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January 22, 2021

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President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday signed the 2021 Appropriation Bill into law, overlooking the increase in the budget, particularly in the National Assembly’s allocation.

The assent comes 10 days after the lawmakers approved the budget.

The legislature had approved a budget of N13.6 trillion against the N13.08 trillion proposed by the president. Over N505 billion was added to the proposal and about a quarter of the budget will be funded by loans, indicating the income challenges the government faces.

The budget has a total capital expenditure of N4.1trillion, statutory transfers of N496 billion, and recurrent expenditure of N5.6 trillion.

Over N6 billion increase for NASS

A total of N134 billion was budgeted for the National Assembly for 2021 out of the N496 billion allocated for statutory transfers.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Legislature increased its budget and made an attempt to publish details of its allocations.

About N6 billion was added to the N128 billion proposed by President Buhari. This is also despite the fact that the president had initially increased the National Assembly’s budget from N125 billion in previous years, to N128 billion for 2021.

There has been a public outcry over the huge salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly over the years.

The pay packages of lawmakers and other public office holders have been an issue of serious concern among Nigerians.

Until 2015, the annual allocations to the National Assembly had been N150 billion and between 2015 till date, the budget has been between N125 billion and now N134 billion.

Details of these allocations which include the salaries and allowances as well as other perks, have remained a secret, except for 2017 when the former senate president, Bukola Saraki, published a breakdown of the Legislature’s budget but left out the line items.

Details of the lawmakers’ earnings were, however, disclosed by an ex-senator, Shehu Sani, in 2018, this paper also reported. He revealed that senators received N13.5 million monthly outside their N700,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances.

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And the ‘running cost’, which is not recognised by RMAFC, the government agency responsible for fixing salaries and allowances of public officials, may be among the items increased by the National Assembly.

The former lawmaker did not give details of the ‘running cost.’

The president ‘onlooking’

Despite the nation’s dwindling revenue, Mr Buhari has failed to address the earnings of the Legislature.

He made no remark regarding the increase in the National Assembly’s budget while signing the budget.

The president who noted an increase of N365 billion, said it is a provision for upscaling the Nigerian Social Investment Programme, which he requested for, after he laid the budget before the National Assembly in October.

This is the second time the president will turn a blind eye to the actions of the Legislature.

When the lawmakers added over N264 billion to the 2019 budget that he presented, the president made no mention of it. He rather showered the lawmakers with praises for their hard work and for striving to return the budget cycle to January-December.

The consistent increase in yearly budgets and the president’s silence come on the heels of speculations that the ‘running cost’ and other unapproved allowances of the lawmakers have been increased.

From frivolous spenders to hard workers

Since his inauguration as president in 2015, Mr Buhari had faulted, among other things, the legislators’ jumbo pay and reckless spendings.

The eight Senate had a fair share of his queries in that regard, which no doubt, was borne from the sour relationship between the two arms of government.

In 2015, he ordered RMAFC to seek a proper interpretation of its powers and address the outcry against the unreasonably high payments that lawmakers receive. And in this regard, the commission announced that lawmakers of both the Senate and House will begin to earn less than N1 million monthly.

In the same year, Mr Buhari opposed the huge pay, condemning the Senate’s plan to at the time to buy cars worth over N47billion in addition to the transport allowances they were being paid.

“I cannot see the National Assembly spending N45bn (N47bn) to buy cars on top of the transport allowance they collect,” Punch Newspaper quoted him saying.

At a time in 2018, there were accusations and counter-accusations between the president and the National Assembly. The former would, on several occasions, accuse lawmakers of budget padding and the latter would, in turn, ‘justify’ their actions via press releases or conferences.

During the 2020 budget signing in 2019, the president queried the National Assembly for increasing the budget by N90 billion. He had said changes introduced by the lawmakers would affect the budget’s implementation.

However, since the inauguration of the ninth assembly, the president’s queries have ceased. This is despite the fact that this set of lawmakers has added a lot more to the proposed appropriations in the 2020 and 2021 budgets.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the 2020 budget was padded with N264 billion worth of fraudulent projects. The president overlooked this addition and praised the lawmakers instead.

And in the 2021 budget where over N500 billion was added and out of which N6 billion was to the Legislature’s budget, Mr Buhari kept mum.

In fact, the presidency in February, said the president now understands why lawmakers get jumbo pay, compared to when he was sworn in in 2015.

The minister for information, Lai Mohammed, said the perception about the National Assembly members earning what they didn’t deserve or that they spent money carelessly, was wrong.

He made this statement at an event where he represented the president.

“Hitherto, the public perception of the National Assembly is that of a bicameral legislature where overly comfortable and highly-overpaid members merely stuff wads of currency notes into their pockets for little work done.

“This wrong perception has resulted partly from a lack of understanding of the enormous work of lawmakers, especially outside the glare of television cameras,” Punch reported.

In addition to that, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives), Umar Elyakub, said there was “more clarity” and that he believes “the President, he has been intimated.”

Similarly, both the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and the Leader of the House of Representatives, Kalu Benjamin, have on different occasions, asked Nigerian to ignore the jumbo pay of the lawmakers and focus on their work.

What the president must do

Lanre Suraj, an anti-corruption activist, urged the president to veto the extra allocations of the National Assembly. And for this to be done, he said, both arms of government have to check the excesses of one another.

This is even as he noted “a clear failure” on the part of the RMAFC to officially announce the entitlement of the parliamentarians, to help Nigerians calculate and make demands on their expectations of the National Assembly.

“We have preached for the financial and operational autonomy of the different arms of government; judiciary, executive and the legislature.

“Telling the president to do a veto over the appropriation of the National Assembly, also reads the moral and constitutional responsibilities that are independent of the different arms of government.

“But it is incumbent on all of us to check, based on whatever is signed by the president, and challenge the National Assembly to come out clean on what constitutes the amount that has been budgeted for them.”

Mr Suraj also stated corruption as a major reason for the failure of the executive to question the earnings of the legislature and the inability of the National Assembly to question some requests by the executive.

“We will not rule out the fact that parliaments at levels in Nigeria; federal, state and local governments, are just hubs for corruption. To them, it is about ‘rub my back, I rub your back’.

“Some of the requests of the president that you see the parliament approving with little or no query, in terms of loans or security, are the grounds prepared for these kinds of largesse that they also get away with – in terms of contracts, constituency projects and the budget.

“It is certain that the people in the National Assembly are not in tune with the reality of what Nigerians are going through. It is about the time to call for prudence and to be more financially disciplined, but the contrary is the case. People are only looking for opportunities to grab more.”

While he supported the call for the scrapping or merger of the chambers of the National Assembly, he challenged civic groups and the media to continually confront lawmakers with facts and evidence.

“We must be able to confront them with facts and evidence, not just asking for the scrapping of an arm of the National Assembly.”

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