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Senate insists N37b voted for National Assembly renovation justified

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh and John Akubo, Abuja
31 December 2019   |   4:27 am
The Senate yesterday insisted that the N37 billion voted for the renovation of the National Assembly complex in the budget was justified.

National Assembly

• Condemns SERAP’s court action against project
•’Why PDP senators seem silent on $30b loan request’

The Senate yesterday insisted that the N37 billion voted for the renovation of the National Assembly complex in the budget was justified.

The Senate spokesman and Chairman of the Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Godiya Akwashiki, who expressed shock at the court action initiated against the legislature by the Socio-Economic Right And Accountability Project (SERAP) regarding the renovation project, said that the dilapidated condition of the National Assembly building required urgent attention.

“What is the outcry for, that they should not renovate the National Assembly, or what? I have said it before, that this issue has nothing to do with the National Assembly. It is all about the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA). The building belongs to the FCDA, which built it. The FCDA management knows how much it needs to fix the complex which is in a dilapidated condition,” Akwashiki stated.

He faulted the suit filed by SERAP and some groups against the N37billion earmarked for the renovation of the complex.

“I don’t know why they should take us to court because the National Assembly complex belongs to the FCDA and its management is in charge of its renovation. The only responsibility of the leadership of the National Assembly is to inform the president about the condition of the building which could collapse anytime if not immediately renovated. The president will then ask the owners of the complex to send their technical officers, the architects and structural engineers to investigate the condition of the building. How the team from the FCDA arrived at N37billion is not the business of the National Assembly. It is purely the issue of the FCDA. It is the FCDA that will award the contracts.”

According to the Senate spokesman, “a single naira from the N37billion will not come to the National Assembly accounts, everything is going straight to the FCDA. In the past 20 years, the structure has not been renovated. I don’t know why we are being dragged to court.

“Anybody who wants reaction to why the Federal Government budgeted N37billion for the renovation should direct all enquiries to the FCDA. It is the FCDA that would award all the contracts and also carry out necessary supervision.”

He said the leadership of the National Assembly would, however, not be opposed to the suggestion of piecemeal renovation of the National Assembly building so that the budget would not be too much for a year.

“Based on the outcry that the issue has generated, it is possible for the National Assembly to suggest that the renovation be done in phases over a period of time. If Nigerians who voted us to office prefer that we spread the amount into subsequent budgets, it could be done. The leadership of the National Assembly and the management of the FCDA could consider such a possibility and execute the project in phases. We could start from the two chambers, which are terribly dilapidated at the moment.

“We have no role to play in the project at all. We only approved it like others contained in the 2020 budget, which is our responsibility.”

SERAP had sued the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives; Femi Gbajabiamila and the FCDA, asking the court to restrain the Federal Government from collecting the money until an impact assessment of the spending on critical sectors and access to public goods and services is carried out.

In the suit filed last week at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the plaintiffs argued:

“The National Assembly complex should be a safe and conducive environment for those who work there. But spending N37 billion to renovate the place is not commensurate with the constitutional commitments to public services and goods; decreasing public revenues and increasing level of debts as well as the poor economic and social realities in the country.”

The plaintiffs also argued that “spending N37 billion to renovate the National Assembly complex is self-serving, wrongful, illegal and unconstitutional expenditure of public funds, as it means less money for educating millions of out-of-school Nigerian children, providing access to clean water and healthcare to Nigerians, including the elderly, or repairing the country’s roads and bridges.”

Meanwhile, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Mathew Oroghide, has defended the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators for not speaking out against the $30billion loan request by President Muhammadu Buhari, saying their voice has been diminished.

The lawmaker, who spoke in reaction to an alleged graveyard silence in the opposition camp over the loan request, said: “It is not even that the opposition is not talking, the main thing is that the voice of the opposition is already diminished, in a country where we still have the majority of our people subsumed in some primordial interests, including nepotism and tribalism.”

According to him, the few people that are in leadership positions “always work on the wrong side of the people.”

“They will always taunt the PDP on its 16 years of administration as a misadventure. If PDP took this country on a lane of misadventure for 16 years, are you going to take us through it for eight years?

“Can Nigeria afford to be in that for 16 plus eight years? No. Let us consign that bad governance by PDP to the trash bin and put it behind us. Let us move on. If you are APC or KGB, let it be that what rules is good governance.”

To him, if Nigeria has been a country where legislative motions are carried out by the executive, things would have worked out better for the nation.