Nigeria’s former Senate president, David Mark, has responded to a PREMIUM TIMES report on Sunday, detailing how he championed an unprecedented escalation of National Assembly spending, and how he made the budget a top secret for years.
Mr. Mark, who is now a member of the Senate, denied the story, but failed to provide any conflicting evidence. He merely claimed that contrary to the report, all details of National Assembly budgets have been public over the years.
He also said lawmakers did not, under his watch, impose unnecessary raise on the budgets of the Senate and the House of Representatives since 2010.
“How can anyone claim that the National Assembly budget is secret? Or that our earnings are secret,” Mr. Mark said in a statement Monday. “The National Assembly budget is part and parcel of the Federal budget. It is not a separate document.
“If anybody is in doubt, he or she should get a copy of the National budget and clarify. It is a public document. Every time you hear people talk about National Assembly budget as if it is independent of the Federal budget.”
The PREMIUM TIMES’ exclusive Mr. Mark was responding to showed that while he led the National Assembly between 2007 and 2015, the legislature’s spending rose from N66.488 billion to a shocking N104.825 billion in 2008, before dropping marginally to N96.052 billion in 2009.
By 2010, while Mr. Mark was still in charge, the allocation skyrocketed, to unprecedented levels to a peak of about N154.2 billion.
In the same year, under his watch as chairman of the National Assembly, lawmakers legislated to make the Senate and the House of Representatives members of an exclusive club of agencies whose budget details are never disclosed and whose finances are deducted en-bloc (first-line charge) via statutory transfers.
As a result, Nigerians have since been blocked from knowing details of how the National Assembly’s jumbo allocations are spent, and how much lawmaker’s earn in allowances, as Mr. Mark’s leadership wrapped up the body’s finances in utmost secrecy.
But in his statement, the former senate president failed to establish any false detail in the published story. He also failed to explain how and where Nigerians can access details of the National Assembly budget which he claimed had been no secret.
He simply dismissed the report as “mischief” because “parliamentary practices and procedures dictate that all issues should be carried out in the open”.
The allegation was borne out of “deliberate mischief, blackmail or outright ignorance”, he said.
He stressed that National Assembly budget is accessible to Nigerians, adding that its members are not responsible for fixing their salaries, an argument lawmakers often cite when seeking to shirk questions about billions of naira they allocate to themselves as administrative costs.
“What we earn is open. I think we should put an end to this cheap blackmail. It is sad and ridiculous when people give the impression that the National Assembly budget has continued to be increased annually. This is not correct. It is unwarranted and needless accusation.
“I make bold to say that the National Assembly under my leadership was bold, courageous, steadfast and truly patriotic. We stood on the side of the people, the truth, transparency and above all in the interest of the nation.
“We were the first to make cut in our 2015 budget. People should appreciate what we are doing. We tightened our belts more than any other ministry or parastatal today. I can put my hand on my chest without fear of contradiction to say we make a lot of sacrifices in our budgetary systems.”
Stating further, “With every sense of responsibility, in 2008, the National Assembly under my leadership was the first arm of government to return N7bn unspent fund to the national treasury during late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s administration.
“Some people would have done otherwise but I remained a patriotic and committed pan- Nigerian, ever determined to do my utmost best to improve the lots of my country men and women,” he added.