Senate President Bukola Saraki has failed to make public the budget breakdown of the National Assembly despite several promises to do so over the past few months.
Senator Saraki had made such promises on at least four occasions since President Muhammadu Buhari signed the budget in March.
The National Assembly budget breakdown was in the public domain until 2010 when the legislators became secretive about it by making it a single line item.
Due to public criticisms and sustained campaign by rights groups calling for transparency in the finances of the federal lawmaking body, Saraki on several occasions pledged to make the breakdown of the legislators’ budget available for public scrutiny.
The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Awwal Musa Rafsanjani said the lawmakers would not make its budget public because “that is where they misappropriate funds.”
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business in the 5th Senate (2003 - 2007), Umaru Tsauri told Daily Trust yesterday failure of Saraki to make the breakdown of the budget public would leave room for questions.
“The issue is at the discretion of the senate president who is the chairman of the National Assembly. Since he has promised to make it public, let him fulfil it. His refusal would be giving room for people to ask him questions,” he said.
Saraki’s many promises
Saraki first promised to make the legislators budget details public on November 15, 2015 through a statement signed by his media aide Bamikole Omishore.
“By the time we come into the 2016 budget, at the end of the year, it will be clearer because people just see one item line.
“But that is not going to happen now; you will see what goes to the Senate and what goes to the House of Representatives.
“You are going to see what goes to the management, what goes to the Legislative Institute and we are going to make all these open and clear. That is part of the openness we promised,” Saraki said.
On March 13 this year during a courtesy visit by a team of “The Economist,” Saraki said: “For the first time we promised Nigerians to give out our budget breakdown. The committee will make its report available by next week. We have resolved to break the tradition of one line item.”
During an interview last month with journalists to mark the first session of the 8th Senate, Saraki was asked whether he has changed his mind on the budget, he said no.
“No, I have not changed my mind. There is no going back on that, I’ve already released the figures. I think there is need for greater awareness of it and I’m sure it would be made available. There is no going back on that because that is the minimum, you cannot be shouting about transparency and inside our own house, there will not be transparency,” he said.
Days after the interview, our correspondent went to the Senate leader Ali Ndume and the spokesperson of the senate Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi for a copy of the budget, but they could not produce one.
Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Saraki Yusuph Olaniyonu told Daily Trust by telephone yesterday that the budget breakdown “has been released at one time on line.”
But Daily Trust couldn’t find the budget breakdown on the official websites of the National Assembly and the Budget Office last night when it checked.
Multibillion secret budgets
The National Assembly budget started swelling in 2003 when it was jerked up from N23.347 billion to N32.229 billion in 2004 and the following year it went up to N55.422 billion.
The budget that covers the salaries and allowances of the 109 senators, the 360 House of Representatives members, their aides as well as the budget of the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC), the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) dropped to N39.810 billion in 2006.
In 2007 when Senator David Mark became senate president N66.488 billion was budgeted; N104.825 billion for 2008; N96.052 billion for 2009; and N154.2 billion for 2010.
Since 2010, the budget of the federal legislature stood at N150 billion for four years until last year when it was slashed to N120 billion and this year N115 billion.
Secrecy signals corruption
CISLAC Executive Director Rafsanjani told Daily Trust that Nigerians “must hold Saraki by his words. If they can make it public, it will make Nigerians know that they’re serious about governance. That is the main area where they perpetrate their fraud, so how do they make it public?
“Having failed to make their budget public since last November when Saraki promised Nigerians, that shows lack of transparency and accountability on their part. If they want Nigerians to take them serious, they need to be transparent and accountable,” he said.
He said Nigerians needed to know the way and manner members of the National Assembly spent their money.
“If they do that, it will enhance their oversight functions. Since they want MDAs to be accountable, they must show example first. So, we call on them to be open in their dealings,” Rafsanjani said.
The chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi said the failure of lawmakers to disclose its budget once again exposed it as an institution, yet to come to terms with the clear demands for accountability from Nigerians.
“TMG has always known that beyond the pretence and the empty rhetoric by the current National Assembly leadership, it is too neck deep in wasteful spending to allow Nigerians look into its budget. The onus is therefore on the Nigerian people to continue the social pressure until the gluttons who assault our commonwealth are compelled to stop,” he said.
The Director Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) Idayat Hassan said the failure of Saraki to disclose the breakdown of the 2016 National Assembly budget casts aspersions on the credibility of the 8th Assembly especially the Senate whose president promised on two separate occasions to do same.
The Head of Research, Policy and Advocacy of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), Barrister Samson Itodo said the Saraki’s action shows that he has yet again demonstrated lack of courage and leadership to make public the legislators’ budget.
“The National Assembly owes Nigerians openness. We know budget of the executive so the legislature should also provide details of its budget in the spirit of transparency and accountability,” Itodo said.