Budget padding: SERAP, 20 others sue Akpabio, Abbas

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*Allege that NASS arbitrarily increased its 2024 budget by N147 bn

By Kenneth Atavti

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, and 20 other concerned Nigerians have sued the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas for unilaterally and arbitrarily increasing the allocation for lawmakers from N197 billion to N344 billion, representing highest since the return of democracy in 1999.

Akpabio and Abbas were sued for themselves and on behalf of all members of the National Assembly.

Nigerian Pilot recalled that the lawmakers had last month raised their allocation from N197 billion proposed by President Bola Tinubu for them in the budget to N344 billion.

The lawmakers will in total draw N514 billion from the 2024 budget. The lawmakers also in 2023 arbitrarily increased their own budget from the originally proposed N169 billion to N228 billion.

The President presented the Appropriation Bill 2024 made up of N27.5 trillion to the National Assembly on November 29, 2023. The National Assembly on December 30, 2023 passed the Appropriation Bill 2024 in the sum of N28.7 trillion.

That while exercising its legislative powers, Akpabio and Abbas increased the Appropriation Bill by N1.2 trillion, wherein the 1st and 2nd Defendants unilaterally increased allocations made to the National Assembly in the Appropriation Bill 2024 presented by the President from N197,932,625,616 Billion to N344.85 Billion.

The President signed the ₦28.7 trillion Appropriation Bill 2024 into law on January 1, 2024. The 2024 Budget is in deficit of ₦9.18 trillion.

In the suit filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on behalf of SERAP and 20 concerned Nigerians by their lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Andrew Nwankwo, the Plaintiffs were asking the court to determine “whether the lawmakers, in the exercise of their powers over appropriation/money bills, can unilaterally increase their own budget without the re-presentation of the budget by the Executive.

“For a declaration that the National Assembly, in the exercise of its powers over appropriation/money bills, cannot unilaterally increase its own budget without the re-presentation of the budget by the President in line with section 81 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended].

“For a declaration that the action of the National Assembly, unilaterally increasing its own budget from N197 billion to N344 billion, without the re-presentation of the budget by the President is a breach of the democratic principles of separation of powers and checks and balances”, SERAP said.

SERAP sought for, “An order of perpetual injunction restraining and preventing the National Assembly from unilaterally increasing its own budget, in the exercise of its powers over all appropriation/money bills, without the re-presentation of such appropriation/money bills by the President in line with the Nigerian Constitution.”

In the suit, the Plaintiffs maintained that: “Allowing the National Assembly to continue to unilaterally and arbitrarily increase its own budget would fundamentally undermine the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution, public trust, and the rule of law.”

“The arbitrary and self-serving increase by the lawmakers of their own allocation offends the Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1] of the Nigerian Constitution, oath of office, and the democratic principles of separation of powers and checks and balances.”

According to the Plaintiffs, “Unless the reliefs sought are granted, the National Assembly will continue to breach the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and the rule of law, and at the expense of millions of Nigerians living in poverty.”

Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.