Despite repeated assurances by the leadership of the National Assembly that it would ensure transparency in the management of the Assembly, the allocation to the federal legislature in the 2016 budget is again wrapped in secrecy.
In the budget President Muhammadu Buhari presented to the joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives December 22, the sum of N115 billion was allocated to the National Assembly without a breakdown.
The expenditure and receipt of its various arms, namely the Senate, House of Representatives, National Assembly Service Commission, Nigerian Institute for legislative Studies, National Budget and Research Office, were not detailed into relevant heads.
According to the subhead entitled “Summary by MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agency),” the National Assembly was listed as 0112 coming directly after the Presidency, which got a total allocation of N39 billion.
For the National Assembly, the budgets says – Total Personnel – N115,000,000,000; Total Overhead – 0; Total Recurrent – N115,000,000,000; Total Capital – 0; and Total Allocation – N115,000,000,000
The scarce information on the allocation the legislature contradicts the commitments by the Senate President and Chairman of the National Assembly, Bukola Saraki, that the National Assembly would make its financial dealings more open and accessible to the public, after years of secrecy.
Upon assumption of office on June 9, the Senate President, in his inauguration speech, assured Nigerians that the era of impunity and arrogance in the country was gone.
He said there would be “a change from impunity and elite arrogance to a life of accountability and respect for every citizen, regardless of tribe, gender, religion and political persuasion. We must justify the privilege of representation conferred in us by the people”.
“As the President of the 8th Senate and chairman of the National Assembly, I shall be guided by the enormity of the responsibilities that this moment imposes on all of us,” he stressed.
In another media interview, Mr. Saraki said, “By the time we come in to the 2016 budget at the end of the year, it will be even clearer because people just see one item line.
“But that is not going to happen now, you will see what goes to the Senate, what goes to the House of Reps, you are going to see what goes to management, what goes to Legislative Institute, we are going to make all these open and clear. That is part of the openness we promised.”
Also, apparently weary of public outcry over federal parliament’s continued profligacy and the lifestyle of its members, Mr. Saraki, while receiving the leadership of the All Progressive Congress Youth Forum in his office as part of the celebration of this year’s International Youth Day in August, said the Senate had nothing to hide.
He said, “I want to assure you, despite all what you read in the papers, be rest assured that we are here for serious business. We are all committed to make a difference and my doors are open. Very soon, from what I am being told from the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, we are trying to move fast about the e-parliament so that everybody here can know what we are doing and they can also contribute to some of the discussions.
“We want to make this place as open as possible. There is nothing here we are hiding. What is our great motivation? Nigerians spoke at the last elections and I don’t think they spoke for things to be the same and we must not let it be the same. We must ensure that it is positively different.”
Nigerians had been pushing for more accountability and transparency in the National Assembly, which is allocated over N100 billion yearly.
From 2011 to 2104, the legislature got N150 billion per year. However, the allocation dropped to N115 billion in 2015 though N120 billion was originally allocated to it.
Since 1999, the legislators, comprising 109 senators and 360 representatives, rebuffed every attempt by critics to know the financial dealings of the legislature.
The statutory salaries and allowances of the lawmakers are approved by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Allocation Commission.
Nigeria pays about N8.72 billion in salaries and allowances to the 469 lawmakers every year, an amount that is one of the highest in the world.
In June, Mr. Saraki had set up the committee on financial review with a mandate to review the salaries, allowances, and the overhead cost of the Senate with a view to realigning them to reflect the present economic situation in Nigeria.
He said at the time, “There still persists the need to project clarity, accountability and transparency in all legislative matters and legislators’ welfare. The 8th Senate under our watch recognizes the concerns raised by Nigerians about the cost of running office most especially with the economic challenges facing our nation.
“The Senate will be more transparent regarding all public funds spent for the purpose of paying salaries and allowances of legislators and ensure that distinction is sufficiently made between what a legislator actually earns and what is spent to run and implement legislative business and committee activities. The watchword in our financial issues will be fiscal conservatism.
“It is therefore on this arm that the committee is mandated to carry out thorough fiscal examination on the Senate finances with the aim of coming up with the best cost-effective regime in the 8th Senate,” he said.
The committee is yet to conclude its assignment six months after.