Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, over their failure to cut the unlawful National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion, including the N30.17 billion severance payments and inauguration costs for members.
The suit followed a move by the National Assembly to increase its 2023 budget from N169 billion proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari to N228.1 billion. The approved budget showed an increase of about N59.1 billion. The country’s budget of N21.83 trillion is based on a N10.49 trillion revenue and N11.34 trillion deficit.
In the suit, number FHC/ABJ/CS/152/2023, filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Lawan and Gbajabiamila to review and reduce the budget of N228.1 billion, the leadership and members of the National Assembly allocated for their benefit.”
SERAP is also seeking an order restraining and stopping Ms Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning from releasing to the National Assembly the budget ofN228.1 billion until an impact assessment of the spending on access to public goods and services and the country’s debt crisis, is carried out;
“An order restraining and stopping Lawan and Gbajabiamila from demanding or collecting the National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion, until an impact assessment of the spending on access to public goods and services and the country’s debt crisis, is carried out;
“It is a grave violation of the public trust and constitutional oath of office for the members of the National Assembly to increase their budget at a time when some 133 million Nigerians are living in poverty;
“The National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion is higher than the statutory transfer to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), which is N103.3 billion;
“The increase is unreasonable, as it would substantially increase the cost of governance, and exacerbate the country’s debt crisis. It is unlawful, and unfair to the Nigerian people;
“Cutting the National Assembly budget would reduce the growing budget deficit, address the unsustainable debt burden, and serve the public interest;
“By increasing its budget, the National Assembly has unjustifiably and disproportionately reduced the UBEC budget;
“This is a travesty, especially given that Nigeria currently has over 20 million out-of-school children, and half of all poor people in the country are children.”
Joined in the suit filed by SERAP’s lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare, and Atinuke Adejuyigbe as defendants are President Buhari; Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed.
Among other things, SERAP claimed: “The increase in the 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 budget when the Federal Government and many of the 36 states are clearly in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress….”