Finally, National Assembly to disclose own budget after years of secrecy

Nigerian Senate Chambers
Nigerian Senate Chamber used to illustrate the story.

The leaders of Nigeria’s federal legislature have finally agreed to make the 2017 National Assembly budget open to the public, ending eight years of secrecy, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report.

The decision was reached at the meeting of the joint leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which commenced late Monday and ended moments after midnight, at the Maitama, Abuja, residence of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, sources who attended the meeting told PREMIUM TIMES.

Following that resolution, the proposed 2017 budget of the National Assembly is to be laid in both Houses Tuesday when the lawmakers reconvene for business.

“It is now certain,” one source said, “the budget of the National Assembly will be laid this morning, the leaders of the National Assembly, Senate and the House of Representatives have decided. The Speaker was also here.”

The source did not disclose the total sum of the budget, which stood at N115 billion in 2016.

Last week, Mr. Saraki, who is the chairman of the National Assembly, renewed his promise to open the budget, saying it would be laid alongside the 2017 Appropriations Bill.

“The line by line of the National Assembly budget, part of the #Opnenass, is a done deal. (it) will be laid with 2017 budget,” Mr. Saraki tweeted.

Mr. Saraki, who had previously failed to deliver on the same promise at least six times, seemed serious this time with his spokesperson, Bankole Omishore, vowing to resign from his post should the Senate President again renege on that pledge.

Mr. Omisore said it took the Mr. Saraki-led National Assembly two years to agree to disclose its budget because “institutional reforms do not happen overnight”.

Since 2010, Nigerians, including most of the lawmakers, have been denied knowledge of the details of the finances of the National Assembly.

From N23.347 billion in 2003, the National Assembly’s budget ballooned to N115 billion in 2016, representing over 492 per cent rise in 13 years. Until 2016, the budget had gone as high as N150 billion under former Senate president, David Mark.

In 2010, when the budget hit a shocking record sum of N154.2 billion, Mr. Mark decided to block its details from the public, concealing how much members earned in allowances, especially.

Mr. Saraki became the Senate president in June 2015, days after Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated Nigeria’s president. In the spirit of the high hope that waste, corruption, impunity and opacity would be fought in the country’s public institutions, Nigerians reignited calls for the National Assembly to be opened.

Apparently riding the populism wave, Mr. Saraki included in his inauguration speech the vow to “change from impunity and elite arrogance to a life of accountability,” and then circulated a text in which he named a committee “to review NASS budget, to make it open and more realistic.”

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It would take two years for that to happen.

In those years, the NASS budget became so closely guarded that several members of the National Assembly got no idea of its details.

Former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, on January 10, openly challenged Mr. Saraki to make the budget open, disclosing that he and his colleagues, like most Nigerians, had no knowledge of details of the NASS budget.

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