The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has dragged the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila to court.
SERAP filed a lawsuit against them over their “failure to cut the unlawful National Assembly budget of N228.1bn, including the N30.17bn severance payments and inauguration costs for members.”
The suit followed the move by the National Assembly to increase its 2023 budget from N169bn proposed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to N228.1bn. The approved budget shows an increase of about N59.1bn. The country’s budget of N21.83tn is based on a N10.49tn revenue, and N11.34tn deficit.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/152/2023 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Lawan and Gbajabiamila to review and reduce the budget of N228.1bn the leadership and members of the National Assembly allocated for their own benefit.”
SERAP is also seeking “an order restraining and stopping the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, from releasing to the National Assembly the budget of N228.1bn, until an impact assessment of the spending on access to public goods and services and the country’s debt crisis, is carried out.”
It also sought an order restraining and stopping Lawan and Gbajabiamila from demanding or collecting the National Assembly budget of N228.1bn, until an impact assessment of the spending on access to public goods and services and the country’s debt crisis, is carried out.
In the suit, SERAP argued that it was a grave violation of the public trust and constitutional oath of office for the members of the National Assembly to increase their own budget at a time when some 133 million Nigerians are living in poverty.
According to the organisation, the National Assembly budget of N228.1bn is higher than the statutory transfer to the Universal Basic Education Commission, which is N103.3bn.
SERAP is arguing that, “The increase is unreasonable, as it would substantially increase the cost of governance, and exacerbate the country’s debt crisis. It is unlawful, and unfair to the Nigerian people.”
It said cutting the National Assembly budget would reduce the growing budget deficit, address the unsustainable debt burden, and serve the public interest, and that by increasing its own budget, the National Assembly had unjustifiably and disproportionately reduced the budget for UBEC.
SERAP is also arguing that, “This is a travesty, especially given that Nigeria currently has over 20 million out-of-school children, and half of all poor people in the country are children.”
The suit was filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Atinuke Adejuyigbe.
Joined in the suit as Defendants are President Buhari; the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN; and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.