Power, Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola and the two chambers of the National Assembly have been exchanging diatribes over Budget 2017, which was recently signed into law by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
Ordinarily, all arguments about the budget proposal between the two arms of government should have come to a close at the point of assent by the executive; the next challenge ought to be how to implement and deliver promises contained in the Act. But that is not the case here. The story is not even that of padding, which could occur within the period the budget is first presented to the legislature and when it is returned to the executive for assent. We are familiar with that, especially with Budget 2016.
What we have here, according to the minister, is that after all said and done; after all the presentations and defences done by ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) before the legislature, and there were agreements on all issues and sub heads, the lawmakers still went behind and crudely tampered with the budget.
Fashola’s side of the story is that insertions and deductions were done to what his ministry presented originally and defended while discussions were on. Hear him: “What I have in my budget now is primary healthcare centres, boreholes. That was the meeting we had with the Acting President and that was the reason why the budget was not signed on time. We were asked to complete those abandoned projects; the budget of Lagos-Ibadan expressway was reduced by the National Assembly from N31b to N10b. We owe the contractors about N15b and they have written to us that they are going to shut down. Also, the budget of the 2nd Niger Bridge was reduced from N15b to N10 billion and about N3b or so was removed from the Okene-Lokoja-Abuja road budget.”
One will wonder why Fashola did not cry out once the budget had returned to the Acting President before it was signed. At that point, it was still possible to debate the matter with the legislature, either for the budget to be returned to them, or an understanding could be arrived at, that what was diverted from the Power, Works and Housing ministry would be returned at a future supplementary arrangement.
It is a puzzle still, why the Acting President would sign the budget, knowing that there are still serious matters with it. My guess on it is that since it was already June and the budget had suffered enough delay, there was pressure on government to sign it no mater the imperfections. To refuse to sign will keep the polity agitated. I want to believe too that the Acting President was able to extract some commitment from the lawmakers that Fashola’s grouse, and maybe those of other ministers who are keeping quiet, should be remediated going forward. But if that was the case, why did Fashola now go public to reject the budget?
Hear him: “If after we had defended the budget and we had gone and the legislature unilaterally changed the budget, what is the purpose of deliberation?”Was that exactly what the lawmakers did? If so, what then was the essence of the back and forth debate since president Buhari presented the document in December 2016? Was six months not sufficient for the party in government to smoothen out things and hit the ground running?
You see, with this party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), it is difficult to understand the inner workings of the government it formed. With the former party, which was dethroned, there were no pretenses regarding how monies are shared. But the APC that promised a change it does not have is here having trouble with itself. I can imagine Fashola’s frustration. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, for instance, is the busiest route in the country. This road links the port city of Lagos with other states and regions in the country. Lagos is home to everybody and if there is one road that gives visibility to the works of a government, it is this Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
Fashola is a man with good conscience and with a high regard for the proprieties. He dreams of finishing this road in good time, so that he will have record to show, for himself and the administration. According to statistics obtained from only reported cases of accidents on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, 80 persons were killed between January and June 2016. Both the Federal Road Safety Corps and Ogun State Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Agency (TRACE) confirmed the figures.
Therefore, that road, in its incomplete and deadly shape, is not a good advertisement for a man who was known for high delivery capacity, as well as for a party that promised heaven on earth, but has been left struggling to learn the ropes since May 29, 2015.
The lawmakers responded very well, by first calling names. They accused the minister of being mischievous and spreading fallacy. On the substance of the allegation made against them, the chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Abdullahi Usman and the House of Representatives spokesperson, Abdulrazak Namdas, argued that the National Assembly only interfered with projects that had concession agreements and private sector funding components. They said the minister wanted to hold on to such projects in order that he would continue to award contracts.
And that is the crux of the matter. It is clear here, that contract money is the reason for the quarrel. Three powerful ministries rolled into one, with the largest allocation must attract interests of lawmakers. If truth must be told, our lawmakers don’t do things for free. You must be pliable and willing to accommodate their interests, so that your budget would pass with less stress. Our lawmakers, I can now imagine, do not have Fashola’s sense of urgency and guilt that contracts are rolled into years and years of failed budgets. They do not have Fashola’s private sense of responsibility. That is the only reason they would argue so blindly and maliciously.
In the outgone budget of 2016, lawmakers also came up with the same argument against Lagos-Ibadan expressway. They dubiously compare this money-spinning route with others; and spuriously argue on point of equity in projects distribution. They forget that Lagos is the backbone of Nigeria.
Now, on the concession argument advanced by the legislature, every layman knows that since the Federal Government and Bi-Courtney were unable to consummate a public-private funding agreement to reconstruct the highway signed in 2009, which was revoked in 2012, the FG has since returned to site with two firms working from the two ends of the expressway. Because of paucity of funds, the construction work has been crawling with daily fatal accidents occurring. So, which concession agreement are they talking about?
The best the NASS has done on funding of highways is their plan to steal N5 per litre from impoverished Nigerians to form a pool of roads fund. There are other intervention funds already in place, from which public roads could be funded, but the lack of accountability in the system frustrates every effort.
That is why the matter with this government is really sad. There is no clearing-house to articulate a vision for it and there is no sincerity too. They came stealthily as a political coalition and stole government without a corresponding progressivism to drive it.
As for Fashola, there is no way he could win against the tyranny of the majority in the NASS. It is a different platform from that of Lagos Assembly when he was governor, where he had no opposition. Now he has to deal with all manner of characters that fraudulently clothe themselves as progressives, but are working to dismember his huge budget. They want to share it.Worse for him, his timid media team is bereft of ideas on how to present the facts. Even Lagos senators and members of the House of Representatives do not come to his defence.
Too bad Fashola!