The National Assembly approved N70 billion last week as part of an amendment to the N819.5 billion 2022 supplementary budget to support what it called the working conditions of new MPs.
Only 24 hours after President Bola Ahmed Tinubu forwarded the request to the parliament, the change was approved by both houses of the National Assembly.
A breakdown of the amended N819.5 billion supplementary budget shows that N500 billion goes for palliatives to cushion the effect of the recent fuel subsidy removal on Nigerians, while N185 billion is for the Ministry of Works and Housing to alleviate the impact of the flooding disaster suffered in the country in 2022 on road infrastructure across the six geopolitical zones.
Further details also showed that the sum of N19.2 billion was allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture to alleviate the massive destruction to farmlands across the country during the flooding experienced last year; N10 billion to the Federal Capital Territory Administration for critical projects; N35 billion to the National Judicial Council; and N70 billion for the National Assembly to support the working conditions of new members.
However, the allocation of N70bn to the lawmakers has attracted more criticism and mixed reactions from Nigerians.
Among those who have voiced their disapproval of the allocation is a human rights lawyer, Femi Falana.
Falana condemned the National Assembly’s decision to allocate N70 billion as palliatives for its members in a statement over the weekend, describing the move as illegal and contemptuous.
According to the senior lawyer, the decision blatantly contravenes Section 70 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, which outlines the appropriate remuneration and allowances for members of the National Assembly.
“Out of sheer insensitivity coupled with impunity, the members of the National Assembly, regardless of political affiliation, conspired to breach the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 by padding the Supplementary Appropriation Bill, 2023 to provide the so-called palliative of N70 billion for 306 newly elected members.
“While the masses of Nigeria are groaning under the excruciating economic pains unleashed on them by the ruling class, the National Assembly has awarded N228.7 million to each newly elected legislator. As if that is not enough, the members of the National Assembly have earmarked N40 billion to purchase 465 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and bulletproof cars for principal officials and members. However, the legislators approved the sum of N500 billion for 12 million indigent people in a country where the National Bureau of Statistics said, “62.9 percent of people (133 million) are multidimensionally poor,” he said.
A government worker, Emmanuel Adama also described the move to give N70 billion to less than 500 Nigerians and give N500 billion to millions of indigent citizens who are battling harsh conditions instigated by the subsidy removal as unfair and insensitive.
“It is very unfair that a lawmaker could go home with millions. They have successfully created an avenue to amass the people’s wealth; the subsidy is going back to their pockets,” he said.
On its part, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, indicated readiness to sue the Federal Government over the allocation of the N70 billion to the National Assembly, which it described as ill timed.
“We are suing the Tinubu administration over its unlawful giveaway and allocation of N70 billion to the National Assembly at a time when some 137 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty exacerbated by the removal of fuel subsidy,” SERAP tweeted on Friday.
SERAP warned the administration to immediately withdraw the unlawful allocation or it would proceed to court.
However, two members of the House of Representatives recently defended the National Assembly in the wake of the controversy.
Hon. Peter Akpanke representing Obanliku/Obudu/Bekwara Federal Constituency in Cross River State, and Hon. Dennis Agbo representing Igbo-Eze North/Udenu Federal Constituency in Enugu State said the funds would cover renovations in the new chambers.
The duo gave their defence on Monday while fielding questions on Channels Televisions Politics Today programme.
Akpanke said, “There is a lot of work to be done; if you go to the National Assembly, what is being renovated at the moment is the main chambers, and we are using the temporary chambers.
“Most of the members of the National Assembly did not return; most of us are new members. The offices need to be renovated, most offices are not in good condition, and it is unfortunate that this was not done before we were sworn in.
“If you go to some places, you would see certain things that you won’t like, water is leaking in some places, and all those things need to be fixed.”
Agbo, a house member under the Labour Party, LP, agreed with his counterpart that the National Assembly complex is dilapidated and needs renovation.
“As sessions come and go, the entire complex ages. No member will collect one naira; it is to improve the working conditions.
“If the cost of that renovation or improving the working conditions is considered too high by Nigerians, they have the opportunity to still query it through their representatives,” he said.
Both further argued that they would speak up to Nigerians if the renovations were not carried out or the staff allowance and cars were not purchased.
The President of the Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), Olu Omotayo, said the act is condemnable and every reasonable Nigerian should be able to condemn it.
Omotayo said it showed that the government was not ready to lead by example, noting that the nation’s political leaders don’t see themselves as leaders but rulers.
The legal expert also expressed support for threats by some civil society organisations to take the matter to court.
He said, ”In this tight situation, you removed fuel subsidy, people are suffering, they have not come out of that. And people who are ruling are supposed to sacrifice, because you lead by example.
“When you are asking people to sacrifice, you too must say, okay, that you are sacrificing this.
”You said you are giving N500 billion palliatives, and one section took N70 billion.
”So, how do you reconcile that? It shows the way our political leaders are thinking. They don’t see themselves as leaders but rulers. They just give instructions and want it to be carried out.
”In fact, I don’t know which word to qualify it. But in a democracy, the action is highly condemnable. At this point in time, it is not what is supposed to be done.
”In advanced countries, you see members of the congress entering commercial public transport or flying back to their constituency. We learned this democracy from the US, so why should our own be different? Why should they feel they are special?
”I heard that some civil societies have threatened to go to court. Whether they win or lose, they will still make a mark. We can’t allow impunity to continue. I support those who are advocating to go to court because going to court will also help to create awareness.”
The Enugu State chairman of the NLC, Comrade Barrister Fabian Nwigbo, said in an interview that the government was not interested in what is happening to the generality of the people.
Nwigbo claimed that the government had exhibited some high level of insensitivity by increasing its size amid calls to cut the cost of governance.
He called on the government to provide some palliatives to the general public in the form of public transport assistance, noting that most Nigerians who are not working are suffering.
He said, ”A country where we are saying that the government size is in excess, and the government is extending its size, as well by providing for members of the National Assembly who are already saturated, in my opinion, that decision is reckless. It is a reckless one; people you are providing for are already saturated.
”Come and think of an average civil servant who receives N30,000 as a minimum wage or special adjustment as the case may be, nobody is talking about them.
“We are hearing N8,000 as a palliative or so. What is N8,000? If it is added for someone who is receiving N30,000 it becomes N38,000 in a country where you are selling fuel between N550 to N650 depending on your location.
”It is a callous decision. It shows that the government is not absolutely interested in what is happening to the generality of the people. An average Nigerian today is suffering beyond measure.
”I buy fuel between N30,000 to N40,000 every week because of the nature of my job; I move around regularly. Like today, I am going to get N20,000 worth of fuel. Before the end of the week, I would have spent about N35,000 or more.
“Honestly, that has been the situation for me since this subsidy removal. And how much is the salary of the person that is talking with you? How much is the salary of an average Nigerian?
”So, the implication is that the government has displayed some high level of insensitivity. What is the percentage of N70bn to N500bn or whatever they said will be the palliative? And how many people would be involved compared to over 200 million Nigerians? That decision for me is out of place.
”It is very clear that the workers and Nigerians are suffering. The pay to workers is not something to write home about. An average Nigerian is not working. There should be some palliatives to the general public.”
Meanwhile, the spokesman for Peter Obi, Datti Baba-Ahmed Presidential Campaign Organisation, Yunusa Tanko said in an interview that the government should rather find a way of making the citizens more comfortable than making them more angry.
Tanko stated that if the citizens were made to be more comfortable, it will reduce corruption, stealing and anger.
He said, ”I think most importantly, it would have been a reverse situation if it is where the citizens are being made to be more comfortable. What it does in a way is that it reduces corruption, it reduces stealing, it reduces anger.
“It makes the citizens more productive and it gives the judges less work to do because when the citizens are comfortable, and the level of crime is very low, you find out that the judiciary has less work to do.
“Also, there would not be any kind of manipulation that will take place at the National Assembly in order to induce, increase or manipulate any figure because everything is being done in the interest of people who are larger in number.
”I would rather suggest to those who are corrupting the National Assembly to think deeply to find a way of making the citizens more comfortable, which will have an effect on both their government and the people in general, rather than making the people more angry.
“The way they are going, it may reach to a very harsh revolution in this country because the citizens are very angry and uncomfortable.”