The plan to renovate the National Assembly complex with a whopping N37billion has caused ripples in the polity. Many Nigerians believe that the cost of the renovation is prohibitive. That is why they are also not persuaded by the clarification by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawal, that the renovation money has been captured in the 2020 budget of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and not that of the National Assembly. The truth is that the renovation of the NASS complex should not be a priority when Nigerians are grappling with insecurity and mass poverty.
This state of affairs is not surprising as there is apparent lack of trust between the lawmakers and the general public. The legislators, as far as the ordinary man in the street is concerned, have carried on as if the people do not matter. Many Nigerians are not happy with the lawmakers over their jumbo allowances, their insistence on executing the so-called constituency projects and other largess amid mass unemployment in the country.
For a building that allegedly cost about N10billion when it was first constructed in 1998, to now require more than thrice the original amount expended about 20 years after to renovate, leaves much to be desired. This has made some Nigerians to ask these questions: What is the extent of the dilapidation of the NASS complex that requires this level of extensive renovation? What are the obligations that the original builders of the NASS complex owe in terms of a future dilapidation of the complex? In other words, are there no clauses written in the construction contract for such future renovations?
These are the questions that the NASS leadership and those promoting the renovation project should urgently answer in order to allay the fears of those opposed to the proposed renovation of the edifice. The federal legislators owe this great duty to their constituents and the general public who are presently at a great loss to understand the need to renovate the NASS complex with such hefty amount. It is worth pointing out that many of those, who frequent the complex, are in agreement that it does not require the kind of renovation envisaged by the lawmakers.
Even if the project has been captured in the 2020 FCDA budget recently passed by the NASS, we believe that it can be reviewed and the excess deployed to other more pressing needs. This is why it has become necessary for the NASS leadership to urgently constitute a committee of experts to further interrogate the proposed renovation and come up with an acceptable cost. Apart from having the requisite technical expertise to do a diligent and professional evaluation of the renovation, the committee should also have representation from members of the public. The lawmakers, as representatives of the people, should always listen to criticisms coming from Nigerians. The renovation of the NASS is not as important as lifting millions of Nigerians out of extreme poverty. It is not more important than diversifying the economy or revamping the health sector and stopping medical tourism.
The Ondo State House of Assembly attempted to hold the executive to ransom on account of the so-called urgent need to renovate the assembly complex last year. The legislators on that occasion went to great pains to paint a picture of an unworkable chambers and went ahead to shut down. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu courageously challenged them and reason later prevailed on the matter.
The tendency of the legislators to rub shoulders with the executive and be in a position to award contracts to themselves and their cronies has often not gone down well with the general public. That attitude to lawmaking must be jettisoned. They must be aware that there is an integrity gap in their relationship with the general public and their constituents who they represent. They should also understand that their primary duty is to make good laws for the country and address the concerns of those they represent.