Fred Itua, Abuja and Chinelo Obogo
The Senate, yesterday, responded to a threat by some groups to drag it to court over plans to spend N37 billion on the renovation of the National Assembly in next year’s budget.
Spokesman of the Senate, Godiya Akwashiki, told the aggrieved to direct their grievances to the Federal Capital Development Authority, who he said were in charge of the planned renovation.
Akwashiki warned that with the current condition of the facility, it could collapse at anytime if urgent remedial works were not carried out.
He said: “What’s the outcry for? That they should not renovate the National Assembly or what? I have said this before that this issue has nothing to do with the National Assembly. It is the all about the Federal Capital Development Authority. The building belongs to the FCDA, which built it.
“The FCDA management knows how much it needed to fix the complex which is in a dilapidated condition. I read it online that SERAP and some groups are threatening to take the National Assembly to court over the N37 billion 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, structural engineers to investigate the conditions of the building. How the team from the FCDA arrived at a cost of N37 billion 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. A single naira from the N37 billion will not come to the National Assembly’s 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.
“Is it an offence to draw the attention of the owners of the complex to the fact that their building needed an emergency attention to avoid disaster? If they say we should not renovate it, so be it. Our prayers is that the day the structure will collapse, it should not claim the life of anybody.
“Anybody who wants reaction to why the Federal Government budgeted N37 billion 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.
“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 into 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 possibility and execute the project in phases. We could start from the two chambers which are terribly dilapidated at the moment.
“If SERAP and others take the National Assembly to court, what will they be telling the judge? We have no role to play in the project at all. I think if the civil society groups are not satisfied with the N37 billion project cost, they should rather take the FCDA to court and not the National Assembly.
“We only approved the project like any others contained in the 2020 budget, which is our responsibility. The technical officers of the FCDA should be in the best position to explain how they arrived at the project cost. I am not an engineer and there is no way I could know that the amount is too much for the execution of the project.”
Regardless, three members of the House of Representative, have disowned the proposed renovation.
Writing on his social media handle, member representing Dutsinma Kurfi federal constituency, Katsina State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Armaya’u Abdukkadir, said:
“For the avoidance of doubt, I want to make myself clear as a legislator representing the good people of Dutsin-ma and Kurfi, that my conscience is not in line with this development. N37 billion is a huge sum that can transform thousands of lives if channelled into proper use.
“Even though I am into my first year at the NASS, but I have gone round to know that apart from the two chambers, which need a bit of upgrade in its audio recording system, the entire building requires no renovation whatsoever.
“Already, people are making mockery of the fight against corruption which we claimed to be fighting.
With our classrooms, hospitals and roads mostly in a sorry state and our youths unemployed in thousands, with the terrifying security challenges; there is indeed need for a rethink.
“We will raise our voices collectively and call on the leadership of the NASS and President Muhammadu Buhari as well, to dwell on what is necessary in addressing the plight of Nigerians rather than spending this lot on just NASS renovation,”Abdukkadir said.
Also, the lawmaker representing Egbeda federal constituency, Oyo State, Akin Alabi, the funds should be used to build schools and hospitals.
“I see no reason why we should spend N37 billion renovating the National Assembly. Yes, we need upgrade on some aspects like the sound systems and voting systems as they are outdated. But N37 billion? No. Let’s spend that on our schools and hospitals.”
Raheem Olawuyi, representing Ekiti/Irepodun/Isin/Oke-Ero Federal Constituency, suggested that the sum should be channeled to education and provision of loans to small scale entrepreneurs.
In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Omu-Aran, he said with such amount, government could empower 3.7 million rural women by giving each of them N10,000 for trade and commerce.
Olawuyi, who is Chairman, House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, said N37 billion would facilitate the emergence of no fewer than 370,000 new businesses in the country.
He said it was not too late to correct an unpopular policy when it had received knocks from citizens.
“The widows empowerment initiative is a product of an in-depth research and fact finding which reveals that a small amount is needed by some constituents to turn around their fortunes for the better. We discovered that with small amounts added to existing small businesses, some of the constituents can take care of feeding, school fees and other pressing needs of their families,” he said.
The lawmaker also said that the renovation of the Assembly complex was an exclusive preserve of the National Assembly Commission.