By Jude Obuseh, For Agenda Watchdog, April 12, 2020
(AGENDAWATCHDOG) – Accountability Watchdog, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has made an impassioned plea to the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, asking them to disburse the N37 billion, originally meant for the renovation of the National Assembly complex, among the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which should each receive N1 billion as “direct reliefs and benefits to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on the country’s poorest and most vulnerable.
According to SERAP: “We applaud the patriotic steps and voluntary contributions already made by the National Assembly towards fighting COVID-19 in the country. We now urge you to make major strides to national efforts to deal with one of the greatest threats facing the country by immediately redirecting the N37 billion to provide direct and tangible benefits to the poorest and most vulnerable people among us.”
SERAP made its request through a letter dated 11 April, 2020 and signed by SERAP Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare, in which it said: “Nigeria is at a crossroads and National Assembly leaders and members must now decide whether to continue to look after themselves and do little for the country’s poorest or make commitment to redirect the N37 billion to help ameliorate the suffering caused by COVID-19 restrictions.”
The organisation further posits that: “While some of the authorities’ responses to COVID-19 across the country may be necessary to stop the spread of the disease and save lives, we are concerned that the prevailing situation has taken its toll on the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people who continue to endure the grimmest of conditions in several states and the FCT.”
Excerpts of SERAP’s appeal reads: “We also urge you to immediately advise President Muhammadu Buhari and Mrs Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning to urgently implement your commitment to redirect the N37 billion to provide direct and tangible benefits and reliefs to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
“The money must be spent now to serve the public good. Spending the N37 billion as proposed would increase the ability of states and FCT authorities to provide COVID-19 reliefs and benefits. It would not cause any budget deficit. But assuming it does, it would be a good deficit, as it would serve the public good.”
“Going ahead to spend N37 billion to renovate the National Assembly complex even when COVID-19 is over would further undermine the social contract in Nigeria, and hurt the poorest and most vulnerable people across the 36 states and FCT, as it would limit the ability of the authorities to provide much needed benefits and support to these Nigerians, and undermine efforts to reduce the impact of the disease on the country.”
“Giving the N37 billion to states and FCT would be in the public interest at this time of national crisis, as it would improve the chances of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people to live a life of dignity while obeying authorities’ directives to stay at home.”
“Without sufficient COVID-19 direct reliefs and monetary benefits to these Nigerians, many may be forced to turn to criminal activities as their only perceived options for surviving. Redirecting the N37 billion renovation fund would help to improve the conditions of the people.”
“We urge you to invite the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the civil society to monitor the spending of any redirected funds to the 36 states and FCT, to ensure that the funds are spent to support the poorest and most vulnerable people, such as pensioners, people living with disabilities (PWDs), and not diverted, stolen or mismanaged.”
“The appalling quality of life, and rapidly growing levels of suffering among the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people are harmful to equity and undermine respect for human rights.”
“We hope that the above would help guide your actions in immediately acting to redirect the N37 billion as proposed. We would be happy to discuss any of these issues in more detail with you.”
“Please accept the expression of our highest consideration. Thanking you in advance of your urgent attention to the matter.”
SERAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, legal & advocacy org. devoted to promoting transparency, accountability & respect for socio-economic rights in Nigeria.