budget

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued the leadership of the National Assembly over unexplained details of N344.85 billion in their budget.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/178/2024 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr Akpabio and Mr Abbas to disclose, clarify and explain details of the N344.85 billion National Assembly budget in the Appropriation Act 2024.”

SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr Akpabio and Mr Abbas to disclose, clarify and explain the details of the N8.5 billion budgeted for ‘National Assembly liabilities’ in the Appropriation Act 2024 and the nature of any such liabilities and how and why they have been incurred.”

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SERAP is also seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr Akpabio and Mr Abbas to disclose, clarify and explain details of the proposed spending of the N3 billion for the ‘Senate Car Park’ and N3 billion for the House of Representatives Car Park in the Appropriation Act 2024.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “Details of spending of public funds by the National Assembly have been mostly shrouded in secrecy. Nigerians have the right to know the details of the budget by the lawmakers, and the rationale for the budget.”

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SERAP is also arguing that “Disclosing, clarifying and explaining the details of the proposed spending of the National Assembly budget would allow Nigerians to scrutinise it, and to monitor the spending of the budget to ensure that the money is not mismanaged, diverted or stolen.”

According to SERAP, “Opacity in the spending of the N344.85 billion National Assembly budget would have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of the citizens and the public interest.”

SERAP is also arguing that “The National Assembly ought to be more responsible to the public interest and more responsive to it. The National Assembly has a constitutional responsibility to combat waste and abuse in its own spending if it is to effectively exercise its oversight functions and hold the government to account.”

SERAP said, “Transparency and accountability in public administration is an essential element of democracy. Transparency in the spending of the National Assembly budget would give the public a tool to hold the lawmakers accountable. It would protect Nigerians from any potential abuses of governmental or legislative power that may exist.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Andrew Nwankwo, read in part: “It is in the public interest and the interest of justice to grant this application. Nigerians are entitled to their constitutionally and internationally recognized human right to information.”

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“The public interest in obtaining the information sought outweighs any other interests. The oversight afforded by public access to such details would serve as an important check on the activities of the lawmakers, and help to prevent abuses of the public trust.”

“Disclosing, clarifying and explaining details of the spending of the National Assembly budget would improve public trust, and allow Nigerians to track and monitor the spending, and to assess if the items on the budget are justified, as well as to hold lawmakers to account in cases of mismanagement and corruption.”

“Disclosing, clarifying and explaining the details of the proposed spending of the N344.85 billion National Assembly budget would also ensure that lawmakers are answerable to the people for the performance of their duties.”

“The effective operation of representative democracy depends on the people being able to scrutinise, discuss and contribute to government decision making, including on the spending of the National Assembly budget.”

“The Nigerian Constitution, 1999 [as amended], Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s anti-corruption and human rights obligations rest on the principle that citizens should have access to information regarding their lawmakers’ activities and spending.”

“By the combined reading of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution, the Freedom of Information Act, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, there are transparency obligations imposed on the National Assembly to disclose, explain and clarify the rationale for several items in the budget.”

“Nigerians have a right to scrutinize how their lawmakers spend their tax money and commonwealth, especially given the precarious economic realities in the country and the impact of the removal of fuel subsidy on vulnerable Nigerians.”

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“The National Assembly increased its own allocation in the 2024 budget to N344.48bn. The new budgetary allocation to the National Assembly is over 70 per cent of the N197bn proposed by President Bola Tinubu for the lawmakers in the budget proposal submitted to the National Assembly.”

“The N344.48bn National Assembly budget, which is an increase of about N147bn, is reportedly the highest-ever budgetary allocation to the National Assembly.”

“The items contained in the N344.48bn National Assembly budget include: National Assembly Office – Senate – N49.1bn; House of Representatives – N78.6bn; National Assembly Service Commission – N12.3bn; Legislative Aides – N20.3bn; NILDS – N9.09bn; Service-wide votes – N15.1bn; Senate Appropriation Committee– N200m.”

“Other budget items include: House Appropriation Committee – N200 million; Public Account committees of Senate and House – N280.7 million National Assembly Library Take Off Grant – N12.1 billion; National Assembly building (ongoing) – N4.2 billion; and National Assembly Liabilities – N8.5 billion.”

“Other items include National Assembly E-Library – N225 million; Constitution Review – N1 billion; and Completion of NILDS HQ – N4.5 billion; Construction of NASC Building – N10 billion; Office of Clerks and Permanent Secretaries – N1.2 billion; and Alternative Power System – N4 billion.”

“Other items in the National Assembly budget include: National Assembly Zonal Offices – N3bn; Senate Car Park – N3 billion; House of Representatives Car Park -N3 billion; and Furnishing of committee rooms (Senate) -N2.7 billion; Furnishing of committee rooms (House) – N3 billion; Design, Construction, Furnishing and Equipping of National Assembly Ultramodern Printing Press – N3 billion.”

“There are also other items in the budget: Design, Construction, Furnishing and Equipping of the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) – N4 billion; National Assembly Hospital Project – N15 billion.”

“Other items are: National Assembly Recreation Centre – N4 billion; Procurement of Books for the National Assembly Library – N3 billion; and National Assembly Pension Board (Take-Off Grant) – N2.5 billion.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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