The controversy over the secrecy with which the National Assembly handles its budget was further brought to the fore on Wednesday with a senator saying he and his colleagues, like most Nigerians, have no knowledge of details of the budget.
Ali Ndume, who until a fortnight ago was the Senate Leader, stated this on the floor of the Senate during the debate on the 2017 budget.
Mr. Ndume, who lamented that the budget of the Senate was not known to majority of senators, said it was important to let the public know details of the budget of the red chamber.
“This is very important because we cannot be taking blames or credits of things we didn’t know of,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, repeatedly failed to honour pledges to make details of the N115 billion National Assembly budget public.
With N23.347 billion in 2003, the National Assembly’s budget now stands at about N115 billion yearly, representing over 492 per cent rise in 13 years. Until 2016, the budget had often gone as high as N150 billion a year.
Several lawmakers told PREMIUM TIMES the National Assembly leadership, particularly the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, use the budget to influence 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.
The National Assembly leadership has repeatedly ignored calls by Nigerians and civil society groups to make details of the budget public.
The Senate spokesperson, Aliyu Abdullahi, once told PREMIUM TIMES it was not in “public interest” to disclose Senate budget.
“The National Assembly does not have the same budget structure with the Executive and it is not in the public interest to see everything in the budget (of the NASS),” Mr. Abdullahi said.
Apart from calling for transparency in the National Assembly budget, Mr. Ndume (APC-Borno) also called for total overhaul of the 2017 Appropriation Bill to address the needs of Nigerians.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on December 14 presented the 2017 budget of N7.30 trillion to the National Assembly .
Mr. Ndume said that the most important ingredient of any budget was its details.
“However, the 2017 budget lacks details,” he said.
“This is a government of change and for the budget to lack details, this must also change.
“The details of the budget must be considered holistically,” he said.
NORTH EAST, OTHERS
While describing the humanitarian crisis in the North-East as a catastrophe, Mr. Ndume said the N45 billion projected in the budget for the area was inadequate.
“The international community and the United Nations agencies have donated N305 billion for 2017, yet Nigeria is budgeting N45 billion; there is an emergency situation and the government should do more,” he said.
Besides, he urged the Senate to allocate enough money to assist Internally Displaced Persons.
“We should be seen as being serious about the humanitarian crisis in the North-East,” he said.
Similarly, Shehu Sani (APC-Kaduna) said that the budget should not simply be a collection of numbers but that of aspirations and values of a people.
“Each year it passes through the ritual of passing through the National Assembly and the state of Nigerians as far as their life is concerned experience no change.
“On N1.663 trillion for debt servicing, we should explore the goodwill that Nigeria enjoys today from the international community to seek for further debt forgiveness so as to buttress our economy to address other issues which we are faced with.
“The budget for education, will this address the decadence in the sector. Will this end the perennial and persistent ASUU strikes? Will it address the basic challenge of our education sector?
“The defence budget of N140 billion. In a situation whereby we acknowledge the fact that the insurgency has seriously being degraded, we need to see a scale down of the defence budget,” he said.
He said the large sum of money for defence should be used for other issues such as health and education.
On power, Mr. Sani said there no economy can grow when it is run on generators.
“We constantly see promises and pledges, sometimes modest achievements that we have moved from 2,000 megawatts to 3,500megawatts and then going back to 1,500 megawatts.
“These issues need to be taken seriously; power is such a serious economic component that should not easily be jammed up by Housing and Works,” he said.
On his part, Philip Aduda (PDP-FCT) said the N37 billion allocated to the FCT was inadequate.
“We owe FCT contractors billions of Naira and as such we need more funds to settle our debts,” he said.
Mr. Aduda, however, called on the FCT Minister, Muhammad Bello, to put a tax system in place to generate revenue for the development of the FCT.
Also speaking, Babajide Omoworare (APC-Osun) said unemployment in the country was “growing and there was no growth in the economy”.
“These are symptoms and indices of recession. Government must spend a lot more. We must find means of reducing the recurrent and increasing the capital expenditure,” he said.
“The executive must spend more; the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, there is about N50 billion in the budget for the Bank of Agriculture and the Bank of Industries.
“That is not enough there must be more money. The challenge we have in Nigeria is not about providing this money. It is about ensuring that this money gets to those who need the money, the youths the women.
“This is the only way there can be growth in the economy,” Mr. Omoworare said.