18 months on, Saraki fails serial promises to disclose National Assembly budget

After 18 months in the saddle as President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, Bukola Saraki has refused to honour repeated promises to Nigerians to publicly disclose the details of the lawmakers’ budget.

Mr. Saraki came to office in June 2015 promising accountability and transparency, but ever since, he has reneged on every promise to open the budget of the National Assembly to the public.

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.

Mr. Saraki clinched the Senate leadership in June 2015, days after Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated Nigeria’s president. In the spirit of the high hope that waste, corruption, impunity and opacity would be fought in the country’s public institutions, Nigerians reignited calls for an open budget at the National Assembly.

Apparently conscious of the popular wish, Mr. Saraki included in his inauguration speech the vow to “change from impunity and elite arrogance to a life of accountability,” and then circulated a text in which he named a committee “to review NASS budget, to make it open and more realistic.”

The said committee, as mentioned in the text, included Dino Melaye, Ben Bruce, Shehu Sani and Gbenga Ashafa.

With his initial promise of accountability yielding no result, on November 15, 2015, Mr. Saraki again promised to open the NASS budget.

“You will see what goes to the Senate, what goes to the House of Reps, you are going to see what goes to management, what goes to Legislative Institute, we are going to make all these open and clear. That is part of the openness we promised,” he said.

Then on February 2, 2016, Mr. Saraki again promised a detailed breakdown of the NASS budget while addressing journalists during the commissioning of the renovated press centre at the Senate.

“I can assure you that we are going to move away from the time of one item line National Assembly to National Assembly where there will be breakdowns according to the different sections,” he said.

On March 13, 2016, the promise was repeated. That day, Mr. Saraki in a statement promised the budget details would be released ‘next week’.

March 13, 2016 was a Sunday. Therefore, Mr. Saraki’s promise should have materialised between March 14 and 19, being the workdays within his ‘next week’. But again, he failed to keep the promise.

Towards the end of 2016, it was becoming clear Mr. Saraki was not sincere about his vaunted commitment to #OpenNass, thereby becoming a target of criticisms by Nigerians trying to hold him to account.

“We knew from our engagement with the leadership of the National Assembly that the budget doesn’t exist,” said Yemi Adamolekun of Enough is Enough, a civil society group.

But the National Assembly actually has a budget, though, it is so mysterious that many of the lawmakers do not know its details.

In March 2016, PREMIUM TIMES had a rare access to the general framework of the NASS budget and made it public.

Against the background of the renewed criticisms in December, Mr. Saraki, through his media aide, Bankole Omishore, promised the budget details would be released in a “few days’ time”.

The last promise was made on December 20; but 15 days later, the promise is yet to be redeemed.

The National Assembly may commence work on the 2017 budget proposal by Mr. Buhari when it resumes next week without fulfilling the pledge to disclose details of its 2016 budget.

After #OpenNass, Mr. Saraki is currently preoccupied by #madeinNigeria on Twitter, promoting goods made in the country.

The Senate President’s spokesperson, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Thursday morning justified his principal’s false statements.

“Are you people not tired of this thing,” said Mr. Olaniyonu when pressed for comment on his principal’s failure to make the NASS budget public.

“We are no longer in 2016; this is 2017.”

He said it was “not logical” to account for what was promised last year in the current year.

“It is like asking me to predict a match that had been played. Event has overtaken it.”

While Mr. Saraki continued to make unfulfilled promises to Nigerians, the Senate as a body does not appear to believe in the need to allow Nigerians see details of its finances.

When PREMIUM TIMES spoke with the spokesperson of the Senate, Aliyu Abdullahi, on Wednesday, he claimed that the Senate’s “budget has always been open as far as I am concerned”.

The repeated public demand for the budget is baseless, said Mr. Abdullahi, adding that, “the National Assembly does not have same budget structure with the Executive and it is not in the public interest to see everything in the budget (of the NASS).”

He was reminded that the budget of the NASS pre-2010, when Mr. Mark enthroned the culture of secrecy, had detailed breakdown like those of the ministries.

“I don’t know because I was not there,” he replied.

Majority Of Nigerians Support Greater Transparency In Government, #OpenNASS Survey Finds

#OpenNASS, an advocacy campaign organized by Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE) and VOTO Mobile with support from the Omidyar Network, conducted a survey finding, among other things, that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians support greater government transparency. The group therefore called upon the National Assembly to take measures that would make the budget and other aspects of government more accessible to Nigerians.

Read the press release below:

 

76% of Nigerians Actively Support Open Government Policies and #OpenNASS is a Panacea for Transparency and Accountability

‘There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, and there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.’ –  Joseph Pulitzer

The OpenNASS Project is an advocacy campaign aimed at tackling the major disconnect between the elected representatives and the general voting population outside of the electoral process by providing both voter education and a communication platform to help voters reach their representative and demand the ‘dividends of democracy’ – education, health care, shelter, water, power, access to employment or finance for enterprise etc.

We conducted a scoping survey randomly selecting telephone numbers and collecting 1,200 responses to 39 questions between June 29 and July 4, 2016. The sample was recalibrated to get a 48-52 gender split, and proportional representation by geo-political zone. The survey was run in five languages – Yoruba, Pidgin, Igbo, Hausa and English – to ensure it was inclusive. Each respondent was asked 27 multiple choice questions relating to the governance and democratic processes in Nigeria to understand the level of civic education, and if there was a link between this and a willingness to support the OpenNASS campaign. The results were fascinating.

Levels of Civic Education

  • On average, 59% of respondents got the answers right, although it varied greatly for each question ranging from 29% to 89%.
  • There was a small gender gap with the average man getting 61% of the answers right, and 56% for the average woman.
  • Unsurprisingly, the biggest difference was in knowledge based on education level. Respondents with no formal education got 43% of answers right; followed by those with a basic education at 45%; junior or secondary education at 54%; and those with a tertiary education getting 66%.
  • Respondents scored the highest on questions relating to elections which would indicate that efforts to educate voters in the recent elections were successful.
  • Respondents did barely better than random when it came to questions relating to how the upper and lower chambers relate to each other and drafting and passing laws.
  • There is a huge opportunity to better educate Nigerians to empower them to push for change.

Political Engagement

  • Nigerians are very politically engaged with only 4% of respondents on average reporting that they do not care about political news. There is higher political apathy amongst those with no education, with 23% stating they do not care about political news, versus 3% of more educated respondents.
  • There is a huge opportunity here to educate those with little to no education on the importance of good governance to build momentum for change.
  • Political apathy is highest with 10%, among respondents who fall below 17 years and lowest, 0%, among persons 56 years and above.

Open Government Policies

  • 74% of Nigerians support electronic voting.
  • 71%% of Nigerians support opening National Assembly attendance records.
  • The same pattern of responses was recorded for the other open government policies which include voting records, salaries and budgets of the National Assembly.
  • There is clear correlation with educational attainment and open government policies as 81% of those with tertiary education stated that attendance records should be open, with only 32% of those with no formal education requesting the same. This again, presents a huge opportunity to educate and build support.

Sources of Political News

  • Radio is the most popular source of political news with 33% citing this as their preferred source.
  • Internet follows with 29%; TV with 17%; and newspapers with 11%.
  • Radio was the most popular among females followed by the internet and the reverse is true for males where internet is the most popular source followed by radio. This could perhaps be explained by the lower rates of literacy amongst women.
  • Television remains the third most popular source of political information with both genders and across all political zones.
  • Radio emerges as the most popular source with people of most educational backgrounds except people who have attained tertiary education whereupon internet overtakes radio as the most common source and followed by radio.
  • Radio is, perhaps unsurprisingly, preferred by respondents who don’t have a formal education at 42%; those that have a basic primary education at 60%; and those that have a secondary education at 40%.

Radio is therefore a crucial way of reaching people and EiE has gone from one radio program in 2014 to four in 2016 and by Q1 2017, we will have 9 radio programs in Lagos (2), Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Owerri, Kano & Enugu.

What Next?

It is clear that despite low levels of civic knowledge there is already huge support for EiE’s #OpenNASS campaign, especially with regards to making the breakdown of the 2016 National Assembly budget public after several promises and assurances to do so by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Lack of accountability in the National Assembly is very dangerous for our democracy because those who are elected to provide oversight over the executive arm’s implementation of our budget cannot be expected to provide leadership and ensure accountability when they have refused to be accountable with resources allocated to them.

Over the last 3 years, the National Assembly has refused to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and a court order to provide its detailed budget. The National Assembly was recently taken to court by SERAP for failing to respond to an FOI request about its running costs.

It is of great concern to Nigerians that members of the National Assembly do not know the content of their own budget, yet they hold court over how the budget of the country is spent. Public auditing of spending by the National Assembly and several reports on allegations of corruption that have been investigated remain shrouded in secrecy. This does nothing for an institution that seeks to be ‘responsive, accessible, representative and accountable’.

The budgets of the National Assembly, the National Judicial Commission (NJC), and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), amongst others, are a first line charge. As such, it is not necessary for these institutions to provide a detailed breakdown of their budget as part of the annual budgeting process. This is a great disservice to Nigerians as it does nothing for transparency and accountability.

For example, between 2006 and 2016, approximately N1.3 trillion has be allocated to the National Assembly (~ $4.2 billion) and there are no records of how most of this monies were spent.

#OpenNASS has been a very active conversation on social media and we’ve expanded the conversation through newspaper infographs and radio programs.

We will be increasing our engagement using mobile technology and additional media platforms to enable Nigerians to get engaged, informed and most importantly, take action. A toll-free line is now available for citizens to sign the petition on the National Assembly budget breakdown and get other information on governance issues.

The ‘flash’ service toll free lines to call are 08139861001 and 08139861002. ‘Flash’ service meaning upon dialing, the call drops up and calls you back immediately. The hotline is in English, Igbo, Pidgin, Hausa and Yoruba.

Through the hotline and our engagements on social and traditional media, we will promote three advocacy goals:

  1. The National Assembly should publish the breakdown of its 2016 and 2017  budgets;
  2. Maintain a functional website, provide contact information of its members, activate the switchboard in the National Assembly complex so citizens can engage their representatives and make attendance records public;
  3. Replace voice voting with electronic voting and making voting records public.

The National Assembly is a critical institution in our democracy and we will ensure that it is repurposed to serve all Nigerians, not just a few. They are currently on recess until January and we encourage citizens to engage them at home and demand for accountability so they can start the new year delivering on their promise.

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

– End –

###

The OpenNASS project is collaboration between Enough is Enough Nigeria and VOTO Mobile supported by the Omidyar Network. The project builds on the work and networks of partners across Nigeria – Budgit, CITAD, CONGOs (Edo), CSNAC, Dawn in the Creeks, Development Dynamics, Reclaim Naija (CLP), SERAP, Premium Times, Sahara Reporters & YNaija.

Enough is Enough Nigeria (www.eie.ng) is a coalition of individuals and organizations committed to instituting a culture of good governance and public accountability in Nigeria through active citizenship. EiE Nigeria was an integral part of the #OccupyNigeria movement in 2012 and it’s currently very active in the #OpenNASS campaign. The coalition includes The Future Project; Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN); Education as a Vaccine (EVA); Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND); and LYNX Nigeria. Partners include BudgIT & ReclaimNaija.

Voto Mobile (www.votomobile.org) is a Ghana-based tech startup and social enterprise that makes it easy for businesses, governments, and NGOs to share information and gather feedback through interactive SMS or voice calls in local languages – using mobile to instantly reach across distance, language, and literacy barriers. Voto’s mission is to increase participation and accountability in the services delivered to citizens, and to empower communities to collect and share information to drive positive social change.

Nothing to show for how NASS spent N1.3trn in 10 years, say CSOs.

Advocates of the #OpenNass campaign say between 2006 and 2016, approximately N1.3 trillion was allocated to the national assembly with no records to show how the funds were spent.

Addressing a joint-press conference on Tuesday, representatives of civil society organisations, such as Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE), Budgit and Reclaim Naija, said the lack of financial accountability in parliament is dangerous for the country’s democracy.

“The budgets of the national assembly, the National Judicial Commission (NJC) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), amongst others, are a first line charge. As such, it is not necessary for these institutions to provide to a detailed breakdown of their budget as part of the annual budgeting process,”Dan Nengel, project officer of EiE, told journalists on behalf of the CSOs.

“This is a great disservice to Nigerians as it does nothing for transparency and accountability. For example, between 2006 and 2016, approximately N1.3 trillion has been allocated to the national assembly — $4.2 billion and there are no records of how most of this monies were spent.

“Lack of accountability in the national assembly is very dangerous for our democracy because those who are elected to provide oversight over the executive arm’s implementation of our budget cannot be expected to provide leadership and ensure accountability when they have refused to be accountable with resources allocated to them.

“Over the last three years, the national assembly has refused to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and a court order to provide its detailed budget. The national assembly was recently taken to court by SERAP for failing to respond to an FOI request about its running cost.”

They expressed concern that several reports on allegation of corruption in the national assembly have been shrouded in secrecy.

The coalition said they would promote three advocacy goals, which are: that national assembly publishes the breakdown of their 2016 and 2017 budgets, maintain a functional website and activate a switchboard where citizens can engage their representatives and replace voice voting with electronic voting.

They also said the voting records should be made public.

Budget Padding: “Audit Constituency Projects Allocations” – Pro-Democracy Group

A pro-democracy body, the Civil Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), has called for an independent audit of all previous constituency project allocations to members of the National Assembly (NASS) to determine to make sure spending practices are held accountable to the Nigerian people. The statement was made in a press released signed by Auwal Musa Ibrahim, CISLAC’s Executive Director.

 

According to the statement, the recent revelations by the former Chairman of the Appropriations Committee for the House of Representatives, Abdulmumin Jibrin, amounts to a further proof of the waste that has characterized the federal legislature over the years.

 

“We note that such practices have been going on for a long time as the NASS has been known, in the past to, in addition to padding the budget at the point of defence, make dubious allocations for constituency projects as well as have demanded and received inducement for sectoral allocations,” CISLAC said.

 

CISLAC added that federal legislators are known to have received or demanded gratifications in exchange for ministerial confirmation and extorted money from Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) under the guise of oversight functions, stating that the current scandal endangers the integrity of the National Assembly.

 

“The reference to occupants as Honourable and Distinguished is gradually becoming a mere appellation that is stripped of the attendant respect,” CISLAC noted.

 

It expressed disappointment at the revelations and allegations made by Mr. Jibrin, describing them as an afterthought and provoked by the fact that he has lost out from benefiting from the process.

 

CISLAC noted that Mr. Jibrin strongly defended the House when the allegations of budget padding were first made. This, they added, places a big question mark on his credibility and loyalty to the Nigerian people.

 

The pro-democracy body said it finds the culture of constituency projects needless, arguing that it is at variance with the principle of separation of powers. CISLAC further argued that the practice of constituency projects is a channel for legislative corruption and distraction, which are avoidable by simply strengthening relevant institutions and systems for project implementation and service delivery.

 

CISLAC also requested the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to undertake further inquest into the allegations, with a view to getting to the root of the matter and punish culprits where necessary. It expressed doubts that the National Assembly can find the moral courage to investigate itself and sanction erring members.

 

To forestall a repeat of such financial scandals in the federal legislature, CISLAC recommended the introduction of a framework for constituency accountability for public participation and cooperation with the executive arm to establish a participatory budgetary process based on actual needs assessment and citizens’ input.

 

“We call on political parties to reorganize and commence a process for leadership recruitment and internal party democracy that will facilitate the emergence of persons with integrity, patriotism and a mind-set of service, who will be adequately prepared to occupy leadership positions and lead Nigeria to meet the aspirations of her people and occupy her place among the comity of nations,” the body said.

 

The body recalled that despite repeated promises and commitments by Senate President Bukola Saraki, who is the Chairman of the National Assembly, to disclose the details of the budget of the legislature, Nigerians are yet to have access to this information.

 

“We find it ironic that elected representatives are unwilling to make information on how funds appropriated from tax payers’ money are allocated and spent, are made available to the citizens who elected them into office.

 

“We note that these events are a product of failed recruitment process and flawed party processes that have resulted in the emergence of leaders who are unprepared to undertake the challenging art of governance in a diverse environment,” it submitted.

 

CISLAC lamented that fraudulent occurrences in the budget processes have been made possible by the country’s abandonment of the practice of developing viable plans to underpin the budget process and the zero-budget approach. It also blamed the situation on the ineffectiveness of the Medium Term Economic Framework (MTEF) process envisaged under the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. This, it noted, has created avenues for corrupt practices.

 

“We call on the National Assembly to take advantage of this latest revelation to undertake self-introspection and urgently rise up to cleanse itself and make efforts to redeem its image and reputation which is presently in its lowest ebb.

 

“We also call on them to revisit the issue of having members adhere to the Code of Conduct for members as a means of self-regulation of behaviour within their ranks,” CISLAC concluded.

NASS To Make Public 2016 Budget Breakdown

The President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, on Sunday said the National Assembly would make public the details of the 2016 budget breakdown.
This is contained in a statement signed by the Special Assistant to the President of the Senate on Social Media, Mr Bamikole Omishore, and made available to newsmen in Abuja.
Saraki said that from 2016, Nigerians would not have to rely on the ‘’falsehood’’ they received from some online media.
He said that the development was in fulfilment of his inaugural promise and part of efforts to satisfy the curiosity of some Nigerians who had been clamouring that the budget should be made public.
“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 in the statement.

 
He recalled that at his inauguration on June 9, he promised that there would be change from impunity and elite arrogance to a life of accountability and respect for every citizen.
He said that the National Assembly must, therefore, justify the privilege of representation conferred on it by the people.
“As the President of the 8th Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, I shall be guided by the enormity of the responsibilities that this moment imposes on all of us,’’ he said.
Saraki restated his commitment to being accessible to the citizens on the dealings of the senate, saying that he understood the expectations of Nigerians from him as president of the senate.

 

(NAN)

Senator Boroffice Denies NASS Members Will Be Receiving N8.64bn Wardrobe Allowance, Says It’s For Miscellaneous Expenses

A member of the National Assembly, Senator Ajayi Borrofice representing Ondo North has come out to deny reports that the National Assembly Members will be given N8.64bn as wardrobe allowance.

Speaking to ThisDay, Senator Borrofice said the controversial N8.64bn to be released to members of the National Assembly is for miscellaneous or regular expenses such as motor vehicle fueling and maintenance, wardrobe, domestic staff, personal assistant, constituency office, house maintenance, utilities and entertainment, among other perks, for the entire 469 lawmakers in the National Assembly.

Senator Borrifice said the miscellaneous allowance also includes cost of securing and equipping constituency offices in various local government areas which make up their constituencies and also includes monies to be used by lawmakers to organize town hall meetings in their various constituencies.

He said it was wrong for the public to believe they will be using N8.64 billion just for clothes.

According to him, the wardrobe allowance is the least significant to the assembly members. He stated that the miscellaneous allowance they will receive will be deducted in tranches from their salaries.

The report of the lawmakers collecting N8.64 billion as their wardrobe allowance surfaced yesterday June 16th with most Nigerians strongly condemning it.