30 January 2016

Nigeria: Obasanjo's Letter to Saraki Stirs Fresh Storm On N/Assembly Budget

A new storm is brewing on the budget of the National Assembly following the letter written to the Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, accusing the federal lawmakers of corruption. Our correspondent reports that all eyes are now on Saraki whose motto is "Good governance, transparency and accountability.

The thrust of former president Obasanjo's letter to the federal lawmakers revolved around the budget of the National Assembly which is widely believed to be shrouded in secrecy; no thanks to the former Senate President, David Mark whose tenure saw the inclusion of the budget in first line charge.

It was under Mark's tenure that the National Assembly budget, which used to be open, was included in the first line charge like the Judiciary, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) among others, thus worsening the controversy about the expenditures of the legislative arm of government.

From then, the breakdown of the lawmakers' budget was removed and only it sum total was always seen on the annual budget of the federal government. It was precisely in 2010 that the budget was included in the first line charge.

For years, the budget of the federal lawmakers has been swelling until last year when it was slashed and the tempo was sustained in this year's budget as N5bn was yanked off from it.

The budget started skyrocketing in 2003 when it was jerked up from N23.347bn to N32.229bn in 2004 and the following year it went up to N55.422bn . Unexpectedly, the budget that covers the salaries and allowances of the 109 Senators, the 360 House of Representatives members, their aides as well as the budget of the National Assembly Commission, National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) and the Public Complaints Commission (PCP) dropped to N39.810bn in 2006.

It resumed its upward swing in 2007 under Mark's tenure when it almost doubled the figure to hit N66.488bn in 2006. In 2008, records shows that N104.825bn was budgeted for the federal lawmakers. It went down to N96.052 billion in 2009 and in the following year, it went to its peak of about N154.2 billion.

Our correspondent reports that since 2010, the budget of the lawmakers has been standing at N150bn for four years, until last year when it was slashed to N120bn. If the 2016 budget estimate sails through, the lawmakers will have N115bn to spend for this year's fiscal period.

Since his emergence as the Senate President, a position that made him the chairman of the National Assembly, Saraki has been promising to return transparency and accountability to the National Assembly.

Weeks after Saraki assumed office, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) engaged him over what they tagged 'bogus budget of the National Assembly'. The union said the jerking up of the budget from N23.347bn to N154.2bn during Senator David Mark era was questionable.

"The National Assembly budget which in 2003 was N23.347bn rose to N66.488bn in 2007 and then climbed to N104.825bn in 2008. In 2010, your Excellency, under the watch of your predecessor, the budget of the National Assembly reached an all time record jump of N154.2bn.

"To compound the problem of comprehension, your predecessor, obviously working with your colleagues in the red and green chambers, wrapped your earnings and expenditure in utmost secrecy and by 2011 the details of the budget were no longer accessible," NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said during a visit to the National Assembly

On many occasions, Saraki had pledged to open up the budget. During a programme on a private television station, he said every expenditure and receipt will be broken down into relevant budget heads for easy tracking.

"By the time we come in to the 2016 budget at the end of the year, it will be even clearer because people will not just see one item line.

" You will see what goes to the Senate, what goes to the House of Reps, you are going to see what goes to management, what goes to Legislative Institute, we are going to make all these open and clear. That is part of the openness we promised", he said.

But surprisingly, during the four days debate on the general principles of the 2016 budget, the senators kept mum on their budget except Professor Olusola Adeyeye (APC,Osun Central) who spoke on it, saying the allocation of N115bn to the National Assembly was only 1.08 percent of the country's budget".

For his part, Saraki only said: " the Senate must lead by example in terms of our own funding, budgets and accountability -showing, beyond doubt, value for money" and nothing more was heard on it.

In his letter to the federal lawmakers, Obasanjo specifically asked Saraki and Dogara to have the courage to publish its budgets starting from year 2000.

"It will be interesting if the National Assembly will be honourable enough and begin the process of transparency, responsibility and realism by publishing its recurrent budgets for 2016 as it should normally be done, " he said.

But in his reply, Saraki says; "I have canvassed that we must lay bare the budget of the Senate, nay the National Assembly and its affiliated institutions. I equally canvassed the need to strengthen the capacity of the legislative institution to carry our effective oversight of the executive arm so that we can ensure the budget leads to the realization of the policy objectives of the Buhari's Administration".

But in his reaction to Obsanjo's letter, Senator Dino Melaye ( APC Kogi West), accused the former President of exposing the National Assembly to corruption.

"The letter I can see, is a misplacement of anger. Our leader is mistaken the 8th National Assembly as the same Senate Assembly that defrauded him in 2007. Those who collected his money and refused to implement his 3rd term agenda, have left, therefore I appeal to "Baba" that we are not the ones please.

"While I am against corruption anywhere in Nigeria, I will not support accusations based on anger and vindictiveness. The 8th Senate should also look inwardly and purge herself of all the deliberate misgivings of the past. Nigeria must work and we must support the anti-corruption stand of the Buhari's Administration. God bless Nigeria!," he said.

The question on the lips of National Assembly watchers is when will Saraki make public the breakdown of this year's federal lawmakers' budget.


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