SERAP, Others Ask Court to Stop Spending of N37bn for N’Assembly Renovation

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Chuks Okocha in Abuja

A coalition of civil rights society groups and some concerned persons have filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja to restrain and stop President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, from releasing N37 billion allocated for the renovation of the National Assembly complex to the Federal Capital Development Agency and the National Assembly until an impact assessment of the spending is carried out.

In a statement by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the groups and concerned persons also seek a court order to “restrain, prevent and stop the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila and the Federal Capital Development Agency from demanding or collecting the N37 billion earmarked for the renovation of the National Assembly complex until an impact assessment of the spending on critical sectors and access to public goods and services, is carried out.”

The lawsuit was filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, BudgIT, Enough is Enough and 583 concerned Nigerians including Bring Back Our Girls co-convener Aisha Yesufu; as well as Nigerian singer and actor, Banky Wellington.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1633/2019 filed last week at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the plaintiffs argued: “The National Assembly complex should be a safe and conducive environment for those who work there. But spending N37 billion to renovate the place is not commensurate with the constitutional commitments to public services and goods; decreasing public revenues and increasing level of debts as well as the poor economic and social realities in the country.”

According to the plaintiffs, spending N37 billion to renovate the National Assembly complex is self-serving, wrongful, illegal and unconstitutional expenditure of public funds, as it means less money for educating millions of out-of-school Nigerian children, providing access to clean water and healthcare to Nigerians including the elderly, or repairing the country’s roads and bridges.

The suit read in part: “The defendants are public officers who have sworn the constitutional oaths of office to perform their respective duties in the interest of Nigerian citizens. The refusal of President Buhari to object to the Budget/Appropriation Bill containing a huge N37 billion on renovation of the National Assembly complex is a gross violation of the constitution and existing laws in Nigeria.

“The National Assembly complex was reportedly constructed at the cost of $35.18 million in 1999 and N40.2 billion was budgeted in December 2013 for the construction of phase III of the National Assembly Complex and renovation of the first and second phases of the complex.

“The 2020 Budget is in deficit of N2.175 trillion with anticipated revenue at N8.42 trillion and proposed expenditure of N10.594 trillion.

“The present-day economic reality in Nigeria includes chronic poverty amongst a high percentage of citizens and the inability of many state governments to pay salaries of workers and pensions. Unless the reliefs sought are granted, the Defendants will take benefit of the allocated N37 billion at the expense of many Nigerians living in poverty.

The plaintiffs want the court to determine: “Whether N37 billion proposed, voted and allocated for renovation of the National Assembly Complex in the 2020 Nigerian National Budget via Appropriation Act 2019 by the National Assembly and signed into law by President Buhari is not in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1] of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and Oath of a Member of the National Assembly.”

The plaintiffs are seeking “an order of interim injunction restraining President Buhari and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, or their agents from releasing the N37 billion allocated for the renovation of the National Assembly complex to the Federal Capital Development Agency and the National Assembly leadership pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice for an Order of Interlocutory Injunction filed contemporaneously in this suit.”

The plaintiffs are also seeking “an order of interim injunction restraining the Senate President Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Federal Capital Development Agency from demanding or collecting the N37 billion proposed for the renovation of the National Assembly pending the hearing and determination of Motion on Notice filed contemporaneously in this suit.”