National Assembly and national priority projects
It is not just the scale of the changes the National Assembly made in the 2017 budget as revealed the other day by Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola that has triggered a national outrage but the way the supposed representatives of the people callously slashed allocations for two key roads projects of urgent national importance –Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Second Niger Bridge. It should be noted that the geographical location of the two projects that have been abandoned for so long ought to have advised the legislators against their action.
Even more offensive is the mindlessness of the arrogant and ignorant legislators who could not see the two projects as national security assets that ought to be given prime attention. The two projects are among top priority projects that could facilitate trade, commercial and even agricultural activities within the country. Such is their value to economic well-being of Nigeria that this self-serving slash in funds for them has been described as anti-people.
Power, Works and Housing Minister deserves kudos for his courage to speak out against the lawmakers who slashed N21 billion off the N31 billion vote for the Lagos -Ibadan Expressway. And the consequence is that the contractors are threatening to abandon the project.
Besides, the minister disclosed that N5 billion was taken off the Second Niger Bridge’s original spending plan of N15 billion leaving it with only N10 billion. This too should be seen as economic sabotage. The most despicable aspect of these diversions is that the money taken away from these projects was diverted to other projects inserted by the lawmakers. What is worse, most of those projects are not priorities of the Federal Government, according to facts from the budget’s details already signed into law just last month by the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. Then the worst of this revelation is that the federal lawmakers inserted inexplicable 100 political projects including some from their states as federal projects.
The National Assembly members have given unacceptable alibi to the extent that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has been concessioned and so requires little or nothing to complete. This, of course, has been duly debunked by the Federal Government, which said there has been no existing concession since the contract with BiCourtney in 2006 was controversially terminated years ago.
Even as everyone has been complaining about the tragedy of poor electricity supply in the country, the National Assembly also reduced the budget for Mambila power project and the one for Bodo bridge that connects the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Station.
Again, it was understood that at some meetings with the president’s men, the legislators were told the implications of all these heartless and illegal diversions of funds. The legislators lay claim to having the powers to dislocate budget proposals. But should the powers be used illegally to appropriate for state projects without consultation and legalisation?
This, however, is not the time to join the needless debate on who has the powers to add or subtract from budget proposals. No one, anyway, has benefited much from budget’s hollow rituals every year in this country. The point at issue, which should prick the conscience of Nigeria’s leaders, is the gross irresponsibility that led to the diversion of funds from national priority projects. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, for instance, is in class of its own as a national asset. The legislators should even have expanded the project to include Apapa-Oshodi Expressway to join the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway axis, which is Nigeria’s most significant economic route leading to the South and North. The Niger Second Bridge is located in a region where there is an ongoing agitation for secession. How can Nigeria’s political leaders then be so insensitive to national security issues and projects?
The Apapa-Oshodi road has unarguably become the most embarrassing economic route in Nigeria today. The two ports in Apapa are the only viable ones with deep-sea maritime facilities in the country. But no government has paid attention to the route. A face-saving M.O.U has just been signed with a private firm, Dangote AG to construct part of it around Apapa alone. This is a national priority project no federal legislator has recently visited despite billions of dollars the Federal Government rakes in from the ports and which they accept as part of appropriation revenues every year.
Apart from the immorality and indecency in the diversions, why should the federal legislators increase their own budget from N115 billion to N125 at the same time that they slashed budgets from national priority projects? It must be said that they have let down the nation that gives them the powers they have just abused.
Pertinently, whatever happened to the power of consultation in a democracy! Why would a Federal Government dominated by a ruling party in both the executive and legislative arms be bickering when consultations on prioritisation of projects even for their constituencies should have been the order?
What the representatives of the people in the National Assembly did to the budgets of national priority projects, specifically the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge must be seen as insensitive and a crime against the nation. It is morally wrong, especially since they did it to satisfy their self-interest. This is an unacceptable disservice to the nation at this critical time when infrastructure deficit everywhere is part of Nigeria’s national shame! The federal lawmakers should reflect deeply on these instead of a needless power show.