Fashola Vs NASS, By Dele Agekameh
The verbal war between Babatunde Fashola, the minister of Power, Works and Housing and members of the National Assembly (NASS) intensified last week when the minister took on the spokespersons of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both Sabi Abdullahi, the chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Abdulrazak Saad Namdas, had earlier taken the minister to the cleaners over his comments on the discrepancies noted in the 2017 appropriation bill. The bill was recently signed into law by the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo.
The document was still dripping with the ink of Osinbajo’s pen when Fashola raised the alarm over the drastic slashing of the budget estimate for the completion of some key projects in the country. The projects had dragged on for too long, making it look as if they would be under construction for eternity, while Fashola is determined to conclude the projects. The projects include the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Second Niger Bridge, the Mambilla Power Plant, the Bodo-Bonny road, the Kano-Maiduguri road and others.
The major plank of Fashola’s grudge was that even though his ministry had gone through the tortuous process of budget defence in the NASS, members of the NASS still went behind to insert into the budget some funny projects like boreholes, health centres, grinding machines and others, which are not on the concurrent list. Besides, Fashola said, the items that were inserted into the budget through the backdoor were items which should ordinarily be the concern of either states or local governments.
In an attempt to get funding for these mushroom projects, the NASS had tinkered with the financial allocations for the aforementioned key projects. For instance, whereas the sum of N31 billion was earmarked for the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, after the ministry had successfully defended the allocation, NASS went behind and slashed it to a paltry N10 billion.
Similarly, the allocation of N15 billion for the Second Niger Bridge was mischievously slashed to N10 billion. The allocation for the other projects, including the Mambilla Power project, were equally drastically slashed, thereby rendering the ministry powerless and unable to meet its target of accelerating the construction of these projects.
While defending the actions of NASS, the two spokespersons had berated Fashola and accused him of being interested in awarding big contracts. They also pointed out that other items were introduced into the budget for the purpose of equity, amongst other reasons for their action. For instance, on the issue of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, they said NASS took the action because there was a subsisting concession agreement with a private developer on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
But Fashola dismissed this as mere balderdash. He accused the Assembly members of revelling in ignorance. He also said that it amounts to a waste of tax payers money and unnecessary distortion of planning and development for all sections of the country, for lawmakers to unilaterally insert items not under the Exclusive or Concurrent lists of the Constitution like boreholes and street lights, after putting ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) through the process of budget defence. The minister tried as much as possible to educate the lawmakers on their actual role in budget making.
It is quite obvious that our lawmakers have constituted themselves into stumbling block on the path of national development. Therefore, to get back on track, the lawmakers at all levels need to step up in every way through their thoughts and actions so as to help move this country forward…
But the story behind the scene is totally different from the picture put forward by the NASS. For instance, on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project, NASS talked about PPP arrangement but Fashola said that there’s no existing PPP. What the NASS has failed to disclose to the public is that a lawyer and controversial private investor who could not deliver on his agreement to undertake the construction of the road in question in the past, has suddenly resurfaced. This investor has proposed a fresh PPP arrangement to finance the road. The government did not reject his offer.
However, the government is of the opinion that work should go on as scheduled. But with a proviso that if and when he comes up with the funds, the government will only deduct what has been spent so far and then concession the road to him. This idea does not seem to have gone down well with the lawyer, as he insisted that he would rather have his way. In a bid to achieve this, he then approached the leadership of the NASS and struck a deal with them for the PPP. This explains why the NASS now went ahead to ruthlessly slash the budget of the road based on the anticipation of funds that may never materialise.
The same private developer had, many years ago, struck the same deal with assurances of funding given to him by the defunct Oceanic Bank. But the whole arrangement fell flat on its face when the then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) now the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, moved against some banks. In the process, the then managing director and chief executive officer of Oceanic Bank lost her seat and the bank went under. Consequently, work on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was stalled for several years. It was only the coming of the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration that breathed life into the almost moribund road.
Similarly, Fashola has addressed the issue of the Second Niger Bridge. What really happened was that there was no design for the link road to the bridge on both sides – the Asaba and Onitsha ends. That was just recently approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). Also, there were issues of right of way and compensation to communities which is being handled by the governors of Delta and Ananmbra States. Therefore, the piling that has so far been done on the bridge was just to give a semblance of activity on the bridge. Even at that, no money had been released by the Finance Ministry, meaning that none was returned as insinuated by the NASS.
It would also be interesting to note that the NASS also tinkered with government’s plans on housing. The government’s plan in this sector is to kick-start a National Housing Scheme in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). A budget of N70 billion was earmarked for this purpose. That amount was also cut to N28 billion by the NASS. In it’s place, the NASS members inserted such items as bore holes, primary schools, healthcare centres, grinding machines, motorcycles, toothpicks, etc. as constituency projects.
It may interest the public to know that the health centres don’t have support staff (nurses, doctors, etc.) and some of the buildings are just there serving no useful purpose. Boreholes, too, are without maintenance or servicing plans which means that they could become relics after a year or so of their being commissioned.
With all these revelations, it is shameful that in spite of the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians for ambitious infrastructural development with adequate and steady power supply in the country, members of NASS seem to be thinking otherwise. That is the only way to explain what happened to the allocation for the Mambilla Power Plant, the biggest power project ever in the country. Its allocation was slashed by N4 billion, thereby making the counterpart funding by government for the Chinese company that was billed to undertake the construction of the project, extremely impossible. If things go on at this rate, the project may remain on the drawing board and may never see the light of day, courtesy of our almighty but visionless lawmakers.
A serious nation needs to prioritise it’s developmental projects and commit resources to those projects rather than sinking boreholes and buying grinding machines which can be handled by state governments and local governments. It is quite obvious that our lawmakers have constituted themselves into stumbling block on the path of national development. Therefore, to get back on track, the lawmakers at all levels need to step up in every way through their thoughts and actions so as to help move this country forward rather than dwelling on mundane issues and other inanities. May God help us; help Nigeria!
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