SERAP, CD, Falana carpet National Assembly over N578bn projects

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The Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project, the Campaign for Democracy, and a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), have berated the National Assembly for injecting N578bn constituency projects into the 2018 budget.

SERAP, the CD and Falana, in separate interviews on Saturday with SUNDAY PUNCH, said the National Assembly’s injection of 6,403 projects into the budget was unconstitutional.

President Muhammadu Buhari had, on Wednesday, while signing the 2018 budget, accused the National Assembly of injecting 6,403 projects of their own, totalling N578bn into the Appropriation Bill.

But on Friday, the lawmakers justified their action, saying the projects were injected into the budget to ensure geo-political spread.

The Presidency, in a statement on Friday evening, said the executive was surprised that with an additional N170bn available for the lawmakers for constituency projects and another N100bn provided for the same purpose in the budget, they still felt it was necessary to cut allocations to important national projects, “thereby distorting the budget.”

Commenting on the disagreement between the two arms of governments, SERAP and the CD said there was no justifiable reason for the National Assembly to have altered the budget as presented by the President without seeking clarifications from the executive.

SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said such an action by the National Assembly went against their constitutional responsibilities and should not be pardoned under any guise.

Mumuni stated, “When matters like this happen, we have to take a look at how it obtained in the First Republic till now. The issue of budget preparation is entirely a role for the executive. The legislature we have today has perfected ways to rise against the executive.

“The National Assembly cannot be a joint presenter of the budget and still be in a position to approve it. What we expect is that the legislature must consult with the executive.”

Also the CD President, Usman Abdul, said, “The budget, which will benefit the people, is supposed to be a participatory budget, where citizens bring their inputs to the executive and they are accommodated. The legislature has failed to do the appropriate consultations, even with the executive.

“The budget presently has now become a tool in the hands of a selected few, deciding for the generality of Nigerians. That is wrong.”

Falana, on his part, described the excuse given by the National Assembly for the cut in the amounts allocated to some projects and introducing new ones as diversionary.

While arguing that the National Assembly lacked the power to introduce projects and allocate funds to them, Falana said the executive was to blame for the continued practice usually described as “budget padding” by the National Assembly.

He said Buhari, like his successors since 1999, lacked the courage to challenge the illegality in the National Assembly.

He cited instances of how a House of Representatives member, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, revealed the details of budget padding in 2016, wondering why the executive did not allow its anti-graft agencies to step into it.

Meanwhile, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, while reacting to the development, said, “We have spoken enough and there is nothing more to say on the projects, whether constituency projects or new projects, any name called.”

Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH also argued that the lawmakers were Nigerians, while the projects in the budget were meant for Nigerians.
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