SERAP sues Lawan, Gbajabiamila over missing N4.4bn National Assembly funds

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a
lawsuit against the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of
House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila over “their failure to
probe, and to refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies allegations
that N4.4bn of public money budgeted for the National Assembly is
missing, misappropriated, diverted or stolen, as documented in three
annual audited reports by the Office of the Auditor-General of the
Federation.”

The suit followed the publication of annual audited reports for 2015,
2017 and 2018 in which the Auditor-General of the Federation raised
“concerns about alleged diversion and misappropriation of public funds,
sought the recovery of any missing funds, and asked that the evidence of
recovery should be forwarded to his office.”

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/366/2021 filed last Friday at the Federal
High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus directing
and compelling Dr Lawan, Mr Gbajabiamila and the National Assembly to
perform their constitutional oversight functions to ensure prompt and
transparent investigation into the allegations that N4.4 billion
budgeted for the National Assembly may be missing and unaccounted for.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that “By the combined reading of the
provisions of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the
UN Convention against Corruption, which Nigeria has ratified, the
National Assembly has legal duties to combat corruption, and promote
transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.”

According to SERAP: “transparency and accountability in the management
of public resources and wealth is essential for promoting development,
people’s welfare and well-being, and their access to basic public
services, as well as good governance and the rule of law.”

SERAP is also arguing that “The National Assembly has legal
responsibility to ensure that the serious allegations of corruption and
mismanagement documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the
Federation are promptly, independently, thoroughly, and transparently
investigated, and to end the culture of impunity that is fuelling these
allegations.”

According to SERAP: “The failure of the National Assembly to promptly
and thoroughly investigate, and to refer to appropriate anti-corruption
agencies the allegations documented in the annual audited reports for
2015, 2017 and 2018 is a fundamental breach of the oversight and public
interest duties imposed on the legislative body by sections 4, 88 and 89
of the Nigerian Constitution.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and
Ms Adelanke Aremo, read in part: “Granting this application would serve
the interest of justice, reduce corruption and mismanagement, as well as
end impunity of perpetrators, and advance the fundamental human rights
of Nigerians.”

“This suit seeks to vindicate the rule of law, the public interest, and
to promote transparency and accountability. Government agencies and
institutions are responsible to a court of justice for the lawfulness of
what they do, and of that the court is the only judge. The National
Assembly has no legally justifiable reason to refuse to investigate the
allegations documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the
Federation.”

“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly
those who publicly took oath of office to protect and preserve the
Constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the
rule of law. In a democratic society, this is meant to be a norm.”

It would be recalled that SERAP had in a letter dated 30 January 2021
requested Dr Lawan and Mr Gbajabiamila to “use their good offices to
urgently probe and refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies
allegations that N4.4 billion of public money budgeted for the National
Assembly may have been misappropriated, diverted or stolen.”

The letter, read in part: “The Auditor-General noted in his 2015 report
that the National Assembly account was spent N8,800,000.00 as
unauthorised overdraft, contrary to Financial Regulations 710. The
National Assembly also reportedly spent N115,947,016.00 without any
documents. Another N158,193,066.00 spent as cash advances to 17 staff
between January and June 2015 is yet to be retired.”

“The Senate reportedly spent N186,866,183.42 to organise Senate Retreat
and Pre-Valedictory Session for the 7th Senate, although the money was
meant to pay vehicle loan. The Senate also reportedly spent
N15,964,193.63 as bank charges between July and December, 2015, contrary
to Financial Regulations 734.”

“The House of Representatives also reportedly spent N624,377,503.30 to
buy 48 Utility Vehicles. However, 14 vehicles were not supplied. The
House also failed to make the 34 vehicles supplied available for
verification. Similarly, the House spent N499,666,666.00 as cash
advances to staff to carry out various assignments but has failed to
retire the money.”

“The House of Representatives also reportedly paid N70,560,000.00 as
overtime and ‘special’ allowances to officials who are not legislative
aides between November and December 2015 without any authority.”

“The National Assembly Service Commission reportedly failed to remit
N30,130,794.10 deducted from the salaries of the Executive Chairman and
the Commissioners as car loan.”

“The National Assembly Budget and Research Office reportedly spent
N66,303,411.70 as out-of-pocket expenses without any documents. The
National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies paid
N246,256,060.51 by cheques, despite the prohibition of payments by
cheque by the Federal Government, except in extreme cases, and contrary
to Financial Regulation 631.”

“According to the Auditor-General Report for 2017, the House of
Representatives reportedly spent ₦95,212,250.00 without due process and
without any documents. The National Assembly Management Account also
reveals that N673,081,242.14 was spent between April and October 2017
without any documents. The Auditor-General reported that the funds may
have been misappropriated.”

“The Senate Account also reportedly shows that ₦1,364,816,397.95 was
spent on store items without any documents to show for the spending. The
Auditor-General stated that his office was denied access to the store
and to the Senate’s records.”

“The National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies also
reportedly failed to remit ₦2,181,696.50 from contract of goods and
services. The Institute also paid ₦67,296,478.00 without any payment
vouchers.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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