- Explains 50% of funds released
- Says ICPC report breaches legislative privilege
Deji Elumoye and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The House of Representatives wednesday replied President Muhammadu Buhari on his statement that Nigeria wasted N1 trillion on funding of constituency projects in the last 10 years without commensurate trickle-down effect on the generality of Nigerians.
It said contrary to the figure cited by the president, which he extracted from a report on constituency projects following an investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), that only 50 per cent of the appropriated N1 trillion, amounting to N500 billion, was actually released to fund the projects backed by the lawmakers within the period.
Besides, it said, the projects were executed by agencies of the executive in whose departments the funds were domiciled.
Unlike the House of Representatives, which discussed the president’s allegation at plenary yesterday in Abuja, the Senate claimed ignorance of it, saying senators only read it in the media as Buhari has not communicated his concerns about the matter to the Red Chamber.
But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the Senate described the president’s statement as erroneous.
Citing the ICPC report, Buhari had on Tuesday at a national summit on corruption in the public service, held in Abuja, said the federal government appropriated N1 trillion for constituency project in the last 10 years without corresponding impact on the lives of the people.
While discussing the matter wednesday, the House also described as a breach of its privilege, the ICPC’s probe and report that National Assembly members received N1 trillion for constituency projects. It expressed concern about the unintended consequences of the statement.
The Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, while commenting on the matter following a point of order raised under privileges by the Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, said it was a breach of the collective privilege of the House.
He said: “I think it is a breach of our collective privilege as a House and not one person. My concern is the unintended consequences of words spoken. These are words emanating from a report by ICPC. There could be unintended consequences that could come out of it. You put people’s well-being at risk.
“I feel it is okay to use the National Assembly as the weeping boys. The fact is that there is the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. The ICPC could easily invoke their power of investigation and look at releases as compared to what was budgeted. The ICPC that made the report, I don’t think they will appreciate if the House, in discharge of its constitutional responsibilities, did an oversight on ICPC based on what was budgeted as opposed to what was released to them. When you break an egg, it is going to be difficult to put it together.”
Gbajabiamila, therefore, called on ICPC and other anti-graft agencies to carry out a proper investigation on it, stressing that there is a difference between money budgeted and money released.
Earlier, while raising the point of order, the minority leader had said since the president made the statement, he had been inundated with calls from his constituents asking him to give account of the money.
“I had so many calls and it was difficult for me to explain. My worry and why I am bringing this up is that, yes I got N100 million budgeted but actual releases were not up to 50 per cent. In actual sense, even this year, we never got release more than 40 per cent. I can conveniently tell you that only about 30 per cent has been released,” he added.
Elumelu cited Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that says that budget should be made and if passed in the House, the onus lies on the executive to implement and award contracts, stressing that he doesn’t know of any member who is a member of the tender’s board.
According to him, the National Assembly has nothing to do with the execution of any contract and it is painful that the agency that generated that information failed to state that.
He said while it was true that N1 trillion was budgeted in the last 10 years, the total money was not released.
Elumelu expressed concern that the information could give him a bad name before his constituents.
He lamented that the ICPC that wrote the report failed to tell the truth of how much was actually released, adding that if N1 trillion was budgeted like the president said, if that money was released completely, there would be value commensurate to the money.
The Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, said about 50 per cent of that money had been released in the last 10 years and attributed the reason for so many abandoned projects to paucity of funds due to non-release of total budgeted votes for constituency projects.
He said: “You award contract and you pay 50 per cent. What happens to the remaining 50 percent? How can you complete them? In the 2019 Budget, about N220 billion was budgeted for roads and what was released was N45 billion. If you are expecting the value of N220 billion when you give N45 billion, I don’t know what you will see.”
Senate Not Aware of Allegation, Says Spokesman
However, unlike the House, the Senate yesterday claimed ignorance of the Tuesday’s verbal attack on the federal lawmakers by Buhari.
Senate spokesman, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, told journalists after plenary that the upper chamber was not aware of what the president was quoted to have said about constituency projects.
“I just read it in the dailies this morning but officially the Senate is not aware of this and we can’t react to what we don’t know about,” he said.
He added that there were official channels of communication between the executive and legislature, which in this case had not been exploited.
“Mr. President has not written to the National Assembly officially on this matter. We have channels of communication and I want to believe if he has anything, he will write to us. The president is the president of this country. He spoke as the chief executive but you people (journalists) sometimes you can be funny,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, however, said the PDP caucus in the upper legislative chamber was not worried by the president’s remarks over constituency projects.
“The reason why our caucus is not worried is because we know that it was a statement that was erroneous as somebody must have written a speech and then put false information in the speech,” he stated.
Abaribe said the president should know better as the execution of the constituency projects were carried out by government agencies.
“We have always said the constituency projects are not done by the senators or members of the House of Representatives. They are domiciled in the executive who execute them. If the president said he has not seen anything, he should ask his ministers and the agencies under him as the executive as they are the people who have been executing these projects,” he said.