The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, on Tuesday pledged that the budget of the National Assembly will be made public in 2017.
Mr. Dogara stated this at an interactive session with newspaper editors at his office in Abuja.
“We will definitely open the books,” he said, while expressing concern about the focus of Nigerians on the lawmakers’ budget which has been kept secret since 2011.
He said he believed that a lot of Nigerians have a wrong perception about the National Assembly’s N115 billion budget, which he said was about two per cent of the total Nigerian budget.
The speaker said contrary to some beliefs, the National Assembly’s allocation is not meant for the lawmakers alone.
“We have over 3,000 members of the bureaucracy, all from this 115 billion budget,” he said.
He listed agencies, individuals and institutions that benefit from the allocation to include the National Assembly Service Commission, National Institute for Legislative Studies, Public Complaint Commission, National Assembly Budget and Research Office and legislative aides.
Mr. Dogara said he was aware that allocations to legislative aides for salaries, allowances and others gulped about N12 billion in previous budgets.
He said detailed allocations to each of these beneficiaries from the National Assembly’s budget will be made public along with the 2017 budget when passed.
“It will be published. With this 2017 budget, everything will be resolved,” he said. “I can guarantee that.”
Mr. Dogara said the lawmakers were also interested in making the budget public so as to make Nigerians have a better perception of them.
“We want to improve on standards,” he said. “We want to improve on the image of the National Assembly”.
Mr. Dogara is not the first presiding officer in the current National Assembly to pledge to make the budget public. Senate President Bukola Saraki has repeatedly made similar promises.
Since he assumed office in 2015, Mr. Saraki had repeatedly assured that the details of the National Assembly’s budget will be made open.
In his inauguration speech on June 9, 2015, the senate president told Nigerians that the era of impunity and arrogance in the country was over.
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.”
None of those promises have been fulfilled with several lawmakers saying even they do not know the details of the budget believed to be used by the presiding officers to secure loyalty of their members.
SECRECY SINCE 2011
Should Mr. Dogara keep to his words, the release of the National Assembly’s budget details will be the first since 2011.
Until that year, allocations to the various arms of government had been detailed in the budget presented by the past presidents to the legislature.
The budgets prepared by the Goodluck Jonathan administration for the National Assembly between 2011 and 2015 did not, however, provide specifics.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the then Senate President, David Mark, and then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, refused to disclose the details of the budgetary allocations to the National Assembly, which came to N715 billion in those years.
The sum of N150 billion each was allocated to the legislature in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 while it got N115 billion in 2015.
The secrecy with which the National Assembly engaged in financial transactions attracted public outcry with many demanding that such transactions should be made open.
In January, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in a letter he addressed to Mr. Saraki and Mr. Dogara, said the practice in the National Assembly “detracts from “distinguishness” and “honourability” because it is shrouded in opaqueness and absolute lack of transparency and could not be regarded as “normal, good and decent practice in a democracy that is supposed to be exemplary.”