The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari requesting him to use his good offices and leadership position “to urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to you reports of their completed investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly.”
The organisation also asked Mr. Buhari to “direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted officers; and to urgently halt alleged ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to divert N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by your government as ‘zonal intervention’ in the 2017 budget.”
In the letter dated March 24 and signed by SERAP deputy director, Timothy Adewale, the organisation requested the government to “take the above recommended steps within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute appropriate legal and public-interest proceedings to compel the government to discharge its national and international anti-corruption obligations and commitments in this matter.”
According to the organisation, “Unless the principal officers indicted in the alleged padding of the 2016 budget are promptly prosecuted and any stolen public funds recovered, your government will not be able to stop the alleged ongoing attempts to steal from the 2017 budget. Alleged corruption in the budget process will not just melt away or simply evaporate without addressing the fundamental issue of impunity of perpetrators.”
The organisation said that, “Addressing alleged corruption in the budget process by pursuing prosecution of indicted principal officers of the National Assembly will provide an important opportunity for your government to reignite the fight against corruption and fulfil a cardinal campaign promise, to show that your government works on behalf of the many, and not the few, as well as jumpstart economic activities and break the back of the current recession.”
The letter read in part: “Publishing the report of the investigation of the alleged padding of the 2016 budget, and prosecuting suspected perpetrators are absolutely important to avoid another padding in the 2017 budget, which your government can ill afford.
“Corruption in the budget process takes away and erodes much needed resources for public and developmental purposes. SERAP is seriously concerned about the level of secrecy surrounding the budget process in the National Assembly, which has invariably created a breeding place for alleged corruption.
“Secrecy in the National Assembly has clearly gone beyond the level permitted by law, and apparently served as the incubator for corruption, while depriving the Nigerian people of a much-needed opportunity to cleanse the National Assembly of persistent allegations of corruption.
“SERAP has received very credible information from multiple sources that the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have now completed investigations into the allegations of padding of the 2016 budget, completed their reports, and indicted some principal officers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Also, the accounts of some of the principal officers containing allegedly illicit funds have been frozen, and that the case files for the prosecution of those indicted are ready.”
“SERAP has also received credible information from whistle-blowers about ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to allegedly steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by your government as ‘zonal intervention’ (also known as constituency projects) in the 2017 budget.”
“SERAP is also aware of the alleged risk of corruption involving the $2.5 budget oil bench mark increment which comes up to about N131 billion. The N131 billion will be appropriated to either reduce deficit or increase expenditure or both but unless the spending of the funds is closely monitored and scrutinised, the funds may be diverted, mismanaged or stolen.”
“SERAP is also concerned that deception in the budget process will continue unless Nigerians are granted access to inspect the budget process and other activities by the National Assembly. SERAP strongly believes that Nigerians have the right to know what their lawmakers are doing so that they are able to appraise their work and hold them to account.”
SERAP therefore asked Mr. Buhari to:
1. Urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly, and to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted officers;
2. Direct the publication of the report of investigations by security and anti-corruption bodies into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget.
3. Urgently halt alleged ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by your government as ‘zonal intervention’ in the 2017 budget;
4. Closely monitor and scrutinise the spending of N131 billion (accrued from increased oil bench mark) allocated for additional non-constituency projects expenditure, to remove the possibility of corruption.