The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, over what it called “their failure to probe and to refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies” fresh allegations that N4.1billion of public money budgeted for the National Assembly was missing, misappropriated or stolen.
The suit followed the publication of the annual audited report for 2016 in which the Auditor-General of the Federation raised “concerns about alleged diversion and misappropriation of public funds and sought the recovery of any missing funds.”
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1609/2021 filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking, “An order of mandamus to direct and compel Dr Lawan and Mr Gbajabiamila to perform their constitutional oversight functions to promptly probe the allegations that fresh N4.1billion budgeted for the National Assembly may be missing.”
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that, “The National Assembly has legal and constitutional duties to prevent and combat corruption, as well as promote transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.
“The National Assembly can only effectively perform its anti-corruption role if it can demonstrate exemplary leadership to probe the allegations of corruption and mismanagement involving the legislative body.
“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.
“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 report for 2016 is a fundamental breach of the oversight and public interest duties imposed on the legislative body.
“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.”
The suit was filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Kehinde Oyewumi.
According to the court papers, SERAP said, “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.”
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1609/2021 filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja SERAP is seeking an order of mandamus to compel Dr Lawan and Mr Gbajabiamila to perform their constitutional oversight functions to promptly probe the missing N4.1bn budgeted for the National Assembly.
SERAP had last year sent a letter to Lawan and Gbajabiamila requesting them to “use their good offices to urgently probe and refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies allegations that fresh allegations of missing N4.1bn of public money”.
The letter, read in part, “These fresh allegations are not part of the disclosure by the Auditor-General in the audited reports for 2015, 2017 and 2018 that N4.4billion of National Assembly money is missing, misappropriated or stolen.
“According to the Auditor-General report for 2016, N4,144,706,602.68 of National Assembly money is missing, diverted or stolen. The National Assembly paid some contractors N417,312,538.79 without any documents. The Auditor-General wants the Clerk to the National Assembly to ‘recover the amount in question from the contractors.
“The National Assembly reportedly spent N625,000,000.00 through its Constitution Review Committee between March and June 2016 but without any document. The Auditor-General wants the Clerk to the National Assembly to ‘recover the amount from the Committee.
“The National Assembly also reportedly spent N66,713,355.08 as ‘personnel cost’ but ‘the payees in the Cashbook did not correspond with those in the bank atatement’. The Auditor-General wants ‘the irregular expenditure recovered from the officer who approved the payments.
“The National Assembly also reportedly paid N116,162,522.60 to some contractors between April and June, 2016 without any document. The National Assembly deducted N56,985,568.55 from various contract payments in respect of Withholding Tax and Value Added Tax but without any evidence of remittance.
“The National Assembly also reportedly paid N126,264,320.00 as cash advances to 11 staff members between March and December, 2016 to procure goods and services but failed to remit the money.
“The Senate reportedly paid N747,286,680.00 as personal advances to staff members between February and December, 2016 for various procurements and services but failed to retire the money. The Senate also deducted N118,625,057.48 as Withholding and Value Added Taxes but failed to show any evidence of remittance to the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
“The Senate also spent N109,007,179.73 from the Capital Expenditure vote but without any document.
“The House of Representatives reportedly deducted N821,564,296.48 from staff salaries but failed to remit the money to tax authorities. The House also paid N254,059,513.70 as advances to staff members to procure goods and services between January and December, 2016 but failed to retire the money.
“The National Institute for Legislative Studies reportedly spent N375,867,000.00 to buy 11 motor vehicles in April 2016. But the institute also paid the same contractor N36,610,000.00 in September 2016 under the same contract without approval.
“The institute also reportedly paid N10,927,768.80 to seven members of staff who were redeployed from the National Assembly to provide specialised services but without details about the staff paid, and without any justification.
“The National Assembly Service Commission reportedly approved N109,995,400.00 to train some officers in Dubai, United Arab Emirates but spent N127,629,600.00 as estacode allowances to participants, and fees for two consultants engaged for the training. The commission also spent N9,975,000.00 as course fees for 34 officers but it also paid a consultant N4,987,500.00 for the same course fees.
“The legislative aides section earned N12,274,587.77 as interests on bank accounts in a commercial bank between January and December 2016 but failed to remit the money to the Consolidated Revenue Fund.”
No date has been fixed for hearing on the suit.