SERAP Sues Lawan, Gbajabiamila over Failure to Cut N228.1bn N’Assembly Budget

Udora Orizu in Abuja

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a suit against the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila over their failure to cut National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion, including the N30.17 billion severance payments and inauguration costs for members.

The suit followed the move by the National Assembly to increase its 2023 budget from the 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 was 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 in Abuja, SERAP sought 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 own benefit.

SERAP also sought an order restraining and stopping Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning from releasing to the National Assembly the 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.

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and  Atinuke Adejuyigbe, read in part: “The budget should reflect national development priorities, and not serve as a tool to satisfy the lifestyle of lawmakers or provide them with severance payments or parting gifts.

“Rather than exercising its oversight functions to check the persistent borrowing by President Muhammadu Buhari, and scrutinising the apparently unlawful overdrafts and loans obtained by the federal government from the Central Bank of Nigeria, the National Assembly is increasing its own budget.

“The increase in the National Assembly budget, including the unnecessary proposed spending of N30.17bn on ‘severance payments’ and ‘inauguration expenses’ is a fundamental breach of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international human rights obligations.

“It is unjustifiable and unreasonable for the National Assembly to arbitrarily increase its own budget when the Federal Government and many of the 36 states are clearly in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress.

“The National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion would increase the country’s borrowing and debt crisis. Growing debt burdens and debt repayment difficulties will have negative impacts on the ability of poor and vulnerable Nigerians to enjoy basic socio-economic rights.

“Long-term unsustainable debt can be a barrier to the government’s ability to mobilise resources for human rights, and may lead to taxes and user fees that impact negatively on poor and vulnerable Nigerians.”

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