EXCLUSIVE: Nigerian federal lawmakers to spend N1.2 trillion on selves in six years as poverty mounts in country

Sunset at the National assembly
Sunset at the National Assembly

The government has spent N150 billion yearly since 2011 to run the National Assembly. That will continue till 2016.

Nigerian federal lawmakers will retain a controversial yearly budget of N150 billion for at least two more years according to the government’s spending outlay, in yet another indication the government is less bothered about curtailing a lavish habit that has angered many Nigerians, who have called for cuts.

The vote, which has sparked outcry since its first approval in 2011, will remain in place as the cost of running the Nigerian National Assembly, for 2015 and 2016, according to the government’s Medium Term Expenditure Framework, despite a declining economic fortune that has already forced a cut in total national budget from N4.9 trillion to N4.6 trillion in 2014.

The Nigerian assembly is regarded as one of the world’s most expensive when measured against the standard of living of an average Nigerian, and the government’s total revenue and spending. The N150 billion annual spending was three percent of the entire federal budget in 2013, while the United States, for instance, spent only 0.17 percent of its total budget to run its Congress the same year.

Lawmakers have seized on the claim of a “meagre three percent” to argue how the allocation is nothing extraordinary, but have failed to defend the tens of millions of naira it translates to per senator or member of the House of Representatives, when more than 100 million Nigerians live on less than a dollar per day.

“The N150 billion budgeted to the National Assembly …is only 3% of this year’s budget and not as big as it has been negatively publicised,” Senate spokesperson, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said last September during a protest march to the National Assembly by an anti-corruption coalition which demanded details of how the money was spent.

The Medium Term Expenditure document, which forms the groundwork for government’s budgets annually, says despite a reduction in national budget this year, the allocation for the lawmakers will remain the same for 2014, 2015 and 2016- making it N1.2 trillion in six years.

The document was approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives in late 2013, but somehow the proposal appeared to have missed public attention.

“That should not be allowed to happen,” said Olarenwaju Suraj, a leader of the coalition of activists which held a protest to the assembly in September. “Nigerians should ask for transparency and for a budget meant for development not one for sharing to the boys.”

The coalition, The Civil Society Network Against Corruption, and the Enough is Enough Nigeria, has since filed a Freedom of Information application, requesting details of how the N150 billion was used. The group has yet to receive a response, and is considering going to court, Mr. Suraj said.

Hidden details of N150 billion

Funding for the National Assembly and its allied institutions first hit N150 billion in 2011 after the lawmakers unilaterally reviewed its annual budget upward, and authorized its funding direct from government’s treasury- a privilege that has allowed the legislature to conceal its spending details from the public.

The vote has remained the same yearly despite a groundswell of public anger and calls for review.

“Beyond the amount, the real issue is that it is unacceptable for a body that should provide oversight functions over the budgets and expenditures of MDAs, to refuse to make its accounts public,” said Yemi Adamolekun of the Enough is Enough group.

In the MTEF document, the National Assembly is listed alongside the National Judicial Council, Universal Basic Education, National Human Rights Commission and Independent National Electoral Commission- all with the privilege of direct funding from the treasury, and undisclosed budget details.

But while the legislature’s budgets and the other institutions remain the same between 2013 and 2016, the budget for UBE, which deals with basic education, will decline from N76.2 billion to N67.7 billion between 2013 and 2014; before climbing nominally to N71. 1 billion and N72. 4 billion in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

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