Probe missing N4.4b NASS funds or…, SERAP urges Lawan, Gbajabiamila

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Senate President Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila to urgently probe and refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies allegations that N4.4bn of public money budgeted for National Assembly is missing, misappropriated, diverted or stolen, as documented in 3 reports by the auditor-general.

SERAP in an open letter dated January 30, 2021 and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, “By exercising strong and effective leadership in this matter, the National Assembly can show Nigerians that the legislative body is a proper and accountable watchdog that represents and protects the public interest, and is able to hold both itself and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to account in the management of public resources.”

The group said if the allegations are not properly addressed, they could undermine public confidence in the ability of the National Assembly to exercise its constitutional and oversight responsibilities to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.

The letter was copied to Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN); Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye and Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),  Mohammed Abba.

SERAP expressed concern that “these allegations of corruption, mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds amount to fundamental breaches of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international obligations, including under the UN Convention against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.”

The letter, read in part: “Any failure to promptly, thoroughly and independently investigate these serious allegations, prosecute suspected perpetrators, and recover missing public funds and assets would undermine public trust in the ability of the leadership of the National Assembly to ensure probity, transparency and accountability in the management of public funds.”

It read in part: “The Auditor-General noted in his 2015 report that the National Assembly spent N8,800,000.00 as unauthorized 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.”

In a reaction to the letter, Chairman, Media and Public Affairs in the Senate, Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru, noted that the audit reports from which the allegations were made were those of 2015 and 2017.

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Basiru said the wordings and spirit of the letter addressed to the leadership of the 9th National Assembly were misleading and likely to be misconstrued as referring to the present Assembly. According to him, the letter was directed to wrong quarters.

 

“The proper channels to send the petitions should have been the Senate and House of Representatives committees on Public Account, if the real motive is genuinely to investigate the alleged corruption and not just to generate usual publicity stunt,” Basiru said. He, however, assured SERAP that if it diligently pursued its petition, the relevant committees of the two chambers wouldfaddress it properly.

SERAP had threatened that it would be left with no choice other than seek “all appropriate legal actions to compel the leadership of the National Assembly to implement the recommendations contained in the audit report in the interest of transparency and accountability” if the leadership of the National Assembly failed to react within 14 days.

“We would be grateful if you would indicate the measures being taken to address the allegations and to implement the proposed recommendations, within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel the leadership of the National Assembly to implement these recommendations in the public interest, and to promote transparency and accountability in the National Assembly.”