There is uproar in the land over the National Assembly’s massive alteration of the budget. In fact, a non-governmental organisation described the action as “criminal”.
The lawmakers cut 4,700 projects amounting to N347billion from what President Muhammadu Buhari presented and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578billion.
What are the issues?
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) were also outraged.
The President, who reluctantly signed the Bill, plans to send a supplementary budget to the lawmakers.
According to him, many of the projects unilaterally removed are critical to infrastructure development and economic recovery.
These include the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the East-West Road, The Enugu Airport, the Itakpe-Ajaokuta road, the mass transit and major arterial road in the FCT and the take-off grant for the Maritime University.
The lawmakers also raised their own expenditure from N125billion to N139.5 billion and put into the budget 70 new roads.
Southeast senators cried foul over the removal of funding for the Enugu airport.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) described the lawmakers’ action as a crime against humanity, the Ijaw Youths Congress (IYC) said it was self-serving.
But Senator Dino Melaye said the President was not bound to sign it if he had reservations. He said the National Assembly is not an extension of the Presidency and the lawmakers no rubber stamp.
The Southeast Senate Caucus was shocked over the cut in the allocation for the Enugu Airport terminal.
The lawmakers said they were jolted to hear that an allocation of N2 billion sustained by the two Aviation committees of the Senate and House of Representatives was slashed to “a mere” N500 million.
The caucus said it had already summoned an emergency meeting of Southeast lawmakers to unravel at what point the cut was effected and by who.
Members of the caucus are agitated that “a region that hardly receives a fair share of the national patrimony”, the little that came its way could be reduced as to make nonsense of the entire budget for the Airport Terminal.
Southeast Senate Caucus Chairman Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe insisted that no right-thinking Igbo would support any cut in the allocation for projects in the Southeast.
The Abia South lawmaker, who said budget documents are verifiable, added: “We are committed and determined to find out who made the cut.”
He noted that they lobbied for the Enugu Airport Terminal allocation to be increased to N3.5 billion until the Ministry of Aviation told them that what they had was an envelope which could not be increased beyond the N2 billion allocation.
Abaribe, who is also Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy, noted that N30 billion was smuggled into the Power budget without his committee’s knowledge.
He said the N30 billion was listed for expansion and re-inforcement of infrastructure in the distribution companies to reduce stranded firms.
The amount, he said, “never passed through the Senate Power committee.”
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu said he expected eagerly the supplementary budget on the Enugu airport to correct the cut in its allocaton.
In a statement by his media adviser Uche Anichukwu, Ekweremadu said: “I am happy that the President has indicated that he would send a Supplementary Appropriation Bill. So, by the time we are briefed by the relevant Committees, we will work with our colleagues from other zones to ensure adequate provisions for the airport”.
He urged the Federal Government to release the already approved N500 million so that work could continue at the airport in earnest.
SERAP: it’s a crime
SERAP said: ”Cutting funding for essential public services, such as health, education and security, constitutes a serious human rights violation and potentially rises to the level of crimes against humanity against the Nigerian people.”
The NGO’s Deputy Director Timothy Adewale suggested that President Buhari should “instruct Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami to open discussion with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to establish whether substantial grounds and requisite elements exist to warrant the intervention of the Prosecutor in this case.”
He added: “Indicting individual lawmakers suspected to be most responsible for the reduction of funding for critical projects would provide a much-needed measure of accountability for leaders, who have traditionally acted with impunity, assured that they will never be held to answer for their actions.”
SERAP said “the deliberate and systematic acts of alleged budget padding and cutting of funding by the lawmakers, coupled with the widespread negative consequences of such acts for millions of Nigerians across the country, point to not only allegations of corruption but also crimes against humanity, that is, deliberately withholding access of Nigerians to essential and life-saving public services, which is triable at the International Criminal Court.”
It said the failure to decisively address allegations of padding of the 2016 budget allowed the practice to continue with almost absolute impunity, adding that “crimes against humanity invoke criminal responsibility”.
IYC condemns action
The IYC described the alterations as self-serving and against the national interest.
A statement by its National President Eric Omare, said the IYC took particular exception to the reduction of the initial funds earmarked by the takeoff of the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU), Okorenkoko and the all-important East/West Road, which are considered as key to the sustenance peace in the oil-rich region.
According to the youths, the action of the National Assembly had depicted the lawmakers as insensitive
The IYC urged President Buhari, to waste no time in sending a supplementary budget so as to make up for the mutilations.
“We consider the action of the National Assembly as insensitive and retrogressive to the development of the country. It is utter selfishness for the National Assembly to reduce the budget proposal for key developmental initiatives and increase the budget for their personal cost when they are supposed to reduce their recurrent expenses. We condemn this action by the National Assembly. The National Assembly demonstrated selfishness and arrogated their personal interest over and above the national interest which they were elected to serve,” the statement said.
Dino Melaye Disagrees
Melaye, Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), said: ”I notice that the President is trying to whip up sentiments against the National Assembly again, by alleging that the 2018 budget was padded.
“What the President is authorised to do constitutionally is to present the National Assembly with a Bill; a Bill is a work-in-progress and not the finished work.
“The reason the Constitution directs the Bill to be submitted to the national assembly is that it expects the national assembly to vet it and make inputs before passing it in readiness for Appropriation Act.
“The National Assembly is not expected to rubber stamp whatever Bill the president presents.
“If this was the norm, there would have been no need for the Constitution to direct that the Bill should be submitted to the national assembly in the first place.”