Chukwudi Nweje, Lagos
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs over the Federal Government’s adjustments in allocations to health and the National Assembly in the revised 2020 budget approved yesterday.
In the revised 2020 budget, the Federal Government reportedly gave the National Assembly N27 billion for the renovation of its complex and cut health and Universal Basic Education (UBE) budgets by over 50 per cent.
While the health budget was reduced from N44.4 billion to N25.5 billion, the UBE budget was reduced from N111.7 billion to N51.1 billion.
In an appeal to UN rapporteurs dated June 3, 2020, and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation accused the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government of ‘putting politicians’ allowances and comfort before citizens’ human rights.’
It said the budget cuts ‘show failure to address the growing economic and social inequality in the country, and to genuinely address the consequences of COVID-19 on the poor and marginalised groups.’
SERAP urged the special rapporteurs, Ms Koumbou Boly Barry, special rapporteur on the right to education; Mr Dainius Puras, special rapporteur on the right to health; and Mr Olivier De Schutter, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to use their ‘mandates to urgently request the Nigerian government and the leadership of the National Assembly to immediately reverse the unlawful, disproportionate and discriminatory budget cuts to education and healthcare, and to stop the authorities from spending N27 billion to renovate the National Assembly complex.’
According to SERAP: ‘Nigeria’s budget deficits are caused by excessive expenditures on politicians’ allowances and mismanagement. Nigerian authorities would only be able to commit to fiscal discipline if they prioritise cutting the allowances of lawmakers and the costs of governance in general, rather than cutting critical funding for healthcare and education.
‘We believe that alternative policies and measures, such as reducing the costs of governance, including the excessive allowances for high-ranking public officials and the lawmakers, would have been a more appropriate solution to addressing budget deficits, as this would increase the available resources for healthcare and education, which in turn would contribute to reducing socio-economic inequality,’ the organisation said.
The appeal, read in part: ‘Nigerian authorities also ought to show that the budget cuts to healthcare and education are necessary and proportionate, in that they must be justifiable after the most careful consideration of all other less restrictive alternatives, for example, excessive allowances for Nigerian lawmakers, and excessive costs of governance, in general.
‘One of the pillars of the protection of the rights to healthcare and education is the obligation to progressively realize the rights set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, making use Nigeria’s maximum of available resources.
‘The budget cuts by Nigerian authorities are therefore of special concern as they directly affect the minimum core content of these rights, and impact directly or indirectly and disproportionally on those individuals already discriminated against or living in most vulnerable situations. The number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty has increased since May 2015. The reduction in healthcare and education budgets would exacerbate the prevailing inequalities, poverty, and create a vicious circle of reduction in spending, and increments in socio-economic inequalities.
‘Without your urgent intervention, the Nigerian government and National Assembly would continue to spend the country’s maximum available resources to satisfy the opulent lifestyles of politicians rather than complying with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to healthcare and education the poor and marginalised groups,’ SERAP noted.