Exasperated by rebuttals from Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, over National Assembly’s responses to his recent outburst over alleged unnecessary insertions into the 2017 Appropriation Act, Abdulrazaq Namdas, spokesman of the House of Representatives, on Thursday said Fashola should be bold and sincere enough to tell Nigerians why his ministry inserted N20 billion for miscellaneous expenditure while the second Niger Bridge had N12 billion estimate.
Namdas, who chairs the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, told journalists in a chat that “17 years after the practice of democracy, the three arms of government ought to have graduated from this level of altercations as Sections 4, 59, 80 and 81 of the 1999 constitution as amended clearly spells out the functions of the legislature.”
It would be recalled that Fashola had accused the National Assembly of inserting projects hitherto not submitted by his ministry, whilst starving critical projects of funds in the 2017 budget.
However, in discrediting the minister’s assertions, Namdas noted that “there is a clear judgment in favour of NASS in May 2016 when activist lawyer, Femi Falana, went to court to ascertain whether we can increase or decrease budget estimates of the executive and the court ruled in our favour that the National Assembly is not a mere rubber stamp.”
In his opinion, the minister should remember that lawmakers at the federal level were elected the way the president was elected into office and national interest should override any other interest.
“In Nigeria, there are towns scattered all over that do not have potable water and they need to drink water so we made provisions for boreholes in such communities in the budget.
“Why is it that when we slash executive estimates to satisfy other important issues in the country, the executive will immediately react but when we increase their estimates they keep mum as if nothing happened?
“When they brought the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), we increased … and the executive behaved as if nothing happened at all.
“When I told the minister that they budgeted N17 billion for environment impact assessment (EIA) in Mambila, we felt it was unjustified, we felt it was bogus and uncalled for.
“He did not fault what I said. What he said was that it was a mis-description that we should have called his attention”, Namdas said.
Lashing further at the former Lagos State governor, the one-time journalist and first-term lawmaker from Adamawa State said: “As good as they are in their place since they know everything, they shouldn’t have brought something to the National Assembly with mis-descriptions.
“But because we have due diligence in the National Assembly, we were able to detect mis-descriptions and that means we have been working, identifying and looking at the budget.
“And again, when I even said N20 billion lump sum was just put in the budget without details, the minister did not say I was telling lies.
“He didn’t say he provided details. What he only said was that it was proper planning that N20 billion was put in case of eventualities.
“How can you put N20 billion as miscellaneous in case of anything when a whole Second Niger Bridge was N12 billion and it was yanked off?
“If every ministry must bring N20 billion as miscellaneous then what is going to remain as the budget of the country?
“We cut down some of these budgetary sums because we must allocate projects to reflect national character, because no zone should be cheated or given favourable attention more than the others and that is why we have to do what we are doing. So in my opinion, we didn’t do it for any mischief and we didn’t do it for any personal gains”, Namdas stressed.
Arguing further on the second Niger Bridge, the House spokesman added, “For example, the second Niger Bridge that the minister complained about that he said we cut the budgetary allocation from N15 billion, that is factually incorrect. The correct thing was that it was N12 billion that was allocated for the second Niger Bridge and not a single kobo was released in 2016. And that same amount was returned back in 2017 budget.
“So we decided to take off N5 billion out of the N12 billion leaving N7 billion for the second Niger Bridge in the 2017 budget”, he noted.
Disclosing what the legislature did with the N5 billion so removed, Namdas said “we took the N5 billion to the South East where the proposal from the presidency did not cover.
“For example there was the Nsukka-Abakiliki road that was given about N2.1 billion. We had this project in 9th Mile that we allocated part of the money to and then one road in the Makurdi axis in North Central geopolitical zone and then the North East too.
“So it was not for any borehole or any other thing. But whether they like it or not there must be borehole and primary healthcare projects because we are yet to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) goals”, he added