By Ken Azahan
A coalition of civil society organizations has decried the refusal of the National Assembly to open its books for public scrutiny despite making series of promises to do so, saying such act was an affront on democracy.
The coalition championed by Enough is Enough, Budgit and other CSOs at a media briefing in Abuja to commemorate five years of advocacy for an open legislature maintained that it was imperative to take stock of progress made over the years.
Speaking on the need for the campaign tagged #OpenNASS, Adeolu Adekola, programme manager, EiE Nigeria explained that the legislators who represent their constituents must provide adequate information on their activities as it is the only way the public can hold them to account.
“The campaign started in 2013 with a protest tagged #OurNASS and with Budgit’s focus on the National Assembly budget in 2014, #OpenNASS was carried. The goals of #OpenNASS was harmonized to include the demands during the #OurNASS protest”.
He listed the demand to include, making public the breakdown of National Assembly’s budget, replacing voice voting with electronic voting so that citizens can track their representatives, maintaining a functional website that makes public the attendance record at plenary, working with the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Committee (RMAFC) to review and reduce allowances of legislators as well as providing an audit for the N1.15 trillion ($5.75 bn) received from 2005 to 2014.
Adekola explained that the NASS succumbed to the advocacy in 2017 when it made it budget of N125 billion for the first time but have declined in making the 2018 budget public.
He said in line with the Freedom of Information Act, the EiE and BudgiT organised citizens to scrutinize the 2017 budget where it observed duplication of budget items and recommended a slash from N125 billion to N50 billion.
“To further disdain the Nigerian people, the National Assembly 2018 budget was increased by N14.5 bn to N139.5 bn. This seems to institutionalize the additional N10 bn that was released National Assembly in 2017 by the former minister of finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, making their total budget N135bn.
The CSOs also accused the National Assembly of depriving the citizens the right to hold their representatives accountable by refusing to replace electronic voting with voice voting.
“Conversations with elected representatives would have been held by citizens if the exact voting records were made public. Just recently in the United States, six state legislatures in Oklahoma who voted against a bill that would have increased teachers salaries were all voted out of office in their primary runoff election”.
The group also accused NASS of failing to maintain an up to date website thereby leaving the people in dark.