Fashola Blinks, Apologises to Lawmakers over Budget Row

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I didn’t intend to incite Nigerians  Maintains no money released for Niger Bridge
James Emejo in Abuja

The war of words raging between the minister of Works, Power and Housing Babatunde Fashola and the National Assembly ended yesterday in a dramatic manner, with the minister tendering his apology to the law makers for his recent alleged disparaging remarks about them over their powers to alter projects in budgets.
In a humuliating clamp-down, he said he had been quoted out of context by the media, confirming THISDAY’s report that he’s likely to blame journalists for his ordeal with lawmakers.

The minister, who appeared before the House of Representatives Investigative Committee on Breach of Privilege, Violation of Appropriation Act and Incitement of the Nigerian Public, refused to take responsibility for what was published in newspapers, describing the reports as misrepresentation from the interview he earlier granted.
Fashola was quoted as saying legislators had stark and worrisome knowledge of the budget process and further queried the power of the National Assembly to alter the 2017 budget after the budget defence exercise.
The House, which utterly condemned his utterances, passed a resolution on July 4 during plenary and resolved to set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the statement credited to him, stressing that his position on the power of the parliament to alter the budget was capable of inciting the public against the legislature.

He said in the interview he granted a foremost online publication, he merely spoke about projects across the country and the problem of his ministry’s budget.
The minister said after the appropriation Bill was passed,  the Ministry of Budget and Planning had written to all ministries asking for comments about changes in budget proposal and estimates presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to parliament and the appropriation bill passed by parliament.
He said nothing in the interview suggested he intended to incite Nigerians against the parliament.

Fashola argued that his statement that legislators had stark lack of  knowledge of the budget was specifically directed at the spokesperson of the House, in retaliation for the latter’s statement where he described him as being untruthful.
Namdas, had in the official position of the National Assembly, described the minister as untruthful – a word considered as an insult by the former governor of Lagos State.
He said his statement wasn’t targeted at the legislators as a whole but directed at the spokesman. But his defence fell on deaf ears, as the committee insisted the spokesman of the lower chamber who doubles as the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity is inevitably the mouthpiece of the House and had the authority of the House to speak on its behalf.

However, Fashola said he wouldn’t take responsibility for newspaper headlines cast by an editor “because I’m not part of that organisation.” one of the major newspapers (not THISDAY), reportedly cast a headline suggesting the minister attacked the parliament.
Asked by the committee, chaired by Aliyu Sani Madaki (APC, Kano) why he never bothered to issue a rebuttal since media reports misrepresented his comments, Fashola said he had been out of the country but granted a separate interview where he stated that he wasn’t in any fight with the National Assembly.
He said: “I didn’t attack the National Assembly and I’ve said it in public that I’m not fighting the National Assembly.”
He said his intention was to speak on development and not otherwise.
The minister, nevertheless, apologised to the lawmakers who may have been hurt by his statement.

Asked to clarify his comments regarding the National Assembly’s power of appropriation, he admitted that the parliament actually had roles to play in the appropriation process partly because they know their respective constituencies better than any other person.
On allegations that the federal projects he allocated were lopsided as reflected in the 2017 budget, he argued to the contrary, reading a commendation letter from the Federal Character Commission which had indicated that the projects were fairly spread across the country.

On why the 2016 budgetary allocation for the 2nd Niger Bridge was returned to the treasury as unspent, Fashola clarified that no money was actually released for the project.
He said the contract for Early Works IV approved by the Federal Executive Council in the First Quarter of 2017 had still not been funded. “So we did not refund money,” he said.
However,  Madaki, following the minister’s retraction of his venomous statement against the National Assembly, said both sides had now understood each other clearly and urged the House to sheath its sword.

Further satisfied with Fashola’s humble  submissions, the chairman assured that working relations between the legislature and the minister will greatly improve from what it used to be.
He said the National Assembly will garner resources for his ministry to allow him succeed in his job and provide infrastructure across the country to better the lives of Nigerians.