N37BN NASS RENOVATION: IN WHOSE INTEREST?

The National Assembly has been under fire since Tuesday, December 17, 2019, hours after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the N10.59 trillion 2020 budget. The budget contains a whooping sum of N37 billion for the renovation of National Assembly complex. “It is my pleasant duty, today, on my 77th birthday, to sign the 2020 Appropriation Bill into law. I am pleased that the National Assembly has expeditiously passed this Bill. Our Federal Budget is now restored to a January-December implementation cycle,” President Buhari declared at the signing ceremony, flanked by National Assembly leaders.

N37BN NASS RENOVATION: IN WHOSE INTEREST?

PUBLISHED: STVN 28 DECEMBER, 2019

The National Assembly has been under fire since Tuesday, December 17, 2019, hours after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the N10.59 trillion 2020 budget. The budget contains a whooping sum of N37 billion for the renovation of National Assembly complex.

“It is my pleasant duty, today, on my 77th birthday, to sign the 2020 Appropriation Bill into law. I am pleased that the National Assembly has expeditiously passed this Bill. Our Federal Budget is now restored to a January-December implementation cycle,” President Buhari declared at the signing ceremony, flanked by National Assembly leaders.

Renovation due

The President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, told journalists that no major renovation had been done on the National Assembly complex for 20 years and many parts of the property had become dilapidated.

“The Phase One renovation will commence which includes the chambers and committee rooms in the white house. N37 billion was sourced and was given. It was put under the FCT, not National Assembly. All we require is to have the complex renovated.

“When we are through with Phase One, we will go to Phase Two. It is not under the control of the National Assembly. The complex is a national asset and is for the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to take care,” he said.

Previous renovations

However, an investigation by Blueprint Weekend revealed that in 2013, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) under President Goodluck Jonathan approved N40.2 billion for the construction of Phase III of the National Assembly complex and renovation of the first and second phases of the complex.

Vanguard newspapers had reported on December 12, 2013, that the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Bala Muhammed (now Governor of Bauchi state), disclosed that: “We are going to close down the two chambers of the National Assembly for a period of 12 months and we are lucky we have already provided large committee rooms that will be used during the period for the parliament to continue its work. The contract is for N40.2billion and it will take 40 months to complete.”

Muhammed also said the work concerning Phase III of the complex would involve the construction of a library, budget office, printing press, clinic, restaurants, banquet hall, places of worship and plenary hall (auditorium).

He further said at the end of the project, television/radio/press facilities, fitness room, administrative offices, technical rooms, and meeting rooms would be available while two of the chambers would be renovated.

However, Blueprint Weekend cannot verify if the federal government actually disbursed the said sum for the renovation of the complex.

Expenditures on the complex …

Similarly, over the years, Blueprint Weekend investigations revealed that while monies may not have been assigned specifically for the “renovation” of the building, the National Assembly has received multiple funding for improved infrastructure since 1999.

In the proposed 2017 National Assembly budget, N1.25 billion was budgeted for the purchase of security equipment by the Senate. Apart from this, N440 million was allocated for the same purpose under capital expenditure for the National Assembly office.

Also, at the peak of the scandal between the eighth Assembly and erstwhile Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, Premium Times found that N454 million was spent on office equipment and another ₦109 million was paid to Navadee Integrated Nigeria Ltd for “ICT supply of equipment” at NASS.

Aside from the sum of N250 million paid to the DCN Nigeria Ltd for “general renovation of main building,” this newspaper also found that the National Assembly spent N578 million on the refurbishing of meetings and committee rooms.

Criticisms

Speaking with this reporter, a public affairs analysts and newspaper columnist, Tony Ademiluyi, said the allocation to fix the National Assembly is excessive.

He said: “The recent budget insertion of N37 billion by the National Assembly for its renovation is extremely insensitive and cruel. Given the fact that this is coming at a time when the economy is at its lowest ebb, it is extremely tragic that our law makers cannot spare a thought for the wobbling economy before embarking on such a shameful course of action.

“The paltry N30, 000 minimum wage which cannot even take a family of three home is yet to be paid by many of our governors and our lawmakers do not seem concerned one bit. They have never been known to pile pressure on the governors to make the state overlords perform their constitutionally backed duties. They simply don’t give a damn about the people they are supposed to act as their elected representatives.

“The National Assembly should immediately rescind this decision as it is extremely anti-people, especially when we have been declared the poverty capital of the world. This complex was built at less than N11 billion barely two decades ago and the huge cost is simply unacceptable.”

PDP kicks

Similarly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the N37 billion as “an unpardonable rip-off plot” and the last straw of the brazen corruption that pervades the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration.

PDP stated that it was indefensible for the Buhari presidency to propose a whopping N37 billion for renovation work on the National Assembly complex, which was built at the cost of N7 billion.

The party stated this in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan, on Tuesday.

PDP insisted that the over 500 per cent padding of the original construction cost is completely insupportable even with the prevailing costs and exchange rate regime, a “development that has already spurred public outcry and apprehensions of plots to divert the fund for political interests of certain APC leaders.”

The statement read in part: “The over bloated renovation figure is, therefore, not only sacrilegious, but also further confirms that the APC-led administration is overtly corrupt and only out to steal, drain and divert our national resources for selfish purposes of certain individuals in the present administration.

“N37 billion is embedded in the budget of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) as approved by President Buhari, which leaves the burden of explanation on Mr. President’s doorsteps.

“We, therefore, charge President Buhari to demonstrate the integrity of his approval by immediately publishing a detailed breakdown of the renovation project in line with his recent directives to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

“President Buhari is challenged to immediately publish the details of the individual renovation lines, amount and reason for each payment as well as the contractors, beneficiaries and payment patterns for Nigerians to see, if indeed the money has not been detailed for diversion.

“The party charges the National Assembly to stand on the side of the people by using its statutory legislative instruments to thoroughly scrutinise the FCDA budget and eliminate all embedded padding designed to fleece our nation.”

Renovation in good faith

However, an All Progressives Congress (APC) member representing Ezza south/Ikwo federal constituency, Chinedu Ogah, threw his weight behind the N37 billion estimated for renovation of the National Assembly.

He told this reporter that a lot of renovation needs to be done at the legislative complex, Abuja.

He said, “Where you have 109 senators with their aides, you have 366 Reps members with their aides and other staff in that area. By the time you put all these into consideration, you will see that amount people are complaining about is not even enough.

“Power supply has not been stable and the National Assembly is still burning diesel. Part of the money is going to be used for alternative power supply and you know the cost of power. So, the budget is not bad; it is something that can help this country to stabilise. If the National Assembly is not properly taken care of, you will not have good laws,” he said.

Senate president’s defence

Meanwhile, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has said President Buhari is aware of the planned renovation of the National Assembly complex with N37 billion, next year.

Lawan said, “When we resumed office, we noticed that many parts of the National Assembly complex were dilapidated.

“We convened a meeting involving the management of the National Assembly, the Federal Capital Development Authority, the speaker of the House of Representatives and I.

“We had an exhaustive engagement. The speaker and I later met with Mr. President and we told him the situation of the complex. Since the take-over of the complex, there was never, ever any major rehabilitation or renovation 20 years ago.

“Mr. President responded by telling us that he was going to renovate the National Assembly. We went back to continue the engagement with the National Assembly management and the FCDA. Eventually, we took what is required to renovate the phase one of the project.

“This includes the two chambers, the Dome and other committee rooms and offices within the white house. N37 billion was sourced and was approved and put under the FCT, not under the National Assembly.”

Lawan, however, said the project would be executed by the FCDA because the National Assembly is a national monument.

“All we require is to have the National Assembly complex renovated including the reconfiguration of the two chambers and of the press centre. We have the opportunity after 20 years, to embark on the renovation of the phase one building of the National Assembly, when we are through with the phase one, we will go to Phase Two.

“The National Assembly complex is a national asset being managed by the FCDA.”

‘N37bn not enough’

Similarly, the director of Information of the National Assembly, Rawlings Agada, said the sum of N37 billion approved for the renovation of the National Assembly complex may not be enough for the work.

Speaking with journalists in Abuja, Agada said the complex is in a shambles, stressing that the National Assembly Dome had been leaking for many years.

“That National Assembly needs a lot of work and I don’t think even that amount of money can take care of all those things because even the dome has been leaking and there is fear that if the repairs are not done, we might suffer greater problems in the future,” he said.

He also said the leadership of the National Assembly took note of that pursuant to the concerns raised by the management, adding that “that is just that because I don’t have the details of the budget, but I am aware that there is a lot that needs to be done.”

Lawan is expected to inaugurate a team that will oversee the project in the New Year, 2020. (Blueprint)

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