A coalition of Civil Society Organisations under the OpenNass campaign, on Wednesday called on the Federal Government to initiate the process of auditing the accounts of the National Assembly between 2005 and 2014.
The group, which comprises Enough Is Enough (EIE), BudGit, Connected Development (CODE), and YIAGA Africa insisted that there was need to open up the NASS budget to public scrutiny in line with the current drives towards improved transparency in public finance in Nigeria.
Fielding questions from journalists during the press briefing to mark the 5th Anniversary of the OpenNass campaign, the Chief Executive of CODE, Mr Hamzat Lawal, said that the way the NASS budget is being managed made a mockery of the democratic process.
He said: “If we look at the budget of the National assembly, are we saying as a citizen we would accept that 469 people go home with over a hundred and fifty billion looking at the budget of some states, for instance, that of Niger State with a population of 4 million people.
“Again, if we put it side by side and aggregate it with individuals-and these are tax payers’ money-are we saying we are enjoying our democracy based on the money that these people over seeing the National assembly take home?”, he queried.
Reading the communiqué of the group, the programme manager, EIE, Adeolu Adekola, noted that the campaign had made significant progress in its five years of existence.
According to him, through the OpenNass campaign, the budget of the National Assembly was made public for the first time since 1999.
He, however, noted that despite promises by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, the legislature had refused to public the details of their 2018 budget.
Adekola pointed out further that the NASS could be run more effectively even with a smaller budget as many of the items in its budget were duplications.
He clarified further: “During the review of that budget, we saw duplicate items. It was broken down according to parastatals. For example, you could see something like hospital procurement. You could see it in the Senate line item, you would see it in the House of Representatives line item and you would see it in another parastatals’ line item.
“Those were the duplicate line items that we reviewed as citizens. They had newspaper allowance but there was also budget for newspapers. So those were some of the things that we saw and we streamlined and recommended a leaner budget for the NASS”, the civil advocate added.
On whether the NASS is acting beyond its powers by appropriating additional money to its yearly budgets, the EIE programme manager explained that the court had the final say.
“In the breakdown of the NASS budget there was a line item called Service Wide Vote amounting to N325 million. But Premium Times broke the story that the former Minister of Finance released an additional N10 billion to them.
“The Finance Ministry later explained that it was not out of the budget of the NASS but it was captured under SWV of the NASS. If SWV was going to be N325 million, how did it turn to be N10 billion?”, he queried.
Adekola, further questioned why the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was yet to be passed.