Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Monday told the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, that “there is absolutely no constitutional provisions that grant to members or leaders of the House of Representatives the power to insert projects in the budget.”
The organisation said “the idea of members of the National Assembly allocating projects to their constituencies and then approving such projects is a grave and direct affront to basic constitutional principles of equity, fairness, transparency, accountability and separation of powers.”
SERAP’s statement signed by its executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni is in response to Mr Dogara’s defence of the decision of the lower chamber to unilaterally insert 2,000 items into the 2016 budget after former Chairman of Appropriation Committee, Abdulmumin Jibril accused the principal officers of padding the budget.
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According to Mr Dogara, “So the budget being a law, therefore, means that it is only, I repeat, only the parliament that can make it because it is law and I challenge all of us to look at the law and tell me where it is written that the President can make the budget.” Jibril alleged that the speaker had allocated projects worth N4 billion to his constituency, leaving 359 other members of the lower chambers “to share the remaining N36 billion out of N40 billion unilaterally inserted in the budget.
But SERAP said it disagreed with Mr Dogara.
The organisation said “the practice of constituency projects directly undermines the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which provides the framework for rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances amongst the organs of government. It’s contrary to the public interest; inequitable, disproportionate, unfair and a clear case of conflict of interest for leaders of the National Assembly to enjoy unbridled discretion in the allocation and diversion of projects to their constituencies.”
According to SERAP, “To justify project insertion in the budget is to place the interest of the leaders of House of Representatives over and above the public interest.”
“The constitutional role of the National Assembly is limited to the authorisation of any public spending by the executive and not insertion of projects in the budget. Authorisation of public spending literally means official permission to take a step and doesn’t equate insertion of projects in the budget. The House of Representatives absolutely has no power to insert any projects in the 2016 budget that was not originally part of the estimates of the executive in the Appropriation Bill.”
“If it’s true that some projects were arbitrarily and unlawfully included in the 2016 budget by some leaders of the House of Representatives, then those portions of the Appropriation Act would be deemed void under section 1 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides for the supremacy of the constitution and that any other law (including the Appropriation Act) which is inconsistent with constitutional provisions will be deemed void to the extent of the inconsistency.”
“The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubabar Malami SAN, should move swiftly to approach the court to set aside those portions of the budget that were not parts of the original estimates submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly. Alternatively, Mr Malami should advise President Buhari not to implement the aspects of the budget that were padded.”