Fred Itua, Abuja
Uneasy calm has enveloped the National Assembly following allegations of budget padding and the marginalisation of some legislators in the allocation of constituency project funds.
Daily Sun learnt that trouble started when a document on project funding became public showing that about 15 senators, who are predominantly principal officers, got the lion’s share of the additional N50 billion earmarked for constituency projects in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). There were also other projects inserted into the bloated budget to benefit some unnamed lawmakers.
A document obtained by newsmen in Abuja revealed that funds earmarked for constituency projects of some lawmakers were different from the statutory N100 billion captured in the budget.
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, his deputy, Ovie Omo-Agege and Lagos senators, are among those alleged to have got huge sums. While some got over N1 billion to fund constituency projects, others did not get a dime. About 90 senators are believed to have been shortchanged.
A senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed some staff of the National Assembly who were privy to the development, leaked the information.
“I am a committee chairman and I did my work diligently not knowing that some privileged senators smuggled some of their projects into the budget without carrying us along.
“It was the same thing they did with job recruitment; they selected few people and ignored the rest of us. There will be consequences. This selective justice must stop.”
It was learnt that they are threatening to petition President Muhammadu Buhari not to sign the budget into law.
“If injustice is allowed to hold sway it will be become a yearly ritual where a handful of lawmakers will be selected to benefit from extra budgetary provisions for constituency projects,” the senator said.
It was also learnt that besides the budget padding, there is controversy over plans by the National Assembly, through the Federal Capital Development Authority, to spend about N37 billion on renovation of the complex. According to the budget submitted to the President Buhari last Thursday, the amount will be spent on fixing some amenities in the complex.
The National Assembly was built in 1999 at a cost of nearly $35.18 million and the contract was awarded to ITB Nigeria on February 18, 1996 through the Department of Public Building, FCDA. It was gathered that an initial proposal of N10 billion was submitted by the Clerk to the National Assembly, Sani Omolori, but was turned down by the National Assembly leadership, citing high cost.
During the consideration of the 2020 budget by various committees, an extra N27 billion was added to the initial proposed N10 billion.
Some of the projects causing ripples include a N1. 8 billion intervention in Yobe North where Senate President Ahmad Lawan hails from.
Also considered controversial is the N900 million appropriated for the construction of rural roads at Fadawa and some selected LGAs within Yobe North senatorial zone and N475 million for procurement of farm implements and accessories in the same senatorial district, N143 million for construction of six culverts and drains in Karasuwa and Jakusko LGA; N144 million for the construction of six culverts and drains in Bade and Yusufari LGA and N143 million for the construction of six culverts and drains in Nguru and Machina LGA, all in Yobe State.
The allocation of N700 million was also voted for the installation of all-in-one solar powered street lights across the eight local government areas f Delta Central. A breakdown showed that the project is to be spread in Ughelli North, Ughelli South, Ethiope East Ethiope West, Udu, Okpe, Sapele and Uvwie at the cost of N100million in each of the local councils. Deputy Senate President, Omo-Agege, represents the Senatorial district.
In the same vein, N500 million was appropriated as grants to youths and women in IDPs camps in Borno Central, which has as representative, former Borno governor, Shettima Kassim.
Another controversial allocation of N400 million for training and support of civilian JTF in Jere/MMC/KAGA Federal Constituencies TV of Borno State is part of the insertions.
In Nasarawa West, Abdullahi Adamu also got an allocation of N500 million for the provision of motorised boreholes, N120 million for the construction of 12kms rural road in Shabuagwada junction to Barkinogishabu, and another N500 million for the provision of farm implements and input to farmers.
Other projects in Nasarawa West are N500 million for the training and empowerment of youth and women in various agricultural value chain; N100 million for the provision of solar street lights across communities in Keffi; and the N200 million for the provision of agricultural equipment for farmers 120/150 horse power to John Deer tractors.
Other controversial allocations include N300 million for vocational training and provision of empowerment materials to youths and women in Lagos Central Senatorial district represented Senator Oluremi Tinubu.
There were other projects inserted into the bloated budget to benefit some unnamed lawmakers.
These include: “N1 billion for the construction of rural roads; N468. 4 million for FG support for women in agribusiness;and N554. 3 million FG support for youths in agribusiness; N1. 15 billion for the provision and installation of solar street light nationwide.”
Others are N500 million for the supply of laptops and writing materials to secondary schools in Borno state; N500 million for the Construction of classrooms with function in primary schools in Zarawuyaku and Fikayel; N500 million for the Supply of instructional materials to various schools in northeast; N500 million for the renovation of selected primary and secondary schools in northeast.
Spokesman of the Senate, Godiya Akwashiki, denied knowledge of the development, but did not rule out the possibility.
“What I know is the N100bn constituency development projects funds from where the Senate got N40 billion while the House of Representatives got N60 billion.
“Apart from that I don’t know whether other insertions were made to the budget because I am not a member of the Appropriation Committee.
“I’m hearing this for the first time. It may be true and it may be false because the chances of senators inserting projects into the budget is 50 and the chances of saying it is not true is also 50. As it is now the budget has not been signed into law. The proposal comes from the executive and it would still be scrutinised by the executive.”
“The Senate Committee on Appropriation told us that they discovered additional revenue which was not captured and decided to apply it to some departments and ministries. That was the explanation they gave for the increment in the size of the budget.”