The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has sent an open letter to the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, requesting him to use his good offices and leadership position “to put pressure on the leadership of the National Assembly to cut the proposed apparently wasteful and unnecessary spending on the number of expensive official vehicles, legislative aides, travels and transportation, souvenirs, and photocopiers”.
The organization urged Osinbajo to “assent to the budget only if it truly reflects national development priorities, and not serve as a tool to satisfy the lifestyle of our lawmakers. To allow public funds to be spent as proposed by the National Assembly would disproportionately affect the socially and economically vulnerable and push them deeper into poverty and deprivation.”
In the letter dated May 15, 2017 and signed by SERAP’s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization said: “In a country where many of our general hospitals cannot provide emergency treatment, and at a time public funds are needed to improve these facilities, it is retrogressive to spend these funds to provide exotic cars for our lawmakers or fund needless travels. Such funds ought to be meaningfully spent to provide clean water, build classrooms, provide materials, train teachers and pay outstanding workers’ salaries.”
SERAP, in the letter copied to Prof. Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights said: “The more public funds that are spent to buy expensive vehicles for our lawmakers rather than servicing the new vehicles bought last year the less resources that will be available to make sure that Nigerians enjoy the right to an adequate standard of living and the rights to health, housing, food and education.”
The letter reads in part: “When read together, the obligations under the Covenant to take steps to achieve economic and social rights progressively according to the country’s national resources implicitly forbid spending on such apparently wasteful projects. We are concerned that of the N125 billion proposed by the National Assembly in the 2017 budget, N6.4bn is to purchase official vehicles; N1.6bn to insure the vehicles; N777m to buy photocopiers; N55.623m to buy souvenirs; N807m to fuel generators; N11bn for travels and transportation; N9bn to pay legislative aides, and N750m for medical supplies.
“SERAP believes that the presidency now has the chance to show that the 2017 budget would not prioritise wasteful spending by the National Assembly over and above urgent national development priorities, and the need to improve Nigerians’ access to basic necessities such as interrupted electricity supply, quality education, affordable healthcare, clean water, good roads, as well as pay outstanding workers’ salaries across the country.
“SERAP urges you and the presidency to require the National Assembly to justify the wave of fresh spending on several of the items purchased last year, and many of which will presumably remain in good condition.
“SERAP also urges you to persuade the leadership of the National Assembly to henceforth adopt and use human rights budgeting as a tool of tracking Nigeria’s accountability toward economic, social and cultural rights. SERAP believes that a budget is a fundamental government tool for national development priorities and should not be a shopping list to satisfy the taste of high-ranking public officials and parliamentarians.
“SERAP believes that the proposed spending of public funds by the National Assembly suggests that the leadership does not conceive of national budget as a blueprint for social and economic policy priorities.
“SERAP believes that by cutting the proposed spending by the National Assembly, the presidency would be working to address and mitigate the negative effects of economic recession and crisis in the country on Nigerians living in poverty in particular and the socially and economically vulnerable in general.
“SERAP notes that Nigeria is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Covenant guarantees to all Nigerians legally enforceable economic, social and cultural rights such as the rights to food, health, and education. The enjoyment of these rights requires a major commitment of resources from key branches of government particularly the executive and legislature for example through the instrumentality of the budget.
“When interpreted as prescribed by Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the Covenant will impose clear duties on your government to make national budgets comply with realizing these economic, social and cultural rights. Therefore, international human rights law requires the government to use the country’s economic resources to fulfil economic, social and cultural rights. Clearly, economic resources of Nigeria are managed by fiscal policies, thus providing direct link with national budget.
“The lack of enjoyment of these human rights would increase poverty and hunger, which in turn would threaten the right to life and health of many socially and economically vulnerable, including women and children. These groups of people are bearing the brunt and feeling the impacts of the economic crisis on their standards of living, their jobs and their homes.”