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SERAP drags FG before UN court over 2020 budget cut

By Idowu Abdullahi,

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the Federal Government to three United Nations special rapporteurs to enhance its demands of seeking reversal of cuts in the budget of the nation’s education and health sector and the approval of N27bn to renovate the National Assembly complex.

It explained that the move had become imperative following the approval of the 2020 revised budget by the apex government which reduced the health budget from N44.4bn to N25.5bn, and the Universal Basic Education budget is reduced from N111.7bn to just N51.1bn and approved N27bn to renovate the National Assembly complex.

The advocacy group, through a statement by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said it had sent an urgent appeal to three UN special rapporteurs urging them to use their mandates to urgently request the Nigerian government and the leadership of the National Assembly to immediately reverse what it described as the unlawful, disproportionate and discriminatory budget cuts to education and healthcare.

He listed the special rapporteurs to include Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right to health; and Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

According to him, with the cut in health and education budget, the apex government was putting politicians’ allowances and comfort before citizens’ human rights, adding that the budget shows President Muhammadu Buhari’s led government’s failure in addressing the growing economic and social inequality amidst the effect of coronavirus on the poor and vulnerable in the country.

He noted that at a time the country is battling with the global pandemic and fall in the price of crude oil globally, the federal government should have looked inward by cutting the cost of governance than cutting from education and health budget.

“We believe that alternative policies and measures, such as reducing the costs of governance, including the excessive allowances for high-ranking public officials and the lawmakers, would have been a more appropriate solution to addressing budget deficits, as this would increase the available resources for healthcare and education, which in turn would contribute to reducing socio-economic inequality.”

“Nigerian authorities also ought to show that the budget cuts to healthcare and education are necessary and proportionate, in that they must be justifiable after the most careful consideration of all other less restrictive alternatives, for example, excessive allowances for Nigerian lawmakers, and excessive costs of governance, in general.

“One of the pillars of the protection of the rights to healthcare and education is the obligation to progressively realize the rights set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, making use of Nigeria’s maximum of available resources.”

“The budget cuts by Nigerian authorities are therefore of special concern as they directly affect the minimum core content of these rights, and impact directly or indirectly and disproportionally on those individuals already discriminated against or living in most vulnerable situations.”

“The number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty has increased since May 2015. The reduction in healthcare and education budgets would exacerbate the prevailing inequalities, poverty, and create a vicious circle of reduction in spending, and increments in socioeconomic inequalities.”

“Without your urgent intervention, the Nigerian government and National Assembly would continue to spend the country’s maximum available resources to satisfy the opulent lifestyles of politicians rather than complying with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights to healthcare and education the poor and marginalized groups,” the statement read in part.

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