Activists in Nigeria are mounting a campaign to get the country’s National Assembly to open its books and explain how it spends its money. The campaign is already getting results.
As the 109 senators and 360 house representatives of Nigeria’s eighth national assembly got down to business this month, they did so under the watchful eye of Oluseun Onigbinde, lead partner of non-profit BudgIT. The group is campaigning for greater transparency in how lawmakers spend their $577.5 million yearly budget
Through social media, the courts and meetings with lawmakers, Onigbinde said he hopes to cut through some of the secrecy. “There’s so much speculation today. This is how much the national assembly earns and nobody can give you a fact or a figure unless something that is speculated. And this question is let us know the allowances, let us know how much you spend on managing your office and the rest,” he said
He said the body has spent about $3 billion in the past four years, but refuses to say what it’s done with the money, so he’s suing to find out.
Nigeria recently underwent a seismic political shift. In this year's elections, the opposition All Progressives Congress, or APC, triumphed over the People’s Democratic Party, or PDP, which had controlled the presidency and the National Assembly since 1999. Now, the PDP is in opposition, and the APC controls the presidency and both houses.
Onigbinde said he hopes to take advantage of the new blood in the National Assembly, and across Nigeria’s power structure, to press for transparency. “It’s a movement going day-by-day. We need a National Assembly that is open and is also demanding… the same of all agencies of government,” he stated.
The campaign is under way on social media. On Twitter, Nigerians use the hashtag #OpenNASS to question how the new lawmakers are spending money.
Social media entrepreneur Japheth Omojuwa has been tweeting about the campaign to 230,000 followers. He said he’s long pushed for more transparency from the assembly, angered by what he said are lavish salaries in a country where millions live in poverty.
“Tell us exactly who’s getting what, how much are your aides and assistants getting? How much are you spending on maintenance of your offices? You know, common sense stuff,” he questioned.
He’s hopeful that with a new government in power, he might finally get answers.
“A huge chunk of the lawmakers are fresh. So they should be in a position to want to do things differently, “ Omojuwa added.
The campaign has already gained traction, at least on Twitter. Senate President Bukola Saraki has tweeted using the #OpenNASS hashtag in the opening weeks of the legislature, saying details of lawmaker allowances would be made public.