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Supplementary budget: Senators, reps get N70bn to enhance working conditions

The National Assembly, yesterday, amended the N819.5 billion 2022 supplementary budget and approved N70 billion to support the “w...

The National Assembly, yesterday, amended the N819.5 billion 2022 supplementary budget and approved N70 billion to support the “working conditions” of new lawmakers.

The amendment also made provision for N500 billion in palliatives for Nigerians to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal. 

The amendment was passed in both the Senate and House of Representatives 24 hours after President Bola Ahmed Tinubu sent the request to the parliament. 

The breakdown of the amended N819.5 billion supplementary budget showed that N500 billion goes for palliatives to cushion the effect of recent fuel subsidy removal. It will be domiciled in the finance ministry. 

The details also showed that N185 billion was for the Ministry of Works and Housing to alleviate the impact of the flooding disaster suffered in the country in 2022 on road infrastructure across the six geopolitical zones.  

The sum of N19.2 billion was allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture to ameliorate the massive destruction to farmlands across the country during the flooding experienced last year; N35 billion to National Judicial Council; N10 billion to Federal Capital Territory Administration for critical projects; and N70 billion for the National Assembly to support the working conditions of new members.

The allocation of N70bn for lawmakers has, however, attracted criticisms from civil society organisations who consider it as outrageous.

 

It’s height of insensitivity – CSOs

The Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim Zikirullahi, said the action showed how insensitive the legislators are to the plight of the ordinary Nigerians.

“Millions of farmers have to make do with N19.2bn while 469 lawmakers have allocated N70bn to themselves. This has to be the height of greed and disrespect for the people. This lopsided approach to governance, and the disproportionate focus on the needs of few people in government stands condemned,” Zikirullahi said.

Also, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani said, “There is no way any reasonable person with an iota of common sense can allocate billions of naira to themselves and continue to enjoy government privileges while failing to provide conditions for improved living conditions and creating opportunities for better livelihood to the people they govern and who, for the most part, feed the nation because without them we cannot have food to eat. I think there is no logic and common sense here.

“The president must act swiftly against this recklessness and extravagant lifestyle of the lawmakers and other political appointees who add little to no value to the country yet every month they go home with millions of naira for themselves at the expense of the poor and struggling masses.”

The Executive Director, Young People’s Initiative for Credible Leadership (YPICL), Comrade Abdulwahab Ekekhide, said the 10th National Assembly is starting on a wrong footing, and that there is a need to remind them of Section 14 subsection 2(b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended which states that the security and welfare of the people is the primary purpose of government.

“How on earth can they approve the sum of N19.2bn for farmers affected by flooding in 2022 and then approve for themselves a whopping N70bn? This is a misplaced priority and a disservice to the Nigerian people.

“Let me use this medium to call on other CSOs and the citizens to begin to hold our legislators to account,” Ekekhide said.

On his part, the Executive Director, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre (PAACA) and Chairman of Partners for Electoral Reforms (PER), Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, said Nigerians have carried on for a long time on the National Assembly on their attitude of setting their budget and approving it, which is a travesty.

“Why should the legislative arm of the government approve its budget? It is a challenge ab initio. They sit down and decide what to appropriate for themselves when they are the keepers of the purse of the country through appropriation.

“We need to deal with that and even now they are asking for an increase in their pay, when it is known to the world that they are among the highest paid in the world and even at that without disclosure.

“They continue to dangle on miserable pay slips. But the appropriations are so annoying; in fact, many of the lawmakers do not know the breakdown of the budget of the National Assembly.

“It is a secret that is known only to the leadership and the media knows that and you don’t call them out. Why should they be appropriating monies for themselves,” Nwagwu queried.

 

Fund not for us but N/Assembly — Lawmakers

But defending the action, the Senate spokesman, Yemi Adaramodu, said the N70 billion was not a new allocation because it had been part of the 2022 supplementary budget. 

Briefing reporters, Adaramodu explained that the money was not meant for lawmakers but for the National Assembly as an institution. He said the only new thing in the amended supplementary budget was the N500bn palliatives for Nigerians. 

“It is not a new thing as a budget. When you look at all items there, they were part of the 2022 budgetary provisions, none is new. 

“What is new is the N500 billion palliatives, which will be sourced from the budget that is already in existence. So, any other budget or heading that is there which could not be funded very well because of that N500 billion will now be the first line charge in the 2024 budget. 

“People always have interest in any National Assembly issue but they forget that the National Assembly is not only about senators and House of Representatives members. It also includes all the staff and the cleaners. 

“We cannot give ourselves a salary or allowance; that is not possible. We cannot add or subtract. Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission does that.

“When you look at the 2022 budget very well, nothing there is new, except the N500 billion for palliatives. 

“Why every other thing must be brought forward is that we must show it in appropriation to make it a law. It is not for any lawmaker,” he stated.

Also, the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, told reporters that the N70 billion allocated for the National Assembly was for the infrastructure of the parliament not lawmakers. 

He said, “I just wanted to make it clear that what we did today was not just for the palliatives so that the narrative that will be out there will not be that we passed a palliative bill to take care of the judicial commission, or take care of the National Assembly.

“It is the National Assembly infrastructure that we are talking about when we mentioned the component that has to do with parliament.

“But the major part of the whole bill we passed today is to help Nigerians who, due to the removal of subsidy, are feeling the impact.”

 

Tinubu’s  $800m loan request approved 

Meanwhile, the Senate has also approved President Tinubu’s request to borrow $800 million from the World Bank. 

Daily Trust reports that former President Muhammadu Buhari had towards the tail end of his administration forwarded the same request to the 9th Senate in May. 

But the 9th Assembly could not consider the request before its tenure ended on June 11.

Tinubu, in a letter read by Senate President Godswill Akpabio during plenary on Thursday, asked the 10th Senate to approve the same borrowing request. 

The president, in the letter, explained that the loan would be used to scale up the National Social Safety Net Programme.

Tinubu’s letter reads: “Please note that the federal executive council led by President Muhammadu Buhari approved an additional loan facility to the tune of $800 million to be secured from the World Bank for the National Social Safety Net programme. Copy of FEC’s extract attached.

“You may also wish to note that the purpose of the facility is to expand coverage of shock-responsive safety net support among the poor and vulnerable Nigerians. This will assist them in coping with basic needs.

“You may further wish to note that under the conditional cash transfer window of the programme, the Federal Government of Nigeria will transfer the sum of N8,000 per month to 12 million poor and low-income households for six months, with a multiplier effect on about 60 million individuals.

“To guarantee the credibility of the process, digital transfers will be made directly to beneficiaries’ accounts and mobile wallets.”

 

It’s an avenue to divert funds – Atiku 

But reacting, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar described the plan to hand out N8,000 to 12 million households for six months “as a brazen attempt to divert public funds.” 

Atiku, in a statement issued by his Special Assistant on Public Communications, Phrank Shaibu, in Abuja on Thursday, said Tinubu’s plan was reminiscent of former President Buhari’s conditional cash transfer and COVID-19 intervention initiative which saw politicians keeping food items and provisions in their homes while the poor went hungry.

Stating that Tinubu lacked a clear economic policy apart from taxing Nigerians, he said having deceptively attained presidential power, Tinubu had been exposed as an economic illiterate.

 “The so-called palliatives that Tinubu seeks to share to the poor are just another avenue to divert public funds. For years, the Nigerian government has rejected calls to publish the list of the beneficiaries of the so-called palliatives; this has never been done because it is all a scam.

“Tinubu should stop trying to deceive Nigerians who are still suffering from the effect of his lacklustre economic policies,” he said. 

 

By Abdullateef Salau, Balarabe Alkassim, Abbas Jimoh & Baba Martins

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