* Says register of beneficiaries scrutinised before approval
*Vows to monitor implementation of approved N500bn
*Group faults N8,000 monthly palliatives
*Falana: N110bn palliative for N’Assembly members callous, illegal
Chuks Okocha, Sunday Aborisade in Abuja and Wale Igbintade in Lagos
The Senate has clarified that the $800 million World Bank post-petrol subsidy removal facility was not a loan, but an assistance from the multilateral institution, to help vulnerable Nigerians who are currently finding it difficult due to the challenges that came with the petrol subsidy removal.
The clarification from the government came just as Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, described as “callous and insensitive,” the decision of members of the National Assembly to provide N110 billion for themselves in the 2023 Supplementary Appropriation Bill.
Also, the United Action Front of Civil Society yesterday faulted the N8,000 monthly approved for vulnerable Nigerians.
Commenting further on the post-petrol subsidy removal World Bank facility, the red chamber also said data for the disbursement of N8,000 to 12 million poor families for six months, was thoroughly scrutinised before it gave approval to the President Bola Tinubu’s administration to access the facility.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Yemi Adaramodu, gave the explanation while briefing journalists in Abuja.
Adaramodu, also stated that the $800 million facility was different from the N500 billion the federal government had set aside to provide palliatives to Nigerians in order to cushion the effects of the fuel subsidy removal.
He said the 9th Senate, following public outcry, had refused to give its approval to former president Muhammadu Buhari’s government to access the fund because it was a few days to the expiration of the administration.
He said, “It is a World Bank facility. It has been on before the advent of this government.
“It is not borrowing, it is for the national social safety net. It is very different from the palliatives targeted specifically at Nigerians which would be sourced among Nigerians. It is not borrowing, it is not a loan.
“We are not approving a loan for the federal government; It is a World Bank assisted facility that has been there before the 10th Senate.
“It is just that the National Assembly has to legislate upon any money that is either coming from outside or that is being taken out of Nigeria. That is what we did with the approval given.”
Adaramodu, further explained that the N500 billion meant for fuel subsidy palliatives was a different arrangement from the disbursement of $800 million to 12 million vulnerable homes.
He said, “The N500 billion palliatives which the president asked for is to cushion the negative effects of the fuel subsidy removal on the common Nigerians.
“Definitely, that may not be enough because there are many other aspects which the government can delve into especially as we learnt that the government has been having talks with the organised labour.
“I think the federal government is going to do something in that area. However, in the meantime, it is the stopgap for the dependent Nigerians so as to lift them up before other palliatives come.
“We feel their problems too, and that is why we believe that the average Nigerians must be assisted because we are running a human face government.
“When we are running a human face government, then everything that will be done must be targeted at Nigerians.
“That is why we expeditiously acceded to the request of Mr. President because appropriations belong to the National Assembly.
“It took us time to pass it because we have all pointers that this palliative is going to yield result. It is going to touch those people that it supposed to touch. So, that is why it was passed.”
He added: “On the issue of $800 million, it is like a social security scheme, which the federal government had sourced, because we know that the N500 billion cannot do the magic.
“So the $800 million will follow in and assisting Nigerians to overcome the economic hardship in the country. So, that is why we approved these requests by Mr. President.
“We were not part of the previous palliatives, and for this 10th Senate, so we asked questions because we were not part of any previous palliatives and we are not concerned about what was given before.
Meanwhile, the United Action Front of Civil Society had expressed concern over the approval of the sum for palliatives by the Bola Tinubu-led administration of the All progressives Congress (APC), after what it described as the arbitrary hike in petrol price.
The group decried as another grand deceit, “the N8,000 monthly handouts proposed by government for the yet to be disclosed (or otherwise covertly selected) 12 million poor and vulnerable households.”
In a statement by its Head, National Coordinating Centre, Olawale Okunniyi, the United Action Front of Civil Society, said, “It is no longer in doubt that the N500 million approved by the House of Representatives on Thursday 13, 2023 as part of the amendment to the 2022 supplementary appropriation Act for the provision of palliative would be funded through an additional $800 million World Bank loan approved by the Senate.
“It is therefore worrisome that the new administration is treading in the erroneous indebtedness of its predecessor. The United Action Front of Civil Society however laments the reality of making the same poor citizens of Nigeria take the bitter pill of repaying a wrongheaded loan supposedly being acquired in their interest in the nearest future,” it added.
The group said it was also beyond doubt that the meagre monetary palliative could barely feed a family of two for five days considering the fact that the fuel price hike in the name of subsidy removal had deepened the proportion of multi-dimensional poverty in the country.
Accordingly, the group said, “The leadership of the organised civil society therefore considers the supposed intervention as erroneous and a poorly conceived ploy to hoodwink the masses, who have been unduly trampled and pauperised by the policy of the APC government under ex-President Muhammadu Buhari; a trend that is sadly being renewed under the new administration.
“There are indeed enough reasons to conclude that the N8,000 monthly hand-out to a mere fraction of the poverty-stifled masses would end up another avenue for the corrupt enrichment of a few clique in power, as witnessed with previous supposed poverty alleviation programmes of the APC, namely the tradermoni scheme, the direct cash transfer and the school feeding programme supervised by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management.”
The United Action Front of Civil Society bemoaned what it described as the ridiculous tokenism which the new government was trying to foist on the country.
“It is indeed unfortunate that the government could be contemplating a meagre N8,000 six-monthly handout per tiny fraction of the several millions of households across the country at a time that a whooping N70 billion has been voted for 469 member-National Assembly.
“We make bold to assert that the N8,000 monthly handout is therefore not only insufficient, but ludicrous and therefore can’t and won’t be the remedy for the deep hardship attributable to government reckless economic policy.
“It therefore speaks to lack of compassion and utter display of insensitivity and arrogance on the part of the leadership of the new administration to have concluded that the N8,000 monthly per household could sufficiently ameliorate the profound hardship aggravated by the hike in fuel price across urban and rural communities in Nigeria.”
According to the group, “What is evident with the new loans is that the N8,000 monthly palliative proposed for 12 million households for a period of 6 months is a Greek gift after all.
“While desperate attempts are being made to hoodwink Nigerians that the N8,000 palliatives is for the collective best interest of the masses, it has however become expedient to lament the inevitable reality ahead, in not too distant future, to the effect that the masses would be forced to endure further pains that come with repayment of corruption laden loans that would only increase the debt burden of the Nigerian people rather than alleviate the multidimensional poverty line in the country.”
Falana: N110bn Palliative for N’Assembly Members Callous, Illegal
Also, Falana has described as “callous and insensitive decisions of the members of the National Assembly to provide N110 billion for themselves in the 2023 Supplementary Appropriation Bill.
Falana, in a statement issue yesterday, titled ‘Palliative of N110 Billion for National Assembly Members is Illegal and Contemptuous,’ stated that the decision was a flagrant contravention of Section 70 of the constitution.
He lamented that while the masses were groaning under the excruciating economic pains unleashed on them by the ruling class, the National Assembly awarded N228.7 million to each of the newly elected legislators
He argued that approving allowances in the form of palliatives for themselves without the approval of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission(RMAFC), the members of the National Assembly deliberately acted illegally and contemptuously
The statement read: “Out of sheer insensitivity coupled with impunity, the members of the National Assembly, regardless of political affiliation, conspired to breach the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 by padding the Supplementary Appropriation Bill, 2023 to provide the so called palliative of N70 billion for 306 newly elected members.
“While the masses of Nigeria are groaning under the excruciating economic pains unleashed on them by the ruling class, the National Assembly has awarded N228.7 million to each of the newly elected legislators.
“As if that is not enough, the members of the National Assembly have earmarked N40 billion to purchase 465 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and bulletproof cars for principal officials and members.
“However, the legislators approved the sum of N500 billion for 12 million indigent people in a country where the National Bureau of Statistics has said that “62.9 per cent of people (133 million) are multi-dimensionally poor.
“The callous and insensitive decisions of the members of the National Assembly constitute a flagrant contravention of Section 70 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, which stipulates as follows:
“A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall receive such salary and other allowances as RMAFC may determine.”
“In Monday Ubani & Anor. v Attorney-General of the Federation & Ors (Suit No FHC/LA/CS/690/ 2018), the learned trial Judge, Professor Chuka Obiozor had cause to interpret the above provision of the Constitution when he held that, “The National Assembly Service Commission has no power whatsoever to fix and determine or allocate the remuneration, allowances, salaries, emoluments or monetary values to the members of the national assembly.”
According to Falana, his Lordship had observed that, “Given many years of extreme poverty in the country, and the inability of several state governments to pay salaries of workers and pensions, the refusal or failure of the RAMFC to review and cut the salaries and allowances of members of the national assembly is a gross violation of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) and the commission’s own Act.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the learned trial Judge held that, “The allowances of wardrobe, newspapers, kitchen travelling domestic and constituency project allowances of the members of the National Assembly are never contemplated or in the intendment of the constitution which created them and specified how they can be remunerated.
“Consequently, the Court ordered the RMAFC to review the salaries and allowances of members of the national assembly to reflect the country’s current economic realities.
“The epochal judgment was adopted by the Federal High Court in the similar case (Suit No FHC/LA/CS/943/2019) filed by the Socio-economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP), Enough is Enough (EiE), and BudgIT against the National Assembly on the same subject matter and assigned to the same Judge.
“It is pertinent to note that both judgements of the Federal High Court have not been set aside by any higher court. Neither has the execution of the judgements been stayed or varied either by the Federal High Court or the Court of Appeal.
“Therefore, since the judgements are valid and subsisting, they are binding on all members of the legislative and executive organs of the federal government.
“In view of the foregoing, it is crystal clear that by approving allowances in the form of palliative for themselves without the approval of the RMAFC the members of the National Assembly deliberately acted illegally and contemptuously.
“As such actions cannot be justified in a democratic society which claims to operate under the rule of law, we are compelled to call on the leaders and members of the National Assembly to reverse the scandalous palliatives and purchase of exotic vehicles.”
Falana added: “However, if the illegal decisions are not reversed, we call on the RMAFC to take urgent steps to prevent the National Assembly from further usurping its constitutional functions.
“Otherwise, we are going to commence contempt proceedings against the Chairman of the RMAFC and the leaders of both Chambers of the National Assembly.”