Budget Padding Scandal Dodge Nigeria’s Legislature
Some members of Nigeria’s National Assembly have accused the leadership of the two legislative chambers of padding the 2022 national budget for personal benefits.
President Muhammadu Buhari penultimate Friday signed the 2022 Appropriation Bill into law, while saying there were projects inappropriately inserted in the budget that affected the amounts appropriated for his administration’s developmental project
Reports said some lawmakers have alleged that the leadership of the two chambers and members of their respective Appropriation Committees were involved in the padding as direct beneficiaries of the projects inserted.
President had lamented while signing the 2022 Appropriation Bill and the 2021 Finance Bill into law in December 2021, that the National Assembly had made what he called “worrisome changes” to the budget estimate, saying they erduced the provisions for many strategic capital projects to introduce ‘Empowerment’ projects.
Buhari accused the National Assembly of reducing provisions for about 10,733 projects and introducing 6,576 new projects, which increased the budget from N16.39tn by N735.85bn to N17.13tn.
He said “The cut in the provisions for several of these projects by the National Assembly may render the projects unimplementable or set back their completion, especially some of this Administration’s strategic capital projects.”
He had also expressed his reservations on the “inclusion of new provisions totaling N36.59bn for National Assembly projects in the Service Wide Vote, which negates the principles of separation of powers and financial autonomy of the legislative arm of government.”
Of course, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had defended the action of the lawmakers, insisting that they acted in the interest of Nigerians. Some other members also told our correspondent in separate interviews that by virtue of the power of appropriation conferred on the National Assembly by the Constitution, the lawmakers have the right to tinker with the Appropriation Bill like any other bill.
Sunday PUNCH quoted an unnamed ‘ranking member’ to have accused the leadership of both chambers and their respective Committees on Appropriation of unilaterally and discreetly inserting the projects Buhari complained about at the budget signing ceremony.
The lawmaker, said to be a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), alleged that the insertions were not known to other members of the National Assembly until the President raised the issue.
He said, “Majority of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are not aware of the insertions. The insertions came from the Committee on Appropriations and the leadership of the two chambers.”
The lawmaker said, “The projects are tied to mostly the leadership and membership of the committees – the two committees. Go and check it. Their number in the House, I don’t know. But in the Senate, they are more than 30. Those are the people that did this insertion.
“As far as senators and members of the House are concerned, they are not aware of the increase. Nobody discussed it whether at plenary or during a closed session.”
Sunday PUNCH quoted another lawmaker in the lower chamber to have said what the leadership did was unfair to other members.
He explained that since the entire National Assembly came under attack by both the President and members of the public, the benefit should not be for a privileged few while other members were kept in the dark.
The lawmaker added, “My disappointment with the President is that this issue of yearly complaint is not new. However, the caveat that he would forward amendments (via a supplementary budget) is something that we will look up to.”
He argued that the President should have withheld assent to the budget like he did to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.
The lawmaker added, “Ask members, some senators don’t even know what is happening. Many senators don’t know. Members of the House of Representatives don’t know, unless those that are close to the beneficiaries and have lobbied them.
“The culprits are those that signed the budget, I mean the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee in our chamber, the House of Representatives, and his committee.”
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