Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
What becomes of the N37billion budget for the renovation of the National Assembly Complex, following the decision of the Federal Government to review the 2020 Appropriation Act?
The two chambers of the National Assembly last week passed for second reading, a bill seeking to review the 2020 Appropriation Act, owing to dwindling revenue, occasioned by the COVID -19 pandemic ravaging the globe. The executive arm of government had promised a review of the 2020 budget from N10. 59 trillion to N10.51trillion.
The appropriation of N37 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly Complex in the 2020 budget has generated so much furore in the polity, with many describing it as unnecessary.
The N37billion is domiciled in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which is saddled with the maintenance of government facilities in the FCT. Ironically, while some members of the federal legislature supported it, others kicked against the renovation budget.
Analysts had argued that the money could have been deployed to other sectors of the economy, where it will directly impact the populace.
The Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP) in collaboration with other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) took their protest further by filing a suit before a Federal High Court in Abuja seeking to stop the expenditure of the money for the renovation of the National Assembly complex.
The CSOs had contended that “spending N37bn to renovate the National Assembly complex is self-serving, wrongful, illegal and unconstitutional expenditure of public funds, as it means less money for educating millions of out-of-school Nigerian children, providing access to clean water and health care to Nigerians, including the elderly, or repairing the country’s roads and bridges.”
Amidst public indignation about renovation budget, which many also considered outrageous, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan who doubles as chairman of the National Assembly, had repeatedly defended the action of lawmakers.
Lawan, who has been a member of the National Assembly since 1999, said the building had not been renovated since inception.
According to him, “Thirty-seven billion Naira was sourced and put under the Federal Capital Territory Administration not under the National Assembly. All we require is to have the National Assembly complex renovated, including the reconfiguration of the two chambers.”
Regardless, some members of the House of Representatives, including the member representing Ede North/ Ede South/ Egbedore/ Ejigbo Federal Constituency of Osun State, Bamidele Salam, had kicked against the proposed expenditure of N37 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly Complex.
Salam in a statement had stated: “ I am a member of the National Assembly but I sincerely do not think we need a 37 billion Naira renovation of that edifice. Apart from the Chambers of the NASS which need some upgrade in the audio and recording system, the entire structure needs no renovation more than our classrooms, hospitals and roads which are mostly in a decrepit condition.
“As an advocate of an aggressive microcredit strategy for job creation, I would rather want to see 370,000 small businesses get 100k interest free loan within 12 months rather than have one edifice swallow that sum within the same period.
“If we mop up all funds voted for renovations of the Presidential villa and other offices of political leaders and top civil servants, we will raise more than a quarter of a trillion Naira that can be injected into SMES in the coming year.”
A member of the House of Representatives, Sergius Ogun,who represents Esan North East/ Esan Central Federal Constituency of Edo State had in an interview with our correspondent stated that he does not really know if the expenditure was necessary.
“I really don’t know. You know the way we do things in Nigeria. I was in a programme and I said even the NNPC which is the cash cow of this country, even their building is not well maintained. If you go to Shell building, Mobil building, the headquarters, it is maintained; because they are bringing the know how,the expertise in their country here, on how to manage public facility.
“I am saying that to say that what you can see in your physical eyes is what you claim is okay. But you don’t know if there are defects.
“If we follow the norm, the way things are done in the international community, maybe there are things, they really need to fix.
“We should be worried that who are the contractors. Are they bringing Israelis to come and do the contract? Even if they bring in Israelis to do the contract, are they not going to pay tax in Nigeria? The way we attack things in Nigeria; if you do the contract, Nigerians will be employed. Tax will be paid into the system. So, that should not be a problem that we should bother about. We should be concerned whether the money is going to be embezzled. If the money is used for what it is actually meant to be used for, it is not going to be a problem,” Ogun had told our correspondent shortly after the 2020 budget was passed last year.
However, with the downturn in the country’s economy, and the myriad of issues seeking government attention, the question is whether the renovation of the National Assembly Complex with as much as N37billion is a priority, if at all it is necessary?
Salam says the review of the budget is an opportunity for the federal legislature to take another look at the appropriation for the renovation of the National Assembly Complex. The lawmaker noted that he expects that the N37billion renovation project should be one of the issues that will be removed in the ongoing review of the 2020 Appropriation Act.
According to him, “ This offers an opportunity to look at that provision again and see how we can completely take it out; take the money into more beneficial areas. But definitely, I will expect that, that will be part of the things that will be taken out “.
Similarly, a Non-Governmental Organisation( NGO), Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), says the situation of the country at the moment does not warrant the expenditure of N37billion in the renovation of the National Assembly complex.
The chairman of HEDA, Suraj Olarewanju, told Daily Sun that what the country needs now is investment in social infrastructure, noting that, that should be the concern of the parliament.
Olarewanju said: “this is about key social aspect of the lives of the people now. So, the country is on a life support. And in the consideration of factors, when you have a patient on life support, the consideration under that situation will not be building a house for such persons. It is about rescuing and survival. So, our health system, our educational system, our power system and the social support and security for the people are the major issues now that should be the primary consideration.
“ I will expect that one of those budget lines that should be suspended till future situation will be such capital projects like the renovation of the National Assembly, that has come under serious criticism.”
Nevertheless, the HEDA boss said, irrespective of the public opposition against the N37billion renovation project, the parliament is likely not going to remove it from the budget, without a fight by the people..
According to him, “It is not going to go off easily; because the interest is not about the renovation of the National Assembly but the benefits that individuals and contractors will get. So, they will still push on, but the citizens must push very strongly to have that reversed.”
Will the National Assembly use the opportunity of the review of the 2020 Appropriation Act to remove the N37 billion renovation project of its complex from the budget or will it sustain it? The days ahead will tell.