Nigerian lawmakers move against Saraki, Dogara over budget secrecy, constituency projects

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The secrecy with which the National Assembly has handled its budgets, and the lopsided manner it distributes funds for zonal intervention projects, are unsettling the lawmaking body and putting members on a collision path against the leadership.

Former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, had on January 10, challenged the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to make the budget open, disclosing that he and his colleagues, like most Nigerians, had no knowledge of details of the NASS budget.

Such calls have grown in the last week, and have become even more intense in the House of Representatives which for most of last year was at the centre of a devastating budget padding scandal triggered by former appropriation committee chairman, Abdulmumin Jibrin.

Mr. Jibrin accused his former ally and speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, of inserting fictitious projects worth billions of naira into the national budget, an allegation the speaker denied.

Now, members are agitating for the House budget to be made open, and for a more equitable allocation of funds for so-called intervention projects, several lawmakers told reports.

Legislators, many of them principal officers, and administrative offices of the National Assembly, said the budgets of the Senate and the House were known only to the Senate President, the Speaker and the Clerk to the National Assembly.

“It’s so secret that neither the Senate Leader nor the House Leader knows what is in the (budget),” said one source.

The leadership of the House asked members to disregard allegations made by Mr. Jibrin, a source said.

“But members believe they don’t have what to use to defend themselves before their constituents against Jibrin’s allegations because they don’t know details of their own budget,” said the source, providing basis for the call for disclosure to members.

Yet, it appears the lawmakers are not “very” concerned about the disclosure as much as the agitation for zonal intervention reform.

Several lawmakers told reports  that the National Assembly leadership, particularly the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, use the budget to control lawmakers, tactically determining who gets what and when.

“Because most of us benefit from these allowances, it is really difficult to speak publicly against the leadership,” a member of the House of Representatives said.

Mr. Adekoya said he didn’t “totally” agree the budget was not known to the lawmakers.

He suggested there is possibility for the lawmakers to understand what the details of the budget are, using what they earn and use.

“If I am given N2, 000, I should be able to multiply that by 365 days. I know I use AC in my office. We have staff. There are directors and staff who are civil servants,” he said.

But the Reps’ spokesperson, Mr. Namdas, did not gloss over the secrecy around the budget. He said the leadership of the House had promised to disclose the details of the budget “not only to members but also to the public.”

A source close to Mr. Saraki said it was not as if the Senate President was not ready to disclose the NASS budget.

“But a lot of the lawmakers are not well disposed to it because they feel it will expose them to the public,” the source said.

Some insiders said many lawmakers do not care about knowing what is in their own budget, and are prepared to also stop the public from knowing, so long as their earnings keep coming.

( Premium Times)

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