The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against the Senate President, Mr Godswill Akpabio and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Tajudeen Abbas over “the unlawful plan to spend N40bn on 465 exotic and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials, and N70bn as ‘palliatives’ for new members.”
The suit comes on the heels of a statement made by Mr Akpabio that the Clerk of the National Assembly had sent “holiday allowances” into the “various bank accounts of senators”. Some 137 million Nigerians face extreme poverty.
In the suit numbered FHC/L/CS/1606/2023 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Lagos, SERAP is seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr Akpabio and Mr Abbas to review and reduce the N40 billion budgeted to buy 465 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials.”
SERAP is also 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 also wants the court to grant “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 argues: “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.
“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.”
“It is 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,” it also said.
“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,” it noted.
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.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.