BY EMEKA EJERE
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the National Assembly to stop President Muhammadu Buhari from selling government properties to fund the 2021 budget.
SERAP through a statement issued on Sunday by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, appealed to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila to bar the President from carrying out such moves via a letter addressed on January 16.
The federal government had revealed that in addition to borrowing locally and internationally, some government-owned properties would be sold to fund the 2021 budget shortfall of N5.2 trillion.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, who made this known in Abuja, also revealed the federal government would sell some non-oil assets to serve as additional source of finance for the year’s budget.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had on December 31, 2020, signed the N13.58 trillion budget for the 2021 fiscal year – about N505 billion higher than the budget proposed in October, 2020.
But the group wants the leadership of the National Assembly to “urgently review the 2021 appropriation legislation to stop the government of President Muhammadu Buhari from selling public properties to fund the 2021 budget, and to identify areas in the budget to cut such as salaries and allowances for members and the Presidency to make sayings to address the growing level of deficit and borrowing.”
“The National Assembly has a constitutional and oversight responsibility to protect valuable public properties and to ensure responsible budget spending. Allowing the government to sell public properties, and to enjoy almost absolute discretion to borrow to fund the 2021 budget would amount to a fundamental breach of constitutional and fiduciary duties.”
While cautioning that selling valuable public properties to fund the 2021 budget would be counter-productive, the group said “this would be vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement. It would undermine the social contract with Nigerians, leave the government worse off, and hurt the country in the long run. It is neither necessary nor in the public interest.”
SERAP also called for a change in the country’s fiscal situation through some combination of cuts in spending on salaries and allowances, and a freeze on spending in certain areas of the budget such as hardship and furniture allowances, entertainment allowances, international travels, and buying of motor vehicles and utilities for members and the Presidency.
On borrowing of loans, SERAP also asked the parliament “to stop approving loan requests by the Federal Government if it continues to fail to demonstrate transparency and accountability in the spending of the loans so far obtained.”
“We would consider the option of pursuing legal action to stop the Federal Government from selling public properties, and we may join the National Assembly in any such suit.”
“The budget deficit and debt problems threaten Nigerians’ access to essential public goods and services and will hurt future generations. If not urgently addressed, the deficit and debt problems would seriously undermine access to public goods and services for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people who continue to endure the grimmest of conditions.”
“Our requests are brought in the public interest, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the country’s international human rights obligations including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Nigeria has ratified both human rights treaties,” the statement added.