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SERAP files suit against Lawan, Gbajabiamila over alleged missing N4.1bn NASS funds

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has instituted a lawsuit against the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan and Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila in respect to alleged misappropriation of N4.1billion National Assembly funds.

This was contained in a statement issued on Sunday by the SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, who slammed the NASS leadership over “their failure to probe, and to refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies fresh allegations that N4.1bn of public money budgeted for the National Assembly is missing, misappropriated or stolen.”

Ripples Nigeria gathered that this suit came in the wake of the publication of the annual audited report for 2016 in which the Auditor-General of the Federation.

The report had 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 N4.1bn budgeted for the National Assembly may be missing.

READ ALSO: Buhari worried about alterations in 2022 budget made by NASS

The organisation further argued that “the National Assembly had 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.

“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.

“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.”

SERAP also stated that “these fresh allegations are not part of the disclosure by the Auditor-General in the audited reports for 2015, 2017 and 2018 that N4.4 billion 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.’”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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Nigeria would have been history if Buhari had not been president —Gov Ayade

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Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade, has attributed Nigeria’s continued existence to the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, saying the country would have been history by now.

Ayade who spoke on a Channels Television programme, Sunrise Daily on Wednesday, said the efforts Buhari put in at tackling the myriad of problems the country faced caused by past administrations, was what kept the country together till date.

Ayade particularly lauded Buhari’s efforts at addressing insecurity in the country, insisting that without the President’s intervention by employing his military background in tackling the menace, terrorists and insurgents would have crippled the country.

According to Ayade, “there was an international conspiracy against the country, particularly the northern regions” and the country would have collapsed if Buhari had not intervened.

“Perhaps, if it was not Buhari’s administration with his military background, the country would have collapsed at this stage,” the Governor said.

Read also: Democracy is repugnant to natural justice —Gov Ayade

“People don’t know that because if you have been able to avoid risk, nobody can see it because it was avoided. I think the situation could have been worse,” he added.

On insecurity, Ayade had this to say:

“Security comes first and what President Buhari did on assumption of office was to curtail the onslaught of Boko Haram which was very important in order to prevent the implosion of the country.

“This country would have collapsed if not for Buhari’s military background and the situation could have been worse.

“The crisis we would have found ourselves in would have been worse than the ISIS crisis in the Middle East, so we Nigerians must give kudos to President Muhammadu Buhari,” he said.

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Elections timeline will only be published after passage of Electoral Bill —INEC

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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has disclosed that the timeline for the upcoming 2023 elections will be released only after the passage of the Electoral Bill, still under consideration at the National Assembly.

This was contained in a statement issued on Tuesday by the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, at the first quarterly meeting with political parties for 2022 in Abuja.

Yakubu further noted that the Commission was optimistic about the passage of the Bill due to the assurance by President Muhammadu Buhari who charged the NASS to ensure the Bill was prioritised.

Read also: National Assembly to re-present, pass electoral bill Wednesday – Lawan

He said, “On the Electoral Amendment Bill currently before the National Assembly, the commission is encouraged by the Senate President’s assurance to give priority attention to the Bill when the National Assembly reconvenes from its recess today, and the commitment by the President to assent to the Bill as soon as the issue of mode of primaries by political parties is resolved.

“We are looking forward to a speedy passage of the Bill, which is crucial to our preparations for the forthcoming elections. As soon as it is signed into law, the commission will quickly release the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2023 General Election which will be based on the new law”.

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The best levelling-up strategy is hiding in plain sight

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It seems that no one knows what the government means by ‘levelling-up’. The White Paper explaining it has been delayed. And yet there is a clear strategy waiting to be embraced. It is an old one, called creating the conditions for growth. It is well known, yet it is being ignored as people look for something special and different.

There is a simple reason, backed up by research, that growth will deliver levelling-up. It is that the resources in the ‘behind’ regions are in greater supply. This is obviously the case, since this is why they need ‘levelling-up’. In our research on regional Britain we find clear evidence that higher demand provokes much faster rises in wages and prices in the ‘south’ than in the ‘north’, for this reason. This in turn implies that growth tends to favour the north. Infrastructure spending will then naturally gravitate to these parts since in practice it is demand-led by the usual cost-benefit analysis. One of the levelling-up fallacies going the rounds is that the north can be lifted up by differential infrastructure spending; yet this simply puts the cart before the horse.

The question then becomes how do we promote growth in the economy as a whole so that this levelling-up can also proceed. Again we know the answer well. It is through holding down tax rates, especially on entrepreneurs, and creating a permissive regulative environment in which the common law prevails preventing observable harm rather than the continental law philosophy of the EU in which possible harms are prevented in advance blanket intrusion.

Sadly, the government is not setting out this strategy for growth at all clearly or convincingly. It has paid lip service to the deregulative idea but there is no momentum behind its implementation; instead we hear constantly about how existing ‘standards’ will be upheld- which is code for doing nothing to alter existing regulations. As for taxes, we have heard plainly from the Chancellor’s last budget that even though he is in favour of low taxes, taxes will go up sharply- both on businesses and workers- and none will come down.

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The reason given for this tax policy is the state of the public finances, namely the high ratio of public debt to GDP post-Covid. The Treasury and its ally, the OBR, lose no opportunity to stress the possible catastrophes that await us if we do not urgently limit public borrowing, now that the debt ratio has reached around 100% of GDP. Yet history tells us that we have never defaulted on our debts even though the ratio went well above 200% of GDP both after the Napoleonic wars and after WW2. Also after the first the high debt ratio did not stop Gladstone’s sharp cuts in our high tariff rates; nor after the second did it stop the Labour government’s expensive policies to build the welfare state.

In both cases it took many years to bring the debt ratios down again to low ‘safe’ levels; meanwhile policies were pursued to promote growth and stabilise the economy as well as possible. It is the role of public debt to allow these policies to proceed smoothly without needing to be stopped and restarted to ‘bring down debt’.

As for the various short term ‘fiscal rules’ that governments have announced since the financial crisis of 2008, they have been jettisoned, rightly, on a regular basis. They completely miss the point about the smoothing role of public debt, on which the only constraint is long term solvency- something that for the UK has never been in doubt; the technical condition for it is simply that the growth in real debt must be less than the real interest rate. With the current real interest rate negative, this condition is easily met.

So what is to be done? We need to see a coherent government economic strategy to promote growth through low taxes and growth-friendly regulation; this in turn will create levelling-up as the growth reaches the parts of the economy current policies cannot reach. As part of this strategy, the government needs to explain how this fits in with a long term plan to maintain solvency and keep the public finances solid. Of course there is no contradiction between a stable economy growing solidly and strong public finances gradually restoring the debt ratio to normal levels. But the government needs to get its courage up to restate this basic economic good sense.

Professor Patrick Minford is one of the UK’s leading macroeconomists and holds the chair of Applied Economics at Cardiff University.

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