APC Remains Silent As Nigerians Demand For “Open National Assembly” -BudgIT
The All Progressives Congress has failed to respond officially to queries from BudgIT and to the pointed demands of Nigerians on social and offline media in the quest for a transparent and accountable National Assembly. Recently, Nigerians took issue with the current situation where the National Assembly has spent over N600bn in four years, without granting the public access to knowing precisely how the funds were spent.
This is against a general backdrop where an estimated N1.26 trillion has been disbursed to the National Assembly from 1999 to date.
The National Assembly is statutorily entitled to N150bn as a first line deduction, which means top priority is granted to the needs of Nigeria’s lawmakers. Regardless of the dynamics of Nigeria’s finances at the relevant time, the lawmakers get their allowances and salaries. The details of this transaction, as significant as the funds are, remain shrouded in secrecy; no public details exist on how the funds are spent and a proper audit is not made available to citizens. In the typical budget of most Ministries, including the Presidency, it is clear how much is budgeted for cutlery, travels and salaries. However, the National Assembly does not disclose a single item on how N150bn is spent and its budget is higher than individual budget of 23 states in Nigeria. Even more remarkable and inimical to our democracy is that the same respect accorded to the National Assembly where taxpayers’ monies are disbursed as a matter of priority into lawmakers’ pockets has not been accorded to Nigerians. Sixteen years and 5 elections into our democracy, no one seems ready to let the people know precisely how their money is being expended, much less if the lawmakers are providing value for money to the populace.
BudgIT, a civic organization, has been in the forefront of making the National Assembly accountable and proactively sent an email request on May 5 to APC Publicity Office, seeking a pledge to end the paradox of a National Assembly which passes Freedom Of Information laws but denies FOI requests seeking to air its finances. Our email to Mr Lai Mohammed has not been acknowledged nor replied to.
BudgIT’s request is we would like to know the APC’s position in demanding accountability for previous budget allocations and if the APC, which anchors its message on CHANGE will commit to making public a line-by-line breakdown of past and coming NASS Budget Performance Reports when the 8th National Assembly resumes.
On the 17th of March 2015, BudgIT, in collaboration with the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) made a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to the Clerk of the National Assembly (NASS), requesting for the following:
The detailed breakdown of NASS budget of N150bn for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The performance report for National Assembly budget of N150bn for 2011, 2012 and 2013.
This request was made following the long-standing secrecy around the budget of the National Assembly. From 1999 to date, an estimated budgetary provision of N1.26 trillion has been made to the National Assembly, with Nigerians kept in the dark on what or how this huge sum was spent.
On the 27th of April, a response letter, dated 23rd of March, 2015 was received from the Legal Services Department of the NASS, refusing this request, on the basis that:
“Some of the information in the National Assembly Budget for 2011-2014 is “personal, third party related and privileged and are all exempted under Sections 14 and 15 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 and that the other information you requested for are published and available in public libraries and cannot be applied for by virtue of Section 26 of the Freedom of Information act, 2011”
It is very shameful to note that the National Assembly will not disclose how it spends public funds, when in standard democracies it is a given for parliaments to disclose how they spend funds from national treasury. For example, access to the US and UK lawmakers’ expense records is available at http://disbursements.house.gov/ and http://mpsallowancesdb.parliament.uk/, but nothing is seen of the Nigerian parliament at all levels.
It is therefore understandably baffling to the same Nigerians who voted in the All Progressives Congress that this party, which campaigned on the platform of CHANGE has declined to speak up, when asked pointedly about its commitment to ensuring that its members (who are currently jostling for leadership of the National Assembly) commit to an open National Assembly. Senator Bukola Saraki and Honourable Abdulmumin Jubrin (via their social media platforms) have said they are committed to increasing transparency in general but have stopped short of going on the record to say they will ensure that the National Assembly budget will be more open. These signals do not bode well on all counts for the fate of transparency in Nigeria’s legislative chambers. From what is transpiring, our lawmakers’ concept of CHANGE is proving to be selective.
Though we welcome a ruling party and lawmakers from all sides willing to accede to the wishes of the people, however, while we await change from within, we continue to work to enforce change from without. BudgIT and PPDC today filed a lawsuit against the National Assembly, challenging its response on why the expenditure of public funds cannot be disclosed to citizens. We hereby reiterate that is a campaign we are willing to see to a logical conclusion, on behalf of every Nigerian.