Saraki bows to pressure, makes fresh promise to open up National Assembly budget

Senate President Bukola Saraki
Senate President Bukola Saraki

The President of the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki, has made a fresh promise to disclose the budget of the National Assembly, with his media aide saying he would quit his job if the promise is not kept this time.

Mr. Saraki made the new commitment on Friday via Twitter, saying the plan to remove the irritating secrecy around the budget was already concluded.

He said the budget would be made public alongside the 2017 national budget which is expected to be passed and assented to in early May.

“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.

Our correspondent said that was at least the sixth time the Senate President would make such a promise, although civic technology group, BudgiT, said it has counted eight such commitments.

Mr. Saraki reneged on all previous promises to make the budget public.

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But this time, the special assistant to the lawmaker on new media, Bankole Omishore, said his principal would not renege on his promise and vowed to resign if the promise is not kept.

“If the 2017 budget is passed and you don’t have line by line budget of the National Assembly, I will resign,” Mr. Omishore said.

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

With N23.347 billion in 2003, the National Assembly’s budget now stands at about N115 billion, representing over 492 per cent rise in 13 years. Until 2016, the budget had often gone as high as N150 billion.

In 2010, when the budget hit a shocking record sum of N154.2 billion, David Mark, Mr. Saraki’s predecessor, decided to block Nigerians from knowing details of how the National Assembly’s jumbo allocations were spent, especially how much members earned in allowances, thus wrapping up the federal legislators’ finances in utmost secrecy.

So, in one masterstroke of legislative brinkmanship, the National Assembly’s budget, hitherto open to public scrutiny, like those of ministries, departments and agencies, suddenly became secret after the body legislated, in 2010 under Mr. Mark, to make itself member of an exclusive club of opaque agencies whose budget details are never disclosed but whose finances are deducted en-bloc (first-line charge) via statutory transfers.

But Mr. Omishore said Mr. Saraki had always wanted to open the NASS budget since he came to office in June 2015 when he made the first commitment to transparency.

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“But if for whatever reason it is not released now as promised, I agree with my followers and family members I would have lost legitimacy to continue to act as special assistant.

“So, I’m counting on my boss that with the support of his colleagues and management staff we will fulfill the promise.”

The spokesperson for the House of Representatives, Abdulrazaq Namdas, also told PREMIUM TIMES Speaker Yakubu Dogara, had vowed to disclose the details of the House budget this year.

The NASS budget is so tightly guarded that several members of the bicameral parliament are oblivious of its details, lawmakers and administrative officials told PREMIUM TIMES.

In fact, suspended 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.

In any case, should Mr. Saraki fulfill the promise to open the NASS budget this time, he will have caused a major institutional reform, thereby unveiling the finances of the parliament for public scrutiny for the first time in eight years.

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