• S/East, S/South lawmakers angry over project cut
By Adetutu Folasade- Koyi, Kemi Yesufu and Fred Itua, Abuja
THE leadership of the Senate has placed a ‘shut up’ order on its members in apparent move to douse the outrage sparked by the exclusion of the N60 billion Lagos-Calabar Rail Line Project from the N6.06 trillion 2016 budget.
A reliable source told Daily Sun that the senators were warned during a close door meeting to desist from commenting on the controversial claims that the project was yanked off from the 2016 budget by the joint Committee on Appropriation.
Some Senators who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were not disposed to speak on the issue, arguing that the Red Chamber was yet to gain a strong footing and was therefore not willing to engage the executive arm in any war of words.
The gag order is coming against the backdrop of reported seething anger in the camps of the South East, South South lawmakers in the National Assembly angry over the decision to expunge the project.
Sources told Daily Sun that lawmakers from the two zones are angry that the project was not included in the version passed to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. They expressed displeasure at a meeting with some officials of the Budget and National Planning Ministry, it was gathered.
“Some chairmen of committees in the House told some ministers privately that they were not allowed to see the final version of the budget that was transmitted to President Buhari for assent.
“During the recess, they kept us here in Abuja and impressed it on us to work round the clock for the budget to be ready. We were shocked when the budget was transmitted without us seeing the details, particularly this critical project that will benefit our people,” one of the committee chairmen allegedly told a minister whose duties oversees the national budget.
Another source in one of the ministries said meetings between the National Assembly and the Executive were ongoing, “even though some of them will come to the meeting to say one thing and go outside to tell the public something else.”
Dogara keeps mum, Namdas speaks
The House of Representatives resumed yesterday with the Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara failing to make a statement on the controversy.
But Chairman House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas denied that lawmakers from the South have complained about the allocations of resources as contained in the budget.
“I have not heard of any complaint from legislators from the South and I can also tell you that there has been no formal complaint from any of our colleagues from the South- South or South-East about the budget,” he told Daily Sun.
Namdas said those alleging that the National Assembly removed the Lagos-Calabar rail project from the budget did so to pitch the South against the National Assembly, noting that issues around the budget should not be reduced to ‘zonal debate.’
According to him: “We have not reduced the important topic of the budget to a zonal debate. And all what we have said is that the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not included in budget proposal submitted to the House.
“We didn’t say the Lagos- Calabar rail project was not important. We only said that Mr. President can include this project in a supplementary budget which he can bring to the National Assembly”.
Senate backs down
Similarly, the senate yesterday said it was ready to accommodate the rail project in a supplementary budget that may be sent by President Muhammadu Buhari even as it berated the Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi for “spreading falsehood.”
According to Senate spokesman, Senator Abdullahi Sabi who spoke to journalists after closed door session: “The Lagos-Calabar rail line is an important project. The Senate is open and if the executive brings it up, we are ready to take it up. We just want to be guided by the constitution. We need to put these issues behind us so that we can begin to bring the dividends of democracy to the Nigerian people.
“Passing the budget is not only our responsibility. We want to move to the next level of oversight. We are ready to listen to the yearnings of Nigerians. We want Nigerians to know that we really mean business…
“It is unfortunate that we have to feed Nigerians with falsehood. We saw a YouTube video where it was said that Amaechi revealed where he spoke about the rail project during his appearance before the committee on Land Transport.
“All they have to do is to come out and admit that they made an error by not including the project in the budget document sent to the National Assembly. They should come out and admit it. How can we omit about N60 billion? That is not possible. The project was never there and we did not remove it. The executive should bring a supplementary budget and we will consider it.