In the midst of allegations of budget padding committed by the House of Representatives leadership, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has told House Speaker Yakubu Dogara, who has been at the center of the controversy, that the House does not have the constitutional right to insert projects into the budget.
The organization said this in a press release issued on Monday in response to Mr. Dogara’s defense of the House’s unilateral decision to insert 2000 items into the 2016 budget.
“There is absolutely no constitutional provisions that grant to members or leaders of the House of Representatives the power to insert projects in the budget,” the group’s statement reads.
“The idea of members of the National Assembly allocating projects to their constituencies and then approving such projects is a grave and direct affront to basic constitutional principles of equity, fairness, transparency, accountability and separation of powers.”
It would be recalled that Mr. Dogara and other House leaders were accused of budget padding by the former chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Adulmumin Jibril. Specifically, Mr. Jibril alleged that the speaker had allocated projects totaling N4b to his constituency, leaving the remaining 359 House members “to share the remaining N36 billion out of the N40 billion unilaterally inserted in the budget.”
SERAP contested that Mr. Dogara’s constituency project is in clear violation of the 1999 constitution, arguing that it is an “inequitable, disproportionate, unfair and a clear case of conflict of interest for leaders of the National Assembly to enjoy unbridled discretion in the allocation and diversion of projects to their constituencies.” The group explained in its statement that the National Assembly is constitutionally tasked with authorizing the executive branch’s public spending, not inserting projects into it.
“If it’s true that some projects were arbitrarily and unlawfully included in the 2016 budget by some leaders of the House of Representatives, then those portions of the Appropriation Act would be deemed void under section 1 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides for the supremacy of the constitution and that any other law (including the Appropriation Act) which is inconsistent with constitutional provisions will be deemed void to the extent of the inconsistency,” SERAP argued in its statement.
The group called on Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubabar Maami to take the issue to court and “set aside those portions of the budget that were not parts of the original estimates submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly.” SERAP also urged the minister to determine the constitutionality of inserting constituency projects in the budget.