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Senate chamber suffers neglect despite yearly allocations

By John Akubo, Abuja |   04 December 2019   |   4:25 am  

Senate in session

• Technical glitch mars plenary session
• Lawan flouts rule as Abaribe seeks repairs

The National Assembly could soon embark on a huge upgrade of its complex, following a technical hiccup at the Senate chamber yesterday. But while repairs are not out of place, some observers may be left wondering how the legislative arm of government has managed its allocations over the years.

Security scanners at the entrance of the Red Chamber stopped functioning about four months ago. In November, during a session, lawmakers were forced to use hand fans following the collapse of the air conditioning system. Those who couldn’t bear the heat stepped outside. In February 2018, a session was interrupted when faulty electrical wiring clouded the chamber with smoke.

“There is no better time to renovate the National Assembly but now. We need to put this facility in place and upgrade it as soon as possible,” said Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe yesterday.

The lawmaker had risen to second a motion by Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi for the plenary to be adjourned to the next day over the death of Jafaru Illiasu, a member of the House of Representatives.

But Abaribe’s call became the climax to a previous drama. As Abdullahi spoke, the microphone refused to give vent to his voice. For about three minutes, the Senate Leader tried to manipulate his accredited microphone unsuccessfully. Efforts by the technical unit of the chamber to solve the problem failed.

Apparently upset by the development, Senate President Ahmad Lawan who presided, compelled Abdullahi to use the microphone of another member, Barau Jibrin, against the clear provisions of the Senate Standing Rules. According to Lawan, Abdullahi, as Senate Leader, could use any microphone.

When it was the turn of Abaribe to second the motion, he left his accredited seat, opting to use the same microphone used by the Senate Leader. Even when his attention was drawn to the fact that his own microphone was functioning, he went ahead to engage Jibrin’s microphone, declaring that the time had come to “upgrade” the National Assembly.

The upgrade, when it finally takes off, will come against the backdrop of the huge allocations the National Assembly has received over the years. It might also raise posers about how much of the sums have or ought to have gone into maintaining the complex.

In the 2018 budget, the National Assembly got N139,500,000,000, with the Senate taking N35,582,085,699 and the House of Representatives got N57,425,137,793.

In 2017, the National Assembly increased its budget from the N115 billion earmarked the previous year to N125 billion. A breakdown indicated that the management got N6,714,696,986 for personnel with overhead cost of N6,193,052,825 and capital cost of N2,011,315,202, totaling N14,919,065,013.

The Senate got N1,856,510,517 for personnel; N25,111,332,147 for overheads and N4,430,923,222 for capital, totaling N31,398,765,886. The House of Representatives got N4,923,743,127 for personnel; N39,635,756,179 and N4,493,244,677, totaling N49,052,743,983, among others.

The House of Representatives at the time justified the increase, with its then chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, saying the N115 billion provided in the 2016 budget was inadequate.

In October this year, the Senate justified the N125 billion proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the National Assembly budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

The then Senate spokesman, Adedayo Adeyeye, explained: “The National Assembly has a lot of staff to take care of in both chambers. The number of committees is large too because of the volume of work. So, there is no way we can operate with a small budget.”

He said further: “The bulk of this money is spent on issues that promote legislative operations. Unfortunately, many people believe that legislators take the largest chunk of the money. Our salaries are open for public scrutiny.

“The truth is: it is either we want to have a working and effective National Assembly that is properly funded or we do not. Running the system in the National Assembly is very expensive.”

Rawlings Agada, a Director of Communication at the National Assembly, had also explained earlier in an interview that the running cost made available to the management was grossly inadequate to maintain the complex.

“What the management has been doing over the years is to take out of its running cost to carry out some palliative repairs and beautification including paintings. The roof leakages in the dome, particularly in the two chambers are of great concern to the management.

“The structure of the place is weak. In other climes, there would be a deliberate attempt to sustain the edifice through constant renovation. The other extension being done within has also not been completed,” said Agada.

He continued: “The management already has the picture of what we want. We are creating a centre where everything will be sited. There will be provision for live transmission. There would be Internet facilities. The original design of the National Assembly did not take into account those modern information technology facilities. If the funding aspect is not improved upon, there is no way we could carry out any useful expansion project.”

He added: “That is why the management and the leadership of the National Assembly are making arrangements to hand over the complex to the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA). The agency can take over the maintenance of the place like the Presidential Villa and other areas.”

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