Nigerians thumb down govt over N30bn for NASS renovation




In this report, BENJAMIN SAMSON engages a cross section of informed Nigerians on the sum of N30.222 billion earmarked for the on-going rehabilitation of the National Assembly Complex amidst dwindling revenues.

The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Muhammad Musa Bello recently said that the ongoing rehabilitation of the National Assembly Complex would cost the sum of N30.222 billion.

He stated this when the Senate Committee on FCT carried out an oversight visit to various project sites being constructed by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCDA) in Abuja.

Bello said the cost approval of NASS complex rehabilitation by President Muhammadu Buhari was N37 billion which was included in the 2020 budget of the FCDA.

The amount, he said, was downwardly reviewed to N9.25 billion in the revised 2020 budget to enable the FCDA to pay contractors, leaving a balance of N21.025 billion.

According to him, the total cost of rehabilitation work which stood at N30,229, 290,830.35 billion was not part of the National Assembly’s annual budget of N128 billion as being insinuated in some quarters.

He also disclosed that the contract, which was awarded on 30th December, 2021, has a completion period of two years.

He stated that the National Assembly Phase II, popularly known as “the White House” was realised from 1996 to 1999 by ITB Nigeria Ltd without any major rehabilitation works carried out on the building over the years.

Previous renovations

However, investigations by Blueprint Weekend revealed that in 2013, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) under President Goodluck Jonathan approved N40.2 billion for the construction of Phase III of the National Assembly complex and renovation of the first and second phases of the complex.

Blueprint had reported on December 12, 2013, that the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Bala Muhammed (now governor of Bauchi state), disclosed that: “We are going to close down the two chambers of the National Assembly for a period of 12 months and we are lucky we have already provided large committee rooms that will be used during the period for the parliament to continue its work. The contract is for N40.2 billion and it will take 40 months to complete.”

 Muhammed also said the work concerning Phase III of the complex would involve the construction of a library, budget office, printing press, clinic, restaurants, banquet hall, places of worship and plenary hall (auditorium).

 He said further that at the end of the project, television/radio/press facilities, fitness room, administrative offices, technical rooms, and meeting rooms would be available while two of the chambers would be renovated.

 However, Blueprint cannot verify if the federal government actually disbursed the said sum for the renovation of the Complex.

Expenditures 

Similarly, over the years, Blueprint Weekend’s investigations revealed that while monies may not have been assigned specifically for the “renovation” of the building, the National Assembly has received multiple funding for improved infrastructure since 1999.

In the proposed 2017 National Assembly budget, N1.25 billion was budgeted for the purchase of security equipment by the Senate. Apart from this, N440 million was allocated for the same purpose under capital expenditure for the National Assembly office.

 Also, at the peak of the scandal between the eighth Assembly and erstwhile Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, it was found that N454 million was spent on office equipment and another ₦109 million was paid to Navadee Integrated Nigeria Ltd for “ICT supply of equipment” at NASS.

 Aside from the sum of N250 million paid to the DCN Nigeria Ltd for “general renovation of the main building,” this newspaper also found that the National Assembly spent N578 million on the refurbishing of meetings and committee rooms.

Criticisms

Speaking with this reporter, a public affairs analyst, Mr. Tony Ademiluyi, said the allocation to fix the National Assembly is excessive, insensitive and cruel.

He said: “The recent budget insertion of N30 billion by the National Assembly for its renovation is extremely insensitive and cruel. Given the fact that this is coming at a time when the economy is at its lowest ebb. It is extremely tragic that our lawmakers cannot spare a thought for the wobbling economy before embarking on such a shameful course of action.

“The paltry N30, 000 minimum wage which cannot even take a family of three home is yet to be paid by many of our governors and our lawmakers do not seem concerned one bit. They have never been known to pile pressure on the governors to make the state overlords perform their constitutionally backed duties. They simply don’t give a damn about the people they are supposed to act as their elected representatives.

 “The National Assembly should immediately rescind this decision as it is extremely anti-people, especially when we have been declared the poverty capital of the world. This complex was built at less than N11 billion barely two decades ago and the huge cost is simply unacceptable.”

Similarly, the Convener of Save Nigeria Initiative (SNI), Mr. Hilary Arochhukwu, told Blueprint Weekend that the project was wasteful and a misplaced priority.

“Even at the best of times, N30 billion rehabilitation of the National Assembly complex should provoke public outrage for what it is, wasteful and a misplaced priority. Parliament’s main roles in budgeting are to review and debate the government’s draft ex ante budget (including its revenue estimates and its spending plans) and to authorise spending to implement the annual budget plan. Parliament also reviews budget execution and, in some countries, formally approves and discharges the government after annual budget implementation.

“As such, there is no legislature in functional democracies that has the power to arbitrarily allocate funds to itself. This is because preparing a budget is so complex that most legislatures do not have the capacity to undertake this effort. Whatever amount, embarking on such a project of renovating its complex at a time of dire financial circumstances is insensitive, reckless and intolerable.

 “What are the numbers saying? Nigeria’s oil revenues have dropped by 80 per cent and the country is running out of Foreign Exchange. As expected, the federal government has reduced the 2022 budget by over N320 billion and slashed revenue projection by 40 per cent.

 “The fund for the renovation should have been used to improve health sector funding. It is now an area of utmost priority globally with the coronavirus exposing the inadequacies of health facilities, more so in Nigeria. The annual budget of the government for the health sector is barely 4.17 per cent of the total national budget, which is equivalent to only $5 per person per year.

 “The entire process has once more exposed the lawmakers as a selfish lot, not responsive to the yearnings of the people they purportedly represent. The entire project should be put on hold. The quest for a National Assembly that is accountable and acts in the best interest of the country should be made a national agenda.”

Likewise,  a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Nasarawa state, Mr. Ovie Atte, described the N30 billion as “an unpardonable rip-off plot” and the last straw of the brazen corruption that pervades the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration.

 He said it was indefensible for the Buhari presidency to propose a whopping N30 billion for renovation work on the National Assembly complex, which was built at the cost of N7 billion.

He said: “The over bloated renovation figure is, therefore, not only sacrilegious, but also further confirms that the APC-led administration is overtly corrupt and only out to steal, drain and divert our national resources for selfish purposes of certain individuals in the present administration.

 “N30 billion is embedded in the budget of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) as approved by President Buhari, which leaves the burden of explanation on Mr. President’s doorsteps.

 “I, therefore, charge President Buhari to demonstrate the integrity of his approval by immediately publishing a detailed breakdown of the renovation project in line with his recent directives to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

 “President Buhari is challenged to immediately publish the details of the individual renovation lines, amount and reason for each payment as well as the contractors, beneficiaries and payment patterns for Nigerians to see, if indeed the money has not been detailed for diversion.

 “I charge the National Assembly to stand on the side of the people by using its statutory legislative instruments to thoroughly scrutinise the FCDA budget and eliminate all embedded padding designed to fleece our nation.”

Justification                                                  

However, a legislative aide to one of the senators, Isa Gumo, threw his weight behind the N30 billion estimated for renovation of the National Assembly.

 He told this reporter that a lot of renovation needed to be done at the legislative complex, Abuja.

 He said, “Where you have 109 senators with their aides, you have 366 House of Representatives members with their aides and other staff in that area. By the time you put all these into consideration, you will see that the amount people are complaining about is not even enough.

 “Power supply has not been stable and the National Assembly is still burning diesel. Part of the money is going to be used for alternative power supply and you know the cost of power. So, the budget is not bad; it is something that can help this country to stabilise. If the National Assembly is not properly taken care of, you will not have good laws,” he said.

Other climes

However, a lecturer in the department of History and International Studies Nasarawa State University, Nanjul Gagnap, said the project should have been spaced in such a manner that their funding would not be at the expense of other essential projects.

He said, “The economy is bleeding and urgently needs rebooting. Now we have come to a point where we have to address the infrastructure gap. We have significant projects like the Second Niger Bridge, Mambilla Hydropower, East-West Road, Lagos – Kano rail line, among others.

“Parliaments and executive lodges are renovated across the world when the need arises. But such projects as seen in the United Kingdom and Canada are well planned and spaced in such a manner that their funding would not be at the expense of other service deliveries.

“Renovation at the Palace of Westminster, for instance, which was approved in 2018, will start in 2025, spanning a minimum of 10 years, according to British government records. The planned £4 billion renovation has been postponed in favour of a smaller project of less than £200 million.

“Occasionally, public office holders pick the bills of certain renovations in their lodges. President Richard Nixon, in 1969, paid for a customised table for the White House. Barack Obama personally paid for some of the renovations during his tenure. Donald Trump was quoted in Time that he paid for a crystal chandelier in the dining room out of his own pocket.”

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