Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila over their “failure to cut the unlawful National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion, including the N30.17 billion severance payments and inauguration costs for members.”
The suit followed the move by the National Assembly to increase its 2023 budget from N169 billion proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari to N228.1 billion. The approved budget shows an increase of about N59.1 billion. The country’s budget of N21.83 trillion is based on a N10.49 trillion revenue, and N11.34 trillion deficit.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/152/2023 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Dr Lawan and Mr Gbajabiamila to review and reduce the budget of N228.1bn the leadership and members of the National Assembly allocated for their own benefit.”
SERAP is also seeking: “An order restraining and stopping Ms Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning from releasing to the National Assembly the budget of N228.1 billion, until an impact assessment of the spending on access to public goods and services and the country’s debt crisis, is carried out.
SERAP is also seeking: “an order restraining and stopping Dr Lawan and Mr Gbajabiamila from demanding or collecting the National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion, until an impact assessment of the spending on access to public goods and services and the country’s debt crisis, is carried out.”
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “It is a grave violation of the public trust and constitutional oath of office for the members of the National Assembly to increase their own budget at a time when some 133 million Nigerians are living in poverty.”
According to SERAP: “The National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion is higher than the statutory transfer to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), which is N103.3 billion.
SERAP is arguing that, “The increase is unreasonable, as it would substantially increase the cost of governance, and exacerbate the country’s debt crisis. It is unlawful, and unfair to the Nigerian people.
“SERAP is also arguing that, “Cutting the National Assembly budget would reduce the growing budget deficit, address the unsustainable debt burden, and serve the public interest.”
SERAP is arguing that, “by increasing its own budget, the National Assembly has unjustifiably and disproportionately reduced the budget for the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).”
SERAP is also arguing that, “This is a travesty, especially given that Nigeria currently has over 20 million out-of-school children, and half of all poor people in the country are children.
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Atinuke Adejuyigbe, read in part: “The budget should reflect national development priorities, and not serve as a tool to satisfy the lifestyle of lawmakers or provide them with severance payments or parting gifts.
“Rather than exercising its oversight functions to check the persistent borrowing by President Muhammadu Buhari, and scrutinising the apparently unlawful overdrafts and loans obtained by the Federal Government from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the National Assembly is increasing its own budget.
“The increase in the National Assembly budget, including the unnecessary proposed spending of N30.17 billion on ‘severance payments’ and ‘inauguration expenses’ is a fundamental breach of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international human rights obligations.
“It is unjustifiable and unreasonable for the National Assembly to arbitrarily increase its own budget when the Federal Government and many of the 36 states are clearly in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress.
“The National Assembly budget of N228.1 billion would increase the country’s borrowing and debt crisis. Growing debt burdens and debt repayment difficulties will have negative impacts on the ability of poor and vulnerable Nigerians to enjoy basic socio-economic rights.
“Long-term unsustainable debt can be a barrier to the government’s ability to mobilize resources for human rights, and may lead to taxes and user fees that impact negatively on poor and vulnerable Nigerians.
“The leadership and members of the National Assembly ought to properly discharge their constitutional and fiduciary duties to Nigerians by ensuring judicious spending of public funds, especially given the current economic and financial realities of Nigeria.
“Nigerians have a right to honest and faithful performance by their public officials including lawmakers, as public officials owe a fiduciary duty to the general citizenry. All those who hold the strings of political power and power over spending of Nigeria’s commonwealth ought not to use their entrusted position for personal gain.
“Section 14(2)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] provides that, ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.
“Under Section 16(1)(a)(b), the National Assembly has the obligations to ‘harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy,’ and to ‘secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen.
“Section 81 of the Nigerian Constitution makes clear that it is the constitutional responsibility of the President to prepare and present estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the country before the National Assembly and not for the lawmakers to unilaterally and arbitrarily allocate public funds to themselves.
“Nigeria has also ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognise legally enforceable economic and social rights, such as the rights to education, health, safe food and clean water, security, and shelter.
“Section 51 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act provides that, ‘a person shall have legal capacity to enforce the provision of this Act by obtaining prerogative orders or other remedies at the Federal High Court, without having to show any special particular interest.”
Joined in the suit as Defendants are President Muhammadu Buhari; the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN; and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
Divestments: Foreign investors cite harsh operating environment as reason for exit, pull out N310bn assets
Foreign investors have cited a harsh operating environment as reasons for their exit from the Nigerian market.
Recall that President Bola Tinubu had in his inauguration speech in May and also in August assured investors of his dedication to revitalising the nation’s economy by intensifying the removal of all bottlenecks obstructing efficient business establishment and management in Nigeria.
However, since the President came on board, the country has witnessed over four major foreign investors in the manufacturing and oil and gas sector exiting the country in droves citing high operational costs and unfavourable business climates as some of the reasons for their exit.
The latest exit announcement was made yesterday by Procter & Gamble (P&G) a major global player in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) segment and Equinor, another global player in the upstream oil sector.
With these new exits, Nigeria’s economy is expected to lose $335 million (about N310 billion) in Foreign Direct Investments (FDI).
The amount represents the combined assets value of the two companies.
Procter & Gamble (P&G), an American multinational consumer goods company, says it has plans to transition from local production to solely importing its products as the firm winds down its on-ground presence in Nigeria.
Equinor is exiting after selling its Nigerian business, including its share in the Agbami oil field to Nigerian-owned energy company Chappal Energies.
Explaining the decision, Chief Financial Officer, P&G, Andre Schulten said the decision is a result of “the challenging business environment in Nigeria, as well as the difficulty in creating US dollar value.”
On his part, Equinor’s Senior Vice President for Africa Operations, Nina Koch, in a statement, said, “Nigeria has been an important part of Equinor’s international portfolio over the past 30 years.
“This transaction realises value and is in line with Equinor’s strategy to optimise its international oil and gas portfolio and focus on core areas.”
In the second half of this year two other major multinational companies, GlaxoSmithKline, GSK, Consumer Nigeria Plc and Sanofi-Aventis Nigeria Limited, a French pharmaceutical company, pulled out assets estimated at over $800 million from Nigeria, citing harsh operating environment.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) has blamed stringent regulatory and legislative activities, insufficient infrastructure, and policy inconsistencies for the difficulties faced by businesses.
Reacting to the exit of Procter & Gamble, P&G, NECA’s Director-General, Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde expressed dissatisfaction with the news.
He however, commended the Federal Government for supporting the Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs, and manufacturers through the disbursement of the N125 billion Presidential Palliative Programme.
The DG said, “NECA commends the Federal Government for supporting the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and manufacturers through the disbursement of the N125 billion Presidential Palliative Programme.
“This strategic intervention is a proactive step in mitigating the impact of the multi-dimensional challenges currently being faced by businesses. It strongly emphasised the immediate need for decisive measures to halt the ongoing trend of companies divesting from the country.
“While we commend the Federal Government for the disbursement of the intervention funds, we urge a quick and definitive action to arrest the continuous exit and divestment of legitimate organizations in Nigeria.
“In the last few years, hitherto strong brands like GSK, Nampak and now P&G and some other local brands have either closed shop or divested fully or partially. These regrettable departures will persistently undermine the Federal Government’s efforts to attract Foreign Direct Investment, rendering its initiatives highly ineffective.
Highlighting the probable factors behind these business closures, the NECA boss asserted “that the challenging business landscape, marked by stringent regulatory and legislative activities, insufficient infrastructure, and policy inconsistencies, all conspired to exacerbate the difficulties faced by businesses.
“When established global brands like P&G cannot survive the environmental and regulatory onslaught, it is worrisome how many more businesses will capitulate.
“Regulatory bodies tasked with fostering business growth persist in prioritising revenue generation at the expense of their core mandate, while legislators, in the guise of oversight functions, consistently create impediments for organized businesses, hindering their operations.
“The contradictions and self-disruptive tendencies of many federal and state Institutions can only be imagined, as they negate the efforts of the President to attract Foreign Direct Investment.”
NECA implored President Bola Tinubu, as well as the Minister for Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, “to prioritise the survival of local businesses as the primary step before actively seeking Foreign Direct Investment.
“We advocate for the 2024 Appropriation Bill to address crucial infrastructural requirements conducive to business expansion, laying the groundwork for a prosperous nation.
“Additionally, he underscored the necessity of focusing on comprehensive tax reforms and addressing the challenges related to FOREX and exchange rates with a sense of urgency.”
CBN reviews service charter to drive ease of doing business
By Sodiq Adelakun
In a significant move to bolster the ease of doing business in Nigeria, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Yemi Cardoso, has officially approved a revised “Service Charter” for the nation’s apex bank.
This strategic initiative is a direct response to the mandates of the Business Facilitation Act 2022, which aims to streamline business operations and enhance customer service delivery across the country.
The CBN announced on Thursday that the newly reviewed charter is designed to establish a clear framework for interactions between the bank and its external stakeholders. By adhering to the provisions of the charter, the CBN commits to aligning with the directives set forth by SERVICOM, the government agency responsible for promoting efficient and effective service delivery in public offices.
The implementation of the service charter is expected to mark a new era of transparency and accountability in the CBN’s operations, ensuring that the bank’s services are delivered in a customer-centric manner.
This development is anticipated to have a positive impact on the Nigerian business landscape, fostering a more conducive environment for both local and international investors.
Governor Cardoso’s endorsement of the service charter underscores the CBN’s dedication to upholding the principles of the Business Facilitation Act 2022 and its commitment to driving progress in Nigeria’s economic landscape.
“The document clearly outlines the bank’s mandates, vision, mission, and core values.
“It contains the list of services offered by the bank through its various departments and the service standards for each service.
“The service charter also includes a standardised customer complaints form for reporting service failures as well as a mechanism for addressing failures in any of the bank’s services,” it stated.
It added that the service charter reiterated CBN’s commitment to effective and prompt service delivery to its stakeholders and to its customers.
“It enables our customers to know the range of services provided by the bank as well as the standards at which these services would be provided.
“It equally states redress procedures in the event of service failure from any of our service windows.
“The charter applies to all stakeholders and customers of the bank,” it stressed.
In the foreword to the reviewed document, Cardoso reiterated CBN’s commitment to providing more responsive and citizen-friendly governance through quality service delivery that is efficient, accountable and transparent.
At UBA Business Series, e-commerce owners urge SMEs to prioritise delivering value
Seasoned business owners have advised Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) owners and operators on winning tips that will help them run successful online businesses especially in the face of growing competition and challenging business terrain.
Speaking during the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Business Series hybrid event at the bank’s Head office in Lagos on Thursday, the entrepreneurs and E-commerce experts agreed that SMEs should start small and offer value-added services to their customers as these are essential factors to help them grow their businesses into successful empires.
The Chief Executive Officer, Konga.com, Nnamdi Ekeh, the Founder/CEO RenDoll Fashion Brand, Reni Abina, and Media Personality & Entrepreneur, Kaylah Oniwo were panellists at the event who spoke on the topic; E-commerce: the Effects of Online Retail.
“There is a need for proper documentation. Data is very important for business growth, as it gives you your conversion rates, and lets you know what to do to improve these rates to boost business patronage,” Ekeh said, as he emphasised that boosting security as regards payment options is also very important.
On her part, Abina advised E-commerce business owners and prospective owners to make use of reputable online influencers to promote their businesses, as she said, “It is important to find influencers in your field that are fitting to your brand and the kind of business you do.”
“It is important for business owners to know how their brands are being positioned; remember to track your growth properly as this will help you to know what you are doing right or wrong at every point in time,” Oniwo stated as she pointed out that the need for business owners to take the storytelling element of their business very important.
Together, all the speakers at the event noted that business owners should ensure that their businesses are duly registered, with functional business accounts as this gives a large amount of credibility to the company.
Speaking earlier, the Group Head, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Alero Ladipo, said UBA organises these business series frequently as they go a long way towards equipping customers with the much needed strategies to help build their businesses.
She said, “This year alone, we have had several conversations around business and health, personal finance and now, we are talking about e-commerce. To us as a bank, it is important that we have these conversations and the topic for this session is E-commerce, and is very important as we wrap up the year, because this is the season for giving and a lot of buying and selling will be going on during this period.
“As a financial institution that cares about its customers, UBA is interested in bringing in great speakers, experienced business people and thought leaders to educate its customers and Small business owners as they can then take the points discussed in these series and work with them to improve upon and positively impact their businesses,” she stated.
United Bank for Africa is one of the largest employers in the financial sector on the African continent, with 25,000 employees’ group wide and serving over 35 million customers globally. Operating in 20 African countries and in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France and the United Arab Emirates, UBA provides retail, commercial and institutional banking services, leading financial inclusion and implementing cutting edge technology.
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