Anger has continued to trail the decision by the National Assembly to earmark N70bn for its members out of the N819bn federal supplementary budget passed by the legislature last week.
The lawmakers had said the N70bn was earmarked to support “the working conditions of National Assembly members.”
But many Nigerians have described the N70bn budgetary allocation for lawmakers as insensitive while majority of Nigerians are grappling with economic hardship heightened by the removal of fuel subsidy.
In a statement on Sunday, an advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project urged the Senate President, Mr Godswill Akpabio, and Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr Tajudeen Abbas, “to drop the scandalous plan to spend N40bn on 465 exotic and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials, and N70bn as ‘palliatives’ for new members”
SERAP urged them to “repeal the 2022 Supplementary Appropriation Act to reduce the budget for the National Assembly by N110bn, reflect the current economic realities in the country and address the impact of the removal of fuel subsidy on the over 137 million poor Nigerians.”
It gave the National Assembly seven days to retrace its steps, threatening it would go to court should its demand be ignored.
Also, human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, described the move as callous and a breach of the constitution of the country.
Falana in a statement on Sunday, said, “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 N70bn 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 N228.7m to each of the newly elected legislators. As if that is not enough, the members of the National Assembly have earmarked N40bn to purchase 465 Sports Utility Vehicles and bulletproof cars for principal officials and members. However, the legislators approved the sum of N500bn for 12 million indigent people in a country where the National Bureau of Statistics has said that ‘62.9 per cent of people (133 million) are multidimensionally poor’.”
Similarly, the National Chairman Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, described the N70bn as insensitive.
“Instead of increasing our suffering, they should actually put that amount of money into the socio-economic activities of Nigerian people and give soft loans to those that have been identified as doing legitimate business,” Adeniran said.
The presidential candidate of the African Action Congress in the 2023 elections, Omoyele Sowore, also condemned N70bn palliative.
He said, “Palliatives will not solve any poverty, it is clear that these palliatives are designed as political welfare for the top one per cent of already over-fed members of the Nigerian elite, not the Nigerian people.”
In the same vein, the Director, Take It Back Movement, Juwon Sanyaoulu, in a tweet via @AyowoleSanyaolu, said President Bola Tinubu-led government was treating Nigeria like a conquered territory.
Sanyaolu said, “Tinubu awards N70bn as palliatives to National Assembly members, who, by the way, are negotiating a further increase in their already outrageous salaries, but plans to distribute less than N100bn to 12 million Nigerians as palliative for the unconscionable hardship occasioned by subsidy removal on fuel.
“The Tinubu regime is treating Nigeria like his conquered territory and its people like a conquered lot. In no distant time, we will show him why no Nigerian leader has yet to successfully conquer the Nigerian people.”
However, the Senate, in a statement on Sunday by its Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Yemi Adaramodu, defended the N70bn allocation and called on Nigerians to see their National Assembly as partner in progress.
Adaramodu said, “Suffice to say that the passage is part of the absolute constitutional duty of the Senate. We would, therefore, not wish to take issues with the mischief and misrepresentation that a portion of the just passed Amendment Act that appropriated N70bn was a ‘gift’ to the legislators.”
Adaramodu stressed that “a visit to the suites, offices and the general structures of the National Assembly complex would reveal a yawning and the need for exigent attention.
“Many senators had to bring their chairs, tables and electronics and in many cases, do sundry repairs.
“The so-much-debated allocation will not be paid to any legislator. This will be managed by the National Assembly Bureaucracy. It’s pertinent to also note that the National Assembly complex does not house only the legislators. There are thousands of workers and service providers, whose working environment need a facelift, and with necessary tools.
“Since the Assembly complex is not owned by legislators, who are merely political birds of passage, such allocation cannot be termed by anyone as a palliative to the legislators.”