NON-FUNDING OF CONSTiTUENCY PROJECTS…

• N’Assembly leadership lobbies for calm

Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

The delay by the executive arm of government in releasing the N100 billion earmarked for the funding of constituency projects in the 2017 budget is currently strengthening a plot by lawmakers to convey their displeasure to President Muhammadu Buhari when he presents the 2018 budget to a joint session of the National Assembly Tuesday.

Since the passage of the 2017 budget five months ago, not a dime has been released for the constituency projects dear to the hearts of the lawmakers.
The constituency projects were captured under the N2.6 trillion capital spending plan for 2017, but the executive arm of government has so far released only N436 billion for what it termed priority capital projects.

The president is billed to address the members of the National Assembly at 2 p.m. Tuesday to present the N8.6 trillion Appropriation Bill for 2018.
However, some lawmakers, especially those in the House of Representatives, have threatened to make their displeasure known over the non-release of funds for the constituency projects by booing Buhari and repeatedly interrupting his address, THISDAY gathered.

But the leadership of the National Assembly, which is not unaware of the move, has been lobbying members to ensure that there is calm and an air of normalcy is maintained during the budget presentation.

THISDAY further gathered that separate meetings by the leadership of the Senate and the House would hold Monday night to ensure that Buhari’s presentation is hitch-free.
Both chambers would also hold executive sessions ahead of the budget presentation where the presiding and principal officers will be expected to plead with aggrieved lawmakers.

The lawmakers, comprising a high percentage of first timers in the federal parliament, are aggrieved over the fact that Buhari’s failure to implement the “mutually agreed” constituency projects, is affecting their chances of seeking re-election in 2019.

According to some lawmakers who spoke with THISDAY off the record, they were particularly angry that while the executive is planning to terminate the lifespan of the 2017 budget at some 25-40 per cent of its implementation, there has been no commitment towards funding their constituency projects.

“Forget what Udo Udoma (Minister of Budget and National Planning) and Kemi Adeosun (Minister of Finance) said during the hearing on the implementation of the 2017 budget; they said 40 per cent would be implemented with 60 per cent rolled over into the 2018 budget.
“But the way we are going with the push to restore the budget calendar to January-December, only 25 per cent of the 2017 budget would be implemented.

“Effectively, this cuts off the zonal intervention funds appropriated for constituency projects. The 2017 budget is the budget before the campaign year, which is 2018. Many of us have nothing on the ground in our constituencies to warrant re-election,” a senator who preferred not to be named said.

A member of the House also recalled that with 80 per cent released for the zonal intervention funds in the 2016 budget, expectations were high that there would be full release in the 2017 budget.
The member, who is serving his first term, said Buhari has been unfair to the legislature generally.

“For our colleagues who are ‘second timers’, some of them have the wherewithal to do some little projects on their own. Their chances of coming back are a little better than those of us who are here for the first time.
“After I had told my people that certain projects were coming and they have clapped for me, do I go back and say the funds were not released? Buhari has been unfair to us, honestly, and this is our chance to get back at him.

“Presidents are booed all over the world, so let that be our own way of showing we are displeased,” he said.
But an aide of one of the principal officers disclosed that the leadership of the National Assembly was concerned over the development.

“Of course, the lawmakers have every right to be pained. They want to retain their seats and the non-implementation of constituency projects is hurting their chances.
“But Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara just want them to allow him (Buhari) to present his address and go in peace.

“They are trying to avert a situation where he would be booed,” the aide said.
“Saraki and Dogara are meeting separately with the new SGF (Secretary to the Government of the Federation), Mr. Boss Mustapha this (Monday) afternoon. I am sure they would transmit the message through him to the president that members are angry,” the aide added.

The constituency projects, which are primarily social intervention projects facilitated by lawmakers for their constituencies during budget cycles, have been a constant source of friction between the Buhari-led executive and the eighth National Assembly.