Despite failing for over a year to keep his repeated promise of making details of the National Assembly budget public, Senate President Bukola Saraki says he will fulfill that pledge in a “few days’ time”.
Mr. Saraki denied the Senate had reneged in its promise to open the budget concealed since 2010.
“The budget breakdown will be released,” Bamikole Omisore, a spokesperson for the senate president said Tuesday. “Everything is being worked on and in the next couple of days it’ll be published.”
Mr. Omisore said Nigerians should remember that aspects of the budget breakdown had been made public by this newspaper in recent past.
“There was the first batch of the breakdown which PREMIUM TIMES published a few months ago.
“The Senate President is committed to an open and accountable National Assembly and Nigerians will definitely get that. The National Assembly is holding a leadership meeting on the matter, so give us a few days more to publish the details.”
His comments came after a civil society organisation, Enough is Enough Nigeria, said Mr. Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara failed to disclose details of all budgetary allocations to the National Assembly because there was no budget.
“We knew from our engagement with the leadership of the National Assembly that the budget doesn’t exist,” Yemi Adamolekun, Executive Director of EiE Nigeria, told journalists.
Spending by the Nigerian Senate and the House of Representatives have been shrouded in secrecy despite the National Assembly voting an average of N120 billion to itself yearly.
Calls for details of the humongous budgets to be made public were rebuffed until Messrs. Saraki and Dogara were elected last year.
Amid scathing public criticism, the two lawmakers promised that for the first time in years, National Assembly budget would be opened to the public. They never did.
Mr. Saraki, who doubles as the chairman of the National Assembly, gave early indications of his intention to end the practice imposed by his predecessor, David Mark, and throw open the 2016 budget.
But Ms. Adamolekun said she believed the budget breakdown cannot be published because it is so “mysterious” that even most lawmakers have no idea of its existence.
“What has also been confirmed by members of the National Assembly is that they have not seen the budget,” Ms. Adamolekun said.
But she said the lawmakers could still give Nigerians a fair idea of their expenditure by simply publishing details of funds spent from the budget.
“The money gets spent, so they could create a way to disclose all the expenses,” Ms. Adamolekun said.
According to a survey by EiE, nearly eight in 10 Nigerians (76%) said they’re tired of the opacity in the National Assembly and called for a timely imposition of transparency and accountability.
Mr. Dogara’s spokesman, Turaki Hassan, declined comments to PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday evening.
But Mr. Omisore said plans were already underway for a full disclosure of the 2016 budget for the legislature.
In a related development, EiE Nigeria said it had launched free telephone lines to further encourage participation of Nigerians in national affairs.
The lines, 08139861001 and 08139861002, will function as ‘flash’ service lines to push for actions on critical issues such as the need to open the National Assembly.
“The flash service means that upon dialing, the call drops and calls you back immediately,” the group said in a campaign pamphlet. The operators will accept calls from English, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and pidgin speakers.
EiE Nigeria, which gets financial backing from Omidyar Network, said it also hoped to expand its current on-air presence from four radio stations to nine before the end of the first quarter of 2017.