N37bn NASS renovation: SERAP, BudgIT want court to stop Buhari, minister

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT, Enough is Enough (EiE) and some Nigerians have filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court, Abuja seeking to restrain President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Zainab Ahmed from releasing N37billion budgeted for the renovation of the National Assembly complex.

Also on the list of the plaintiffs are 583 concerned Nigerians, including Bring Back Our Girls co-convener, Aisha Yesufu; as well as Nigerian singer and actor, Banky Wellington.

In a statement Sunday in Lagos, SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare also stated that others joined in the suit include Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and the Federal Capital Development Agency (FCDA).

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1633/2019, filed by Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, last week, the plaintiffs argued: “The National Assembly complex should be a safe and conducive environment for those who work there.

 “But spending ₦37 billion to renovate the place is not commensurate with the constitutional commitments to public services and goods; decreasing public revenues and increasing level of debts as well as the poor economic and social realities in the country.

 “Spending N37 billion to renovate the National Assembly complex is self-serving, wrongful, illegal and unconstitutional expenditure of public funds, as it means less money for educating millions of out-of-school Nigerian children, providing access to clean water and healthcare to Nigerians including the elderly, or repairing the country’s roads and bridges,” the plaintiff also argued.

They asked the court to restrain the president and the minister from releasing the sum to the FCDA and NASS “until an impact assessment of the spending on critical sectors and access to public goods and services, is carried out.”

 “The defendants are public officers who have sworn the constitutional oaths of office to perform their respective duties in the interest of Nigerian citizens. The refusal of President Buhari to object to the Budget/Appropriation Bill containing a huge N37 billion on renovation of the National Assembly complex is a gross violation of the constitution and existing laws in Nigeria.

 “The National Assembly complex was reportedly constructed at the cost of $35.18 million USD in 1999 and ₦40.2 billion Naira was budgeted in December 2013 for the construction of phase III of the National Assembly Complex and renovation of the first and second phases of the complex.

“The 2020 Budget is in deficit of ₦2.175 trillion with anticipated revenue at ₦8.42 trillion and proposed expenditure of ₦10.594 trillion.

“The present-day economic reality in Nigeria includes chronic poverty amongst a high percentage of citizens and the inability of many state governments to pay salaries of workers and pensions. Unless the reliefs sought are granted, the Defendants will take benefit of the allocated N37 billion at the expense of many Nigerians living in poverty,” the suit read in part.

They therefore asked the court to determine: “Whether N37 billion proposed, voted and allocated for renovation of the National Assembly Complex in the 2020 Nigerian National Budget via Appropriation Act 2019 by the National Assembly and signed into law by President Buhari is not in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers (Fifth Schedule Part 1) of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and Oath of a Member of the National Assembly.”

They also sought “an order of interim injunction restraining President Buhari and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, or their agents from releasing the N37 billion allocated for the renovation of the National Assembly complex to the Federal Capital Development Agency and the National Assembly leadership pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice for an Order of Interlocutory Injunction filed contemporaneously in this suit.”

Similarly, the plaintiffs asked for “an order of interim injunction restraining the Senate President Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Federal Capital Development Agency from demanding or collecting the N37 billion proposed for the renovation of the National Assembly pending the hearing and determination of Motion on Notice filed contemporaneously in this suit.”

APC chieftain berates lawmakers

Also, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and one of its 2019 presidential aspirants, Dr Abubakar Alkali, has condemned the move by  the  federal lawmakers, saying the money cannot be justified by the current levels of poverty and homelessness in the country.

 Speaking with our correspondent in Abuja Sunday, the APC chieftain said the right thing to do “is to stop the so-called renovation of the National Assembly because that’s not a priority.”

  Alkali said the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) had alerted the nation that 108 million Nigerians were technically homeless. 

 “The estimated 100,000 houses built yearly are inadequate, but our federal legislators have voted N37 billion to renovate their offices, the federal staff housing loans scheme couldn’t source for N13 billion to give out as loans to federal civil servants.

 “The right thing to do now is to stop the so-called renovation of the National Assembly because that’s not a priority. The N37 billion should be channelled to building houses for low-income civil servants and other vulnerable Nigerians at the ward levels across the country so as to reduce the huge and rising housing deficit in our dear country.

“The N37 billion budget for the ‘renovation’ of the National Assembly cannot be justified by the current astronomical levels of poverty and homelessness in Nigeria. There is currently a huge housing deficit in the country. Renovation of the National Assembly is not the priority.  Is this a renovation project or another form of budget padding? 

“Indeed, our federal legislators cannot allocate N37 billion for renovation of their offices when more than 50% of Nigerians are homeless. Most of our Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have no roofs over their heads and are sleeping on bare uncovered floors. They are the priority,” the party chieftain said.