The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit seeking to compel Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila to urgently probe and recover a purported missing N4.4billion public fund appropriated to the National Assembly.
The organisation, in the mandamus application lodged at the registry of the Federal High Court Abuja, said it was surprised that after it wrote the National Assembly demanding an urgent probe into the allegation, the lawmaking body had refused to take any step.
The Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation had published the annual audited reports for 2015, 2017 and 2018, which alleged diversion and misappropriation of public funds totalling N4.4b and sought the recovery of same with evidence of recovery be forwarded to his office.
Following the report, SERAP had, in a letter, dated January 30, 2021 requested Lawan and Gbajabiamila to urgently probe and refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies the allegations that N4.4 billion of public money budgeted for the National Assembly may have been misappropriated, diverted or stolen.
The letter, reads in part: “The Auditor-General noted in his 2015 report that the National Assembly account was spent N8, 800,000.00 as unauthorised overdraft, contrary to Financial Regulations 710.
“The National Assembly also reportedly spent N115, 947,016.00 without any documents. Another N158, 193,066.00 spent as cash advances to 17 staff between January and June 2015 is yet to be retired.
“The Senate reportedly spent N186, 866,183.42 to organise Senate Retreat and Pre-Valedictory Session for the 7th Senate, although the money was meant to pay vehicle loan.
“The Senate also reportedly spent N15, 964,193.63 as bank charges between July and December, 2015, contrary to Financial Regulations 734.”
“The House of Representatives also reportedly spent N624,377,503.30 to buy 48 Utility Vehicles.
“However, 14 vehicles were not supplied. The House also failed to make the 34 vehicles supplied available for verification.
“Similarly, the House spent N499, 666,666.00 as cash advances to staff to carry out various assignments but has failed to retire the money.
“The House of Representatives also reportedly paid N70,560,000.00 as overtime and ‘special’ allowances to officials who are not legislative aides between November and December 2015 without any authority.
“The National Assembly Service Commission reportedly failed to remit N30,130,794.10 deducted from the salaries of the Executive Chairman and the Commissioners as car loan.
“The National Assembly Budget and Research Office reportedly spent N66,303,411.70 as out-of-pocket expenses without any documents.
“The National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies paid N246, 256,060.51 by cheques, despite the prohibition of payments by cheque by the Federal Government, except in extreme cases, and contrary to Financial Regulation 631.
“According to the Auditor-General Report for 2017, the House of Representatives reportedly spent ₦95,212,250.00 without due process and without any documents.
“The National Assembly Management Account also reveals that N673,081,242.14 was spent between April and October 2017 without any documents.
“The Auditor-General reported that the funds may have been misappropriated.
“The Senate Account also reportedly shows that ₦1,364,816,397.95 was spent on store items without any documents to show for the spending. The Auditor-General stated that his office was denied access to the store and to the Senate’s records.
“The National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies also reportedly failed to remit ₦2,181,696.50 from contract of goods and services. The Institute also paid ₦67,296,478.00 without any payment vouchers.”
However, following the failure by the National Assembly to take step, SERAP last Friday filed a mandamus application with registration number FHC/ABJ/CS/366/2021 at the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking: “an order of mandamus directing and compelling Dr Lawan, Mr Gbajabiamila and the National Assembly to perform their constitutional oversight functions to ensure prompt and transparent investigation into the allegations that N4.4 billion budgeted for the National Assembly may be missing and unaccounted for.”
SERAP is contending that “By the combined reading of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the UN Convention against Corruption, which Nigeria has ratified, the National Assembly has legal duties to combat corruption and promote transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.
According to SERAP: “transparency and accountability in the management of public resources and wealth is essential for promoting development, people’s welfare and well-being, and their access to basic public services, as well as good governance and the rule of law.”
SERAP is also arguing that “The National Assembly has legal responsibility to ensure that the serious allegations of corruption and mismanagement documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation are promptly, independently, thoroughly, and transparently investigated, and to end the culture of impunity that is fuelling these allegations.”
According to SERAP: “The failure of the National Assembly to promptly and thoroughly investigate, and to refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies the allegations documented in the annual audited reports for 2015, 2017 and 2018 is a fundamental breach of the oversight and public interest duties imposed on the legislative body by sections 4, 88 and 89 of the Nigerian Constitution.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo, reads in part: “Granting this application would serve the interest of justice, reduce corruption and mismanagement, as well as end impunity of perpetrators, and advance the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.”
“This suit seeks to vindicate the rule of law, the public interest, and to promote transparency and accountability.
“Government agencies and institutions are responsible to a court of justice for the lawfulness of what they do, and that the court is the only judge.
“The National Assembly has no legally justifiable reason to refuse to investigate the allegations documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.
“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took oath of office to protect and preserve the Constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a democratic society, this is meant to be a norm.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
Senate on service wide vote
In a related development, the Senate through its Committee on Public Account, is to take up the Ministry of Finance Tuesday this week, over alleged N2.8billion unaccounted spending made from the Service Wide Vote as contained in 2018 Audit report.
The Office of Auditor – General of the Federation , had in its 2018 Audit report , queried the Finance Ministry over alleged failure to account for N2.8bn service wide vote collected from Federation account.
As stated in the report presented to the Senate Committee on Public Account and sighted by the Blueprint Newspaper last week Friday , the N2.8 billion was purportedly meant to take care of estacodes and other allowances for those who represented the Federal Government at international gatherings like annual board meetings, conferences and workshops including contributions to Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
According to the report , of this amount, payment vouchers were raised for the sum of N113,558,372.85million leaving the sum of N2,772,214,120.42billion unaccounted for.
The query reads: “Financial Regulation 601 states, “All payment entries in the cash book/accounts shall be vouched for on one of the prescribed treasury forms. Vouchers shall be made out in favour of the person or persons to whom the money is actually due.
“Under no circumstances shall a cheque be issued, or cash paid for services for which a voucher has not been raised.” During our audit, it was observed that the sum of N2,885,772,493.27billion was released to the Federal Ministry of Finance from the Service Wide Vote.
“This was purportedly to take care of estacodes and other
allowances for those who represented the Federal Government in internationally organized annual board meetings, conferences and workshops including contributions to Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
“Of this amount, Payment vouchers were raised for the sum of
N113, 558,372.85 million leaving the sum of N2, 772,214,120.42billion unaccounted for.
“This infraction was due to the failure of the Permanent Secretary to seek approval from the appropriate authorities on the above expenditure which is seemingly unaccounted for.
“The Ministry may carry out such unauthorized or unapproved expenditure that may lead to diversion of public funds for other purposes. It may also lead to mismanagement and underutilization of public funds”.
Irked by the report, the committee headed by Senator Mathew Uhroghide (PDP Edo South), sought explanation from the Permanent Secretary, Aliyu Ahmed.
But the Permanent Secretary pleaded with the committee to give him another date to respond to the query.
The committee consequently directed that the PS to prepare his response Tuesday this week.
“It is only the Committee on Public Account either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives that looks at the service wide vote.
“Somebody must account for this disbursement made from the service wide vote, the very reason the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry must appear before this committee at its next sitting on Tuesday , March 23, 2021 for explanations on the query” , he said.