The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has taken legal action by filing a lawsuit against the Senate President, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Tajudeen Abbas. The lawsuit is in response to what SERAP sees as an unlawful plan to allocate N40 billion for the purchase of 465 luxurious and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials, along with N70 billion designated as “palliatives” for new members.
The decision to take legal action follows a statement by Mr. Akpabio indicating that the Clerk of the National Assembly had disbursed “holiday allowances” into the bank accounts of senators. This situation is occurring amidst the backdrop of extreme poverty affecting approximately 137 million Nigerians.
In this lawsuit, filed under the suit number FHC/L/CS/1606/2023 last Friday at the Federal High Court in Lagos, SERAP is seeking an “order of mandamus” that would compel Mr. Akpabio and Mr. Abbas to review and reduce the N40 billion budget allocated for the purchase of 465 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials.
SERAP is seeking: “an order restraining Mr Akpabio and Mr Abbas from demanding or receiving the N40 billion to buy 465 SUVs and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials until an assessment of the socio-economic impact of the spending on the 137 million poor Nigerians is carried out in the public interest.”
SERAP is also seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr Akpabio and Mr Abbas to repeal the Supplementary Appropriation Act 2022 to reduce the budget for the National Assembly by N110bn to reflect the current economic realities in the country.”
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “Nigerians have a right to honest and faithful performance by their public officials including lawmakers, as public officials owe a fiduciary duty to the general citizenry.”
SERAP is arguing that, “Unless the reliefs sought are granted, the lawmakers will spend the N110bn, and the travesty, and apparent conflicts of interest and self-dealing by members of the National Assembly would continue.”
SERAP is also arguing that, “It a fundamental breach of their fiduciary duties for members of the National Assembly to arbitrarily increase their own budget and to use the budget as a tool to satisfy the lifestyle of lawmakers.”
According to SERAP, “While N70 billion ‘support allowance’ is budgeted for 306 new lawmakers, only N500 billion worth of palliatives is budgeted for 12 million poor Nigerians. N40 billion is also allocated to buy 465 SUVs and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Blessing Ogwuche, read in part: “The plan to spend N110bn is a fundamental breach of constitutional and international human rights obligations.”
“The planned spending of N110bn is a breach of section 57 (4) of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 which provides that: ‘All persons in whose hands public funds may be entrusted for whatever purpose should bear in mind that its utilization should be Judicious.’”
“It is also a grave violation of the public trust and constitutional oath of office for members of the National Assembly to unjustifiably increase their own budget at a time when over 137 million poor Nigerians are living in extreme poverty exacerbated by the removal of fuel subsidy.”
“Rather than exercising their constitutional and oversight functions to pursue the public interest by considering bills to improve the conditions of the over 137 million poor Nigerians who are facing the impact of the removal of fuel subsidy, the lawmakers appear to be looking after themselves.”
“According to reports, no fewer than 107 units of the 2023 model of the Toyota Landcruiser and 358 units of the 2023 model of Toyota Prado would be bought for the use of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives respectively.”
“The planned purchase is different from the official bulletproof vehicles expected to be purchased for the four presiding officers of the National Assembly.”
“The proposed spending of N110 billion by members of the National Assembly is apparently on top of the N281 billion already provided for the lawmakers in the 2023 National Assembly budget. The proposed spending is also different from the N30.17 billion budgeted for the ‘inauguration expenses’ for new members.”
“The budget for the National Assembly may further be increased as members are reportedly demanding an upward review of their salaries and allowances purportedly to offset the impact of the removal of fuel subsidy.”
“Section 14(2)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] provides that, ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
“Under Section 16(1)(a)(b), the National Assembly has the obligations to ‘harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy’, and to ‘secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen.’”
“Cutting the N110 billion from the budget of the National Assembly would be entirely consistent with members’ constitutional oath of office, and the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution, as it would promote efficient, honest, and legal spending of public money.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.