Fifteen civil society groups in the country on Wednesday gave the Nigerian Senate two weeks within which to accede to a six-point demand or risk mass occupation of the National Assembly.
The groups are demanding that the senate open up its budget for public scrutiny, cut running cost, declare assets of its members, investigate allegation of corruption against its leadership, actively supports the anti-corruption fight and expedite action on the passage of the Special Crimes Courts Bill.
In a petition addressed to the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki dated February 21, the groups noted that, Nigerians have for long wished to see a National Assembly was responsive and “fully accountable” to the people, but lamented that this has not been the case.
“However, with all the entreaties, advocacies and agitations, the Senate has failed to lead in providing the needed leadership for a more accountable system both within the National Assembly and in the larger governance architecture,” the petition noted.
The petition said it was in furtherance of the agitation of Nigerians that the groups came together in order to “engage the Senate leadership on these pro-people demands as enumerated below:
1. Opening-up the National Assembly budget to public scrutiny: Transparency is key to operating an orderly and accountable system. It is an essential ingredient in the fight against corruption. It is for this reason that citizens in a democracy have a fundamental right to know and ask questions where necessary.
For this same reason, Nigerians have been advocating for openness and accountability in the operations of government. It is commendable that the 8th National Assembly recently compelled such hitherto opaque agencies like FIRS, CBN and NNPC to subject their budget to scrutiny. It is, therefore, important that the National Assembly follows the rule it has set for other agencies and institutions by making its own budget open for public scrutiny.
2. Cutting running cost: The Senate has been accused of maintaining a bloated budget. Considering the prevailing economic situation in the country, we urge it to do an immediate review of its budget and spending, streamlining it in consonance with not only the present realities of the country but the everyday living conditions of majority of Nigerians.
3. Commitment to transparency and accountability through asset declaration: We urge you and other principal officers of the Senate to show commitment to transparency and accountability by publicly declaring your assets.
We demand urgent status declaration of pensions and gratuities received by former Governors and Deputy governors presently in the Red Chamber and receiving multiple housing and transportation allowances both as former state executives and serving Senators.
We also urge you as the leader of the National Assembly to set an example by making your declaration of asset public.
4. Investigate allegation of corruption against the Senate leadership: You would recall that a few weeks ago, a rights group, Citizens Action to Take Back Nigeria, CATBAN, accused you, your deputy, as well the Speaker of the House of Representatives and his deputy, of using the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, to perpetrate financial fraud totaling over six hundred and thirty million Naira.
For the sake of probity and the integrity of the Senate, we urge an independent inquiry into the allegations. Such unattended accusations have the unsavory effect of undermining the public standing of this important organ of governance.
5. Demonstrate commitment to the fight against corruption: One of the cardinal objectives of the current government of which you are a principal officer is the fight against corruption. You will agree that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is central to the government’s anti-corruption effort.
As the leader of a Senate that has on several occasions expressed its commitment to the war against corruption, it is important that you put in place the necessary mechanisms to ensure that the issue of a substantive chairman for the EFCC is dealt with as expeditiously and transparently as possible.
6. Expedite the passage of the Special Crimes Courts Bill and other anti-corruption related bills. The objective of the Special Crimes Courts Bill, as stated in its title, is: “An Act to provide for the establishment of a Special Crimes Court as a superior court of record to allow for speedy trials of certain offences, including economic and financial crimes, terrorism, money laundering, corruption offences and for related matters.”
The lack of passage of this bill and other related bills is delaying the adjudication of criminal cases. It is, therefore, imperative to have these specialized courts and other laws enacted in good time.”
The groups urged the senate to take immediate action on their demands within two weeks, failing which they would mobilise Nigerians to occupy the senate.
The petition was signed by the leaders of the 15 groups namely: Civil Society Network Against Corruption, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Say No Campaign, Centre for Gender and Development, Centre for Information Technology and Development, Niger-Delta Budget Monitoring Group and the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy.
Others are: Basic Rights Action, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Partners West Africa, Nigeria, Democrats of Conscience, Centre for Democracy and Development, Procurement Observation and Advocacy Initiative, Citizen United for Peace and Stability, and Person with Disabilities Action Network.