More facts have emerged on how the funds proposed for the Calabar-Lagos railway project in the 2016 budget estimates were taken out of the Appropriation Bill by the National Assembly.
THISDAY learnt that in the amended budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari last January after the dust had settled over the “missing budget”, the sum of N80 billion was included for the Calabar-Lagos rail project in the amended budget by the executive and submitted to the National Assembly.
After the submission, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi also followed up by presenting a document in defence of the Calabar-Lagos railway project to the National Assembly in order to ensure that it was passed as one of the subheads for the budget of his ministry.
But to the utter consternation of the presidency, when the budget was passed by the National Assembly and its details sent to the presidency last week, it was discovered that this key infrastructure project had been taken out of the Appropriation Bill.
THISDAY gathered that the railway project, among other issues, formed the thrust of the emergency Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting held last Friday to scrutinise the 2016 budget at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
It was learnt that by scrapping the Calabar-Lagos project, the Appropriation Committees of both arms of the National Assembly decided to unilaterally appropriate the funds to the Lagos-Kano rail project which got another N40 billion, bringing its total budget to N140 billion, and to road projects mainly in the north.
With this action, sources in the presidency said there was no way the budget could be assented to by the president immediately except the core policy framework of the budget, especially with respect to infrastructure projects, is adhered to so that the federal government can deliver its programmes.
He said in order to reach a resolution on the alterations made by the National Assembly, the president, leadership of the National Assembly and chairmen of the Appropriation Committees would meet today before Buhari departs for China.
The goal, he explained, is for the president to get the commitment of the National Assembly to reinstate the Calabar-Lagos rail project and other key projects that were tampered with by the legislature.
“If this can be sorted out expeditiously, it is hoped that we may have a budget as soon as possible,” the presidency official said.
However, reacting to the allegation that his committee and its counterpart in the Senate deviated substantially from the proposal submitted by the presidency, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumim, yesterday accused the executive of deliberately misleading Nigerians on the role of the National Assembly in the passage of the 2016 budget.
He also faulted reports that the National Assembly removed the N80 billion Calabar-Lagos rail project, stating that the project was never included in the budget estimates and therefore could not have been removed.
He also explained that the N39.7 billion added to the Lagos-Kano rail project by the lawmakers was to ensure its completion, and was taken from the budget of the Ministry of Transportation which was discovered to have been overshot by N54 billion.
Also, he said another N10 billion from the balance of the N54 billion after N39.7 billion had been appropriated to the Lagos Kano rail line, was allocated to security and navigation aids for airports nationwide, while the Baro inland port in Kano got N4 billion.
Abdulmumim, in a series of tweets on his tweeter handle yesterday, added that whatever controversies that continue to surround the 2016 budget, did not emanate from the National Assembly.
He added that since the executive had not disowned reports making the rounds which seem to implicate the legislature, the House would soon present its position on observations in the budget and what was done to improve on the budget proposal presented by Buhari.
“There is a lot more to be said about this and they will be said in the coming days,” he said.
Abdulmumim disclosed that about 95 per cent of the input of lawmakers, which would give life to the policy thrust of the Buhari administration, was discarded by the executive.
He added that there had been no official communication between both arms of government on any issues concerning the budget.
The tweets read: “The Lagos-Calabar Rail was never included. How could NASS have removed what was not there? But the nation is being misled.
“All they, and those spreading the false information needed to have done is check the initial document sent by the executive.
“The executive seems to favour a top-down approach. But this is not enough reason to mislead Nigerians on the role of NASS on the budget.
“This is unfortunate as it is quite clear to all and sundry that #Budget2016 and all its headaches and controversies didn’t emanate from NASS.
“The crux of the matter as it is, is that (while) the NASS believes in the bottom up agenda for development – focus on rural areas and communities.
“What NASS did with the N54 billion is we added N39.7 billion to the Lagos-Kano rail project. This will help complete the project once and for all.
“That N50 billion be set aside as special bursary for students of tertiary institutions. We also suggested N100 billion be taken out of N500 billion set aside as the Special Intervention Fund.
“We also had Special Programmes for Women Empowerment and the payment of debt owed local contractors. The Rural Community Light project to light up 100 communities spread across the 774 local governments.
“Some of our other inputs included: special intervention for rural agriculture, payment of pension arrears.”
“The Minister of Health came to deny the document that was presented to the NASS by the executive for the second time.
“Much ado about vaccines that weren’t even there. The budget of the Ministry of Health was the most controversial.”