Rights groups, activists sue Buhari, others over N37b National Assembly complex renovation budget

Rights groups and 583 concerned Nigerians have filed a suit seeking to halt the release of the N37 billion allocated for the renovation of the National Assembly complex to the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and the National Assembly leadership pending the impact assessment of the spending.

The civil society organisations, which include the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT and Enough is Enough (EiE), are asking the Federal High Court, Abuja to “restrain and stop President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, from releasing the allocated sum.”

The groups are also seeking an interlocutory injunction to “restrain, prevent and stop the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and the FCDA from demanding or collecting the N37 billion earmarked for the renovation of the National Assembly complex until an impact assessment of the spending on critical sectors and access to public goods and services is carried out.”

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In the suit number, FHC/ABJ/CS/1633/2019 filed last weekend, the plaintiffs argued: “The National Assembly complex should be a safe and conducive environment for those who work there. But spending N37 billion to renovate the place is not commensurate with the constitutional commitments to public services and goods; decreasing public revenues and increasing level of debts as well as the poor economic and social realities in the country.”

They further contended: “Spending N37 billion to renovate the National Assembly complex is self-serving, wrongful, illegal and an unconstitutional expenditure, as it means less money for educating millions of out-of-school Nigerian children, providing access to clean water and healthcare to Nigerians including the elderly, or repairing the country’s roads and bridges.”The activists, who joined the suit as co-plaintiffs, include Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) co-convener, Aisha Yesufu; Nigerian singer and actor, Banky Wellington (Banky W); Mrs. Ayo Obe; Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi and ‘Fisayo Soyombo.

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The motion on notice, filed by Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “The defendants are public officers who have sworn to the constitutional oath of office to perform their respective duties in the interest of Nigerian citizens. The refusal of President Buhari to object to the budget/appropriation bill containing a huge N37 billion on renovation of the National Assembly complex is a gross violation of the constitution and existing laws in Nigeria.

“The National Assembly complex was reportedly constructed at the cost of $35.18 million in 1999 and N40.2 billion was budgeted in December 2013 for the construction of phase III of the facility and renovation of the first and second phases of the complex.”The plaintiffs want the court to determine: “Whether the N37 billion proposed, voted and allocated for renovation of the National Assembly complex in the 2020 Nigerian National Budget via Appropriation Act 2019 by the National Assembly and signed into law by President Buhari is not in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers (Fifth Schedule Part 1) of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and Oath of a Member of the National Assembly.”No date has, however, been fixed for hearing of the suit.

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