The controversial provision of N37billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex has continued to elicit reactions, but the main federal institutions saddled with execution of such projects claim ignorance.
BDSUNDAY checks revealed that the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has no knowledge of the N37billion appropriated for the renovation of the National Assembly Complex by the National Assembly and signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2020 budget.
This is despite efforts by the National Assembly to justify inclusion of the funds in the budget by bringing the in FCDA
Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Godiya Akwashiki had stated that the building belongs to the Federal Capital Territory Development Authority (FCDA) and the renovation work is to be carried out by the FCDA and not the National Assembly.
According to him, “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.
“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.
“How the team from the FCDA arrived at a cost of N37bn 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.”
Akwashiki insisted that a single naira from the N37billion will not come to the National Assembly accounts, everything is going straight to the FCDA, and also noted that in the past 20 years, the structure has not been renovated.
But in a swift reaction, a senior official in the FCTA Budget Office told BDSUNDAY that they did not send that to the National Assembly, they included that.
“We submitted N232 billion budget, but NASS approved N 278 billion,” he disclosed.
The official, who would not want to be mentioned, said the approved budget was still in the Presidency and has not been sent to the FCTA, insisting the details of the renovation was not known.
Efforts to get detailed appropriation of the N37 billion to the renovation proved abortive -National Assembly is currently on break while Clerks of the National Assembly Committees on FCT were not around when BDSUNDAY visited.
But an Abuja-based Construction Engineer, John Airohi, wondered how the Federal Government arrived at N37billion for renovating the building when bill of quantities have not been drawn.
“It beats my imagination how the government arrived at N37billion for the renovation. There are many questions left unanswered. We will like to know if a proper survey has been done, the extent of work required, and who the contractors are.”
According to him, “The estimate could be more or less, eventually.”
When BDSUNDAY visited the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), the agency saddled with vetting Federal Government contracts and granting certificates of no objections for execution of such public contracts, officials there said they were not aware of the project.
“We are not aware of how they arrived at the estimates, but what we know is that they will eventually come here for Certificate of No Objection for such big project and if we are convinced that their submissions meet standard requirements, we will have no option but to approve it.”
A top official of the agency who did not want his name mentioned, told BDSUNDAY that the agency “is not involved in budget process.”
The N37billion Appropriation has generated serious controversy following revelations that the National Assembly Complex, built during former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration cost the Federal Government just N7billion.
But National Assembly Director of Information, Rawlings Agada, had said N37billion approved may not even be enough for the renovation job.
Agada in a recent interview with some journalists in Abuja said the complex is in a shambles, disclosing and that the National Assembly Dome had been leaking for many years.
“That National Assembly needed a lot of work and I don’t think even that amount of money can take care of all those things because even the dome has been leaking and there is fear that if the repairs are not done, we might suffer greater problems in the future.
“That is just that because I don’t have the details of the budget but I am aware that there is a lot that needs to be done”, he said.
The House of Representatives had increased the 2020 statutory budget of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) by N45.480 billion as it jacked the N232.875 billion proposal sent by President Muhammadu Buhari to N278.355 billion.
The budget was consequently passed after consideration of the Report of the Committees on Federal Capital Territory and Federal Capital Territory Area Councils and Ancillary Matters on a Bill for an act to Authorise the issue from the Federal Capital Territory Administration Statutory Revenue fund of the Federal Capital Territory Administration Account, the total sum of N278,355,365,947.00 only for the Service of the Federal Capital Territory for the year ending on 31 December, 2020 by the Committee of Supply.
Critics, including lawmakers of the ruling party, have continued to vent their anger on the alleged insensitivity of both the executive and the legislative arms of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-controlled government.
The main opposition, People’s Democratic (PDP) described the action as “indefensible” for the Buhari Presidency to propose a whopping N37billion for renovation work on the National Assembly complex, which was built at the cost of N7billion naira.
PDP insisted that the over 500 percent padding of the original construction cost is completely insupportable even with the prevailing costs and exchange rate regime.
Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP National Publicity Secretary had in a statement noted that the “development that has already spurred public outcry and apprehensions of plots to divert the fund for political interests of certain APC leaders”.
The party said such corruption was unacceptable in a nation confronted by alarming economic downturn, extreme poverty, hunger, decayed infrastructure and security challenges.
“The over-bloated renovation figure is therefore, not only sacrilegious but also further confirms that the APC-led administration is overtly
corrupt and only out to steal, drain and divert our national resources for selfish purposes of certain individuals in the present administration.”
“The N37billion is embedded in the budget of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) as approved by President Buhari, which leaves the burden of explanation on Mr. President’s doorsteps.
“We, therefore, charge President Buhari to demonstrate the integrity of his approval by immediately publishing a detailed breakdown of the renovation project in line with his recent directives to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
“President Buhari is challenged to immediately publish the details of the individual renovation lines, amount and reason for each payment as well as the contractors, beneficiaries and payment patterns for Nigerians to see, if indeed the money has not been detailed for diversion.
“The party charge the National Assembly to stand on the side of the people by using its statutory legislative instruments to thoroughly scrutinize the FCDA budget and eliminate all embedded padding designed to fleece our nation”, PDP demanded.
Akin Alabi, a member of the House of Representatives on the platform of APC, representing Egbeda/Ara Federal Constituency of Oyo State said on Twitter that there is no reason to appropriate such outrageous funds on the renovation of the National Assembly Complex.
“I see no reason we should spend N37billion renovating the National Assembly. Yes, we need an upgrade on some aspects like the electronic systems (sound system, voting system etc) as they are outdated but N37billion? No. Let’s spend that on our schools and hospitals.”
Ochilegor Idagbo, a PDP member of the House of Representatives, representing Bekwarra/Obanliku/Obudu Federal Constituency of Cross River said the National Assembly Complex needs no renovation that would cost the country N37billion.
“As a member of @nassnigeria, I don’t believe that the complex needs any renovation that would cost the country N37billion. We need more upgraded classrooms and hospitals to cater for the Nigerian people”, Idagbo said on his tweet handle.
Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, said in an interview with BDSUNDAY that it is sinful for the National Assembly to consider, let alone pass the N37billion as part of their year’s spending.
Hassan declared that it is stealing in broad daylight and probably the biggest budget padding scheme and wondered why the government of the day raised no eyebrow and allowed that to sail through.
“One, the government has to realise that Nigeria is no longer an oil country, two, the country is gradually going toward insolvency, with the monumental loan we have incurred and still incurring.
“Proposing what can build a new complex is nothing short of calling Nigeria and Nigerians stupid. I just hope all the outcry by the public does not go unheeded by these representatives. It seems they have stopped representing us the Nigerians”, she maintained.
This development had pushed the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT, Enough is Enough (EiE) and 583 concerned Nigerians to file a suit asking the court to stop President Buhari and Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning from releasing N37billion allocated for the renovation of the National Assembly Complex until an impact assessment of the spending is conducted.
The groups are also seeking an order to stop Senate President Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and the Federal Capital Development Agency from demanding or collecting the N37billion earmarked for the renovation of the Complex.
In the suit filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja the plaintiffs argued that although the National Assembly Complex should be a safe and conducive environment for those working there, spending N37 billion to renovate it is not commensurate with the constitutional commitments to public services and goods; decreasing public revenues and increasing level of debts and the poor economic as well as social realities in the country.
They argued that spending N37billion 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 healthcare to Nigerians or repairing the country’s roads and bridges.
The 583 concerned Nigerians who also joined the suit as co-plaintiffs in the suit filed by Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi said lawmakers are public officers who have sworn the constitutional oaths of office to perform their respective duties in the interest of Nigerian citizens.
The co-plantiffs asserted that the refusal of President Buhari to object to the Budget/Appropriation Bill containing a huge N37 billion on renovation of the National Assembly complex is a gross violation of the constitution and existing laws in Nigeria.
“The present-day economic reality in Nigeria includes chronic poverty amongst a high percentage of citizens and the inability of many state governments to pay salaries of workers and pensions. Unless the reliefs sought are granted, the Defendants will take benefit of the allocated N37 billion at the expense of many Nigerians living in poverty.
“The crux of the Plaintiffs’ argument is better expressed in the question: Why should the nation spend so much on a building when there are other important areas of national infrastructure that can be developed in order to affect a greater number of citizens?”, they queried.
Tony Ailemen, James Kwen and Solomon Ayado, Abuja