Nigerians insist on NASS to stop ₦4.68b ‘welcome package’

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Some concerned Nigerians have filed a suit against the payment of over N4.68 billion as ‘welcome package’ to the incoming members of the ninth National Assembly.In the suit filed at the Federal High Court, Lagos at the weekend, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT and Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE), are asking the court to restrain, prevent and stop the National Assembly Service Commission from paying individually and/or collectively, the ‘welcome package’.The defendants are the senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, National Assembly Service Commission and the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).

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The plaintiffs are also seeking an order restraining, preventing and stopping all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives from collecting or demanding N10,132,000:00 and N9,926,062.5 as furniture and accommodation allowance due to each of them until the downward review of the pay and allowances of the lawmakers by the RMAFC.

SERAP, BudgIT and EiE, suing for themselves and on behalf of 1,522 concerned Nigerians, stated: “The RMAFC has failed to do any downward review of salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly since 2007 in spite of the economic downturn in Nigeria. Yet, the commission is statutorily required to review the pay of the lawmakers, in conformity with the country’s economic realities and to achieve fiscal efficiency.”

The plaintiffs are also seeking, among other reliefs, a declaration that the N10,132,000:00 and N9,926,062.5 allotted to each senator and member of the House of Representatives as furniture and accommodation allowances are in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1] of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999; oath of office [Seventh Schedule] of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 and Section 6[1] of the RMAFC Act 2004.

They further seek an order of court compelling the RMAFC to review and reduce the amount prescribed for each senator and member of the House of Representatives as furniture and accommodation allowances in accordance with Section 6[1] of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission Act 2004.

Meanwhile, members of the Arewa Youth Awareness Forum (AYAF) have cautioned President Muhammad Buhari against endorsing Femi Gbajabiamila to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives, saying that the north would only support the emergence of National Assembly leaders through a credible process.

The Arewa youths accused the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu and the party’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole of gradually working towards the actualisation of their 2023 presidency plan by ensuring that their loyalists are planted at the National Assembly as leaders.

At a press conference in Kaduna, the coordinator of the AYAF, Obadiah Diji, urged Nigerians to resist any attempt by political godfathers to hijack the National Assembly by imposing its leadership.

“While we are not sponsoring or taking sides with any of the aspirants, we are deeply concerned that Nigeria’s ruling party, the presidency and even the opposition may all stand on the wrong side of history with their support for Gbajabiamila as speaker.

“We advocate populist legislative independence in accordance with Section 50 of the nation’s constitution that explicitly spells out the process of electing a senate president and a speaker for the lower house. According to section 50 (1) (b), there shall be a speaker and a deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.

“This must be done through secret ballot in accordance with extant rules. Indeed, legislative independence is sacrosanct.

“Regretfully, we had a diktat given by Oshiomhole and supported by his mentor, Tinubu, and the presidency, thereby giving rise to concerns that the presidency is being tactically railroaded into a 2023 presidential agenda.”

AYAF said Oshiomhole unilaterally schooled the federal legislators on whom they must vote for. “His mentor, Tinubu, backed this with a call on lawmakers to support Lawan, Gbaja or leave, describing some serving legislators as ‘serpents’. This gave a worrisome recollection of how public hatred was invoked to begin the Rwandan genocide of 1982 with the labeling of some people as cockroaches and snakes.”

The Arewa youths expressed worry that “embedded in all these is a very strong long-term threat to Arewa interests: one man can make President Buhari an impotent force and if anything happens to President Buhari, only one man will coordinate the office of the vice president, senate president and House speaker to put himself in total control as national godfather, preparatory to a 2023 presidential bid.

“Moreover, by ensuring now that a Muslim heads the lower house, in addition to the presidency, senate and judiciary‚ the Buhari presidency and the north may later be further unjustly vilified with the undeserved label of ‘Islamisation agenda’ across the world.

“As we have said earlier, it is very risky for President Buhari, the north and the entire federation for one man to be in control of the vice president, ruling party chairman, senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives when it is known that handpicking of Lagos State House of Assembly principal officers and members at Bourdillon is the primary method of controlling successive Lagos State governors.

“True, Gbajabiamila is erudite and all that, but still, we see cause to worry over red flags in his disposition towards true statesmanship, especially with the basic leadership issues of integrity and truthfulness,” the group said.

Another northern group, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), warned Nigerians against allowing Ahmed Lawan become the president of the ninth senate.

AYCF linked the support Lawan is currently getting from some chieftains of the APC to the secret pursuit of personal ambitions ahead of 2023.

In a statement by Yerima Shettima yesterday, the organisation fingered Tinubu and Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai as being behind Lawan’s ambition in a desperate move ahead of 2023.

“We advise the Tinubus and El-Rufais of this world to shove aside any desperate move on 2023 and allow a level-playing field for all political offices. No one should hide behind any political party to turn Nigerians into mere manipulable pawn. That will be undemocratic imposition and totally unacceptable.”

But Lawan has debunked insinuations that he is being imposed on the National Assembly by APC.

Lawan, who spoke yesterday when his campaign organisation unveiled 60 APC and 1 YPP senators-elect who have openly endorsed his candidature, said all the signatures were appended voluntarily by individual senators.

“We have been working extremely hard, talking to every senator-elect to say this is who we are truly, and in the process, we get to know senators-elect better. We have been through a lot of trouble, hence we cannot be an imposition as everybody wrote his or her name and signed in their writing.

“I can tell you that out of the 44 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators-elect, we cannot have less than 35 to 38, so I pay special tribute to them.”

Barely 48 hours to the election of the presiding officers of the National Assembly, President Buhari, may have directed the Clerk, Mohammed Ataba Sani Omolori, to conduct the elections in strict compliance with existing rules of the two chambers.

Omolori, according to sources close to the presidency, was at the Presidential Villa at the weekend to brief the president on preparations for the elections scheduled to hold tomorrow.

Omolori’s visit to the Villa, it was further learnt, was to honor a presidential invitation to that effect.

The method of voting has been a source of serious disagreement between the two main contenders for the seat of the senate president.

When asked about the preparations for tomorrow’s election, Omolori was said to have told President Buhari that the image of the National Assembly must not be endangered in conducting the elections. He also drew attention to the existing rules of both chambers.

Buhari appreciated the fact that Omolori expressed readiness to stick to the rule to avoid chaos.