By Udora Orizu
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has given President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly a 14-day ultimatum to reverse the proposed cut of N26.51 billion in basic healthcare budget, instead, should cut the National Assembly and presidency budgets or face legal action.
The organisation is also called on them to meet to reverse the proposed cut of N50.76 billion in the education sector budget.
But in a swift reaction, the House of Representatives said a non-governmental organisation cannot decide for the government and the body given the constitutional responsibility what to do in terms of budgeting.
In the letters dated April 18, 2020, which was signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Mr. Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation proposed to cut among others, the N15 million monthly allowances/running costs per senator, about N10 million monthly allowances/running costs per member of the House of Representatives as well as budgets for the presidency on travel, feeding and vehicles.
The letters, which was addressed to President Buhari, Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, read: “Continuing to neglect these basic public goods and services to sustain the apparently lavish lifestyles of members of the National Assembly and other powerful politicians wound exacerbate poverty, inequality, marginalisation and impunity in the country.
“The cuts would leave the poorest and most vulnerable people without access to these essential public goods and services, and without any other place to turn to, despite the COVID-19 crisis. This would put both the government and the National Assembly in breach of their constitutional responsibility and international human rights and anti-corruption obligations.
“The COVID-19 crisis is a good opportunity to cut the costs of governance, particularly the unsustainable spending on the National Assembly, and the presidency budget, and focus on increasing budget allocations to healthcare and education.
“The authorities approach to National Assembly and presidency budgets ought to be ‘do more with less’. While we understand that the country is facing difficult choices in budget allocations, the authorities should have prioritised cuts in National Assembly and presidency budgets to increase the allocations to healthcare and education.
“If the cuts are sustained, Nigerians will become justified in thinking that the government and the leadership of the National Assembly do not really care about improving access of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people to basic public services like healthcare and education.”
Speaking to THISDAY, the spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, said SERAP should get busy with COVID-19 and stop seeking relevance by dwelling on frivolities.
He stressed that the National Assembly understands Nigeria better than any NGO, adding that they know their mandate and are living by it for the interest of Nigerians.
According to Kalu, “SERAP has gone to court on many things where they have no locus. How does an NGO decide for the government and body given the constitutional responsibility what to do in terms of budgeting?”