The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, on Sunday asked the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila to give the N37 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly, NASS, complex to the 36 states, and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as COVID-19 direct relief and benefits to the poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians.
SERAP stated that this will ensure that each States including the FCT will have N1 billion each.
Mr. Kolawole Oluwadare, Deputy Director of SERAP, in a letter dated 11 April, 2020, also requested that the duo immediately advise President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently implement commitment of the Assembly to redirect the N37 billion to provide direct and tangible benefits and reliefs to the people.
It stated that, “As we applaud the patriotic steps and voluntary contributions already made by the National Assembly towards fighting COVID-19 in the country, we now urge you to make major strides to national efforts to deal with one of the greatest threats facing the country by immediately redirecting the N37 billion to provide direct and tangible benefits to the poorest and most vulnerable people among us.
“Nigeria is at a crossroads and National Assembly leaders and members must now decide whether to continue to look after themselves and do little for the country’s poorest or make commitment to redirect the N37 billion to help ameliorate the suffering caused by COVID-19 restrictions.
“While some of the authorities’ responses to COVID-19 across the country may be necessary to stop the spread of the disease and save lives, we are concerned that the prevailing situation has taken its toll on the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people, such as pensioners, people living with disabilities (PWDs), who continue to endure the grimmest of conditions in several states and the FCT.”
SERAP’s continued: “The money must be spent now to serve the public good. Spending the N37 billion as proposed would increase the ability of states and FCT authorities to provide COVID-19 reliefs and benefits. It would not cause any budget deficit. But assuming it does, it would be a good deficit, as it would serve the public good.”
It maintained that spending the N37 billion to renovate the National Assembly complex even when COVID-19 was over would further undermine the social contract in Nigeria, and hurt the poorest and most vulnerable people across the 36 states and FCT, as it would limit the ability of the authorities to provide much needed benefits and support to those Nigerians, and undermine efforts to reduce the impact of the disease on the country.
SERAP added: “Giving the N37 billion to states and FCT would be in the public interest at this time of national crisis, as it would improve the chances of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people to live a life of dignity while obeying authorities’ directives to stay at home.
“Without sufficient COVID-19 direct reliefs and monetary benefits to these Nigerians, many may be forced to turn to criminal activities as their only perceived options for surviving. Redirecting the N37 billion renovation fund would help to improve the conditions of the people.
“We urge you to invite the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the civil society to monitor the spending of the funds to the 36 states and FCT, to ensure it was used for purpose meant for and not diverted, stolen or mismanaged.
“The appalling quality of life, and rapidly growing levels of suffering among the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people are harmful to equity and undermine respect for human rights,” the organization stated.