The dust raised by the allocation of N37 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex is not in a hurry to subside as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT, Enough is Enough (EiE) and 583 concerned Nigerians have dragged President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, before the Federal High Court, Abuja.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1633/2019 filed last week by Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, the dissenting Nigerians described the N37 billion earmarked for the Assembly project as “self-serving, wrongful, illegal and unconstitutional expenditure of public funds.”
Among the 583 plaintiffs include Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) co-convener, Aisha Yesufu; a former Lagos State Eti-Osa Federal Constituency aspirant, Bankole Wellington also known as Banky W, Mrs Ayo Obe, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi and Fisayo Soyombo.
They sought the order of the court to restrain President Buhari and Mrs. Ahmed from releasing the amount until an impact assessment of the spending is carried out.
The groups also prayed the court to restrain the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan, Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and the Federal Capital Development Agency (FCDA) from collecting the N37 billion until the report of the impact assessment is out.
According to them, allocating N37billion to the National Assembly renovation amounted to shortchanging Nigerians wallowing in abject poverty and grappling with poor infrastructure.
“Spending N37 billion to renovate the National Assembly complex means less money for educating millions of out-of-school children, providing access to clean water and healthcare to Nigerians including the elderly, or repairing the country’s roads and bridges. The National Assembly should be a safe and conducive environment for those who work there. Spending N37 billion to renovate the place is not commensurate with the constitutional commitments to public services and goods. It decreases public revenues and increases the level of debts as well as the poor economic and social realities in the country.”
The groups said the refusal of President Buhari to object to the budget/appropriation bill containing the N37 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex is a gross violation of the constitution and the law.
The groups are seeking from the court, “a declaration that the N37 billion proposed, prescribed, voted and allocated for renovation of National Assembly complex in the 2020 budget via appropriation Bill/Act 2019 is a breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers (Fifth Schedule Part 1) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and oath of a member of the National Assembly.”
They also prayed the court to declare that the N37 billion is a breach of the defendants’ constitutional obligations to know and follow constitutional oaths governing their conduct, including their duties of care to protect and defend the constitution and improve the well-being and welfare of Nigerians.
They al;so sought “an order of the court restraining, preventing and stopping the National Assembly leadership from demanding or collecting the N37 billion proposed for the renovation until an assessment of the impact of the spending on critical sectors like education, health, clean water and safe roads is carried out. No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
Reps: It should be used for small businesses
A member of the House Representatives, Bamidele Salam, has opposed the plan to spend N37 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex.
Salam, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), represents Ede North/Ede South/Egbedore/Ejigbo Federal Constituency of Osun State.
Salam, former journalist, expressed his stance on his Facebook page, yesterday, insisting that the Assembly complex did not need any renovation more than dilapidated classrooms, roads, and hospitals in the country.
“I sincerely do not think we need a N37 billion renovation of that edifice. Apart from the Chambers of the NASS which need some upgrade in the audio and recording system, the entire structure needs no renovation more than our classrooms, hospitals and roads which are mostly in a decrepit condition,” he said.
The lawmaker, however, proposed that the money for the Assembly project be utilised in creating more jobs and giving out interest- free loans to small scale businesses.
Salam said he would push for a change in the proposed Assembly renovation when the House of Representatives reconvenes in January.
“As an advocate of an aggressive micro-credit strategy for job creation, I would rather want to see 370,000 small businesses get N100,000 interest free loan within 12 months rather than have one edifice swallow that sum within the same period. If we mop up all funds voted for renovations of the presidential Villa and other offices of political leaders and top civil servants, we will raise more than a quarter of a trillion naira that can be injected into SMES in the coming year. I will, by God’s grace, be making this open advocacy on the floor of the house of Representatives when the house reconvenes in January. It is never too late to change a wrong policy,” he said.
In the 2020 budget signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, the renovation of the National Assembly complex is set to gulp N37 billion.
The allocation was first announced by Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, who said Mr. Buhari approved the amount after lawmakers met with him to explain the poor condition of the legislative building in Abuja.
The decision has angered many Nigerians who question how much would be required to build a new National Assembly if mere repairs cost that much.
Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said the government owed contractors working on federal roads up to N306 billion. He defended why the government should raise VAT and borrow more.
“If we had N1trillion to spend on Nigerian roads we would be in a much better position. As of October, we were owing contractors N306 billion and more bills are coming in and all we got was N73 billion,” he said.
Senate President, Mr Lawan, in defence of the allocation, said no major renovation had been done on the National Assembly property for 20 years. He said parts of the property had become dilapidated.
“The phase one renovation will commence – the chambers and committee rooms in the white house about N37 billion was sourced and was given. It was put under the FCT, not National Assembly. All we require is to have the complex renovated. When we are through with phase one, we will go to phase two. It is not under the control of the National Assembly. The complex is a national asset and is for the FCDA to take care,” Lawan said.