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Buhari’s gesture stirs fresh demand for N/Assembly budget details

President Muhammadu Buhari’s gesture at the presentation of the 2021 budget proposal has raised fresh demand for the details of the National Assembly’s budget, Daily…

President Muhammadu Buhari’s gesture at the presentation of the 2021 budget proposal has raised fresh demand for the details of the National Assembly’s budget, Daily Trust reports.

Buhari had, while reading out the breakdown of the budget proposal on Thursday, paused for about a minute when he got to that of the National Assembly.

Twice, Buhari mentioned the National Assembly, thus attracting thunderous laughter at the green chamber, venue of the budget presentation. The president said, “I will read that again.”

It was after the brief drama that the president announced that N128bn had been proposed for the National Assembly for the 2021 fiscal year. This represents an increase of N3bn, to the N125bn approved for the lawmakers in the revised 2020 budget.

Meanwhile, Daily Trust reports that fresh demand for the details of the National Assembly budget by civil society organisations is trailing the president’s action.

The details of the budget of the federal lawmakers, which has been shrouded in secrecy, was again conspicuously missing in the details of the budget proposal released by the Budget Office of the Federation on Friday.

The details of the federal budget proposal were made available for public scrutiny 24 hours after the budget presentation by the president.

  • With secret budget, lawmakers lack morality to interrogate other arms –CSOs

The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the country has a lot of commitments that encourage open and transparent governance.

“Nigeria has been promoting or rather has been talking about transparency and accountability in government, and the National Assembly is expected to be part of government.

“It is supposed to be one government, which means that there should be consistency particularly when it comes to public resources. This is public money, this is a public institution,” he said.

Lamenting the refusal of the federal lawmakers to make their budget details available to the public, he said it was unfortunate that secrecy has continued to govern the way and manner in which the National Assembly ran its affairs.

“This is really bad. This is sending a very terrible, wrong signal to the entire government agencies that the National Assembly wants to supervise and oversight.

“Even members of the National Assembly who are not principal officers don’t know the details of the budget of the National Assembly.

“So, Nigerians will take the National Assembly seriously for its oversight and its legislative work if they begin to be open, be transparent, accessible and responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians,” he said.

Also, the Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said the National Assembly has something to hide.

“If there is nothing to hide all the expenditures – both recurrent and capital – would be there in the public domain.

“For a long time, the budget of the National Assembly has always been shrouded in secrecy which should not be,” she said.

She said the legislative arm of government should lead in accountability and transparency, adding that the arm exists for that purpose.

  • Request for details through FOI – Reps

In their legislative agenda, both chambers of the 9th National Assembly promised to be transparent in their dealings.

However, the manner their budgets and spending are kept secret negates that promise.

Reacting, the House of Representatives spokesman, Benjamin Kalu (APC, Abia State), referred this paper to the National Assembly management.

“Rely on the Freedom of Information Act and request for it from the management, I am sure the management will grant your request,” he said.

However, the Senate spokesman, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, did not respond to calls and messages sent to him.

But when contacted, the National Assembly Management spokesman, Emmanuel Agada, said, “Recall during the president’s address to the National Assembly members, he read out the statutory and sectoral allocations and promised that the minister of finance will provide the details later.

“The National Assembly had only received the appropriation bill and is yet  to commence consideration, as such, making the details available to the public at this stage is not procedural and function of the National Assembly rather the Minister of Finance and the Executive Arms who are the movers of the Bill.”

  • Secrecy, upward journey of National Assembly budget

Until 2010, the breakdown of the National Assembly budget was always part of the national budget. It became a one-line-item when Senator David Mark was the Senate President.

The lawmakers’ budget was N23.347bn in 2003, N32.229bn in 2004, N55.422bn in 2005, N39.810bn in 2006, N66.488bn in 2007, N104.825bn in 2008 and N96.052 billion in 2009.

In 2010, the lawmakers got N154.2bn. For four years – 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 each – N150bn was budgeted for the parliament.

However, in 2015, it was slashed to N120bn, and N115bn in 2016. In 2017, the legislators got N125bn, N139.5bn in 2018 and N151.6bn in 2019.