MUYIWA OYINLOLA writes that acrimony between National Assembly members and the minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola has become a worrisome tradition.
Penultimate Monday, minister of Power, Work and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, and the Senate again engaged in exchange of fireworks.
The lawmakers, while scrutinizing the Fashola’s ministry’s 2018 budget had raised allegations of purported padding or duplication of certain demands of the ministry.
According to the lawmakers, the ministry budgeted the sum of N888 million for the purchase of utility vehicles. They gave the breakdown as N120 million, N480 million and N288, respectively.
Fashola’s spokesperson, Hakeem Bello, while reacting, however, dismissed the claim, saying there was neither error nor duplication of items in the said budget estimate.
One of the lawmakers who queried the estimate, Clifford Ordia, (PDP, Edo Central) said there was duplication in the proposed purchase of utility vehicles, which he said were captured in three separate pages of the budget document.
He then asked the minister of State for the ministry, Mustapha Shahuru, and the permanent secretary, Frank Edozie, who were present to defend the proposal.
His words: “I need to understand this thing. Look at the different pages. You earmarked N120 million, N288 million and N480 million for the purchase of vehicles. I do not understand. Are these vehicles different? If you add up this figure, it gives you about N888 million.
“You also said that you want to spend N100 million on transfer of office files. How do you intend to do that? The people in your office, what have they been doing? I can also see from your estimates here that you captured another item for ICT, different from the N100 million for transfer of files. You need to explain these things”.
Both the minister and the permanent secretary could not provide an answer to the question as the minister was not around in person.
But Bello, who insisted there way no foul play in the ministry’s document stated that the ministry would in due course clarify issues surrounding the budget estimate.
It will be recalled that Fashola had been walked out by the lawmakers the previous week, over his alleged “unpreparedness to face the committee for his 2018 budget defence.”
Meanwhile, a socio-political organisation, Campaign for Dignity in Governance (CDG), has called on Nigerians to help halt what it sees as the “National Assembly’s annual legislative highhandedness” on budget passage, reminding the legislators of the confidence reposed in them by the people
The group, in a statement signed by its national president, Comrade Razaq Olokoba observed that, it has become the antics of the federal lawmakers to use the budget passage period as a trap to hold the country hostage while “hiding under the excuses that are suspected to be selfish and unpatriotic.”
The group said it “noted with dismay the way and manner the budget on Power is being handled by the national legislators “when they unduly embarrassed the Minister in-charge, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN).”
According to the release, the National Assembly is suspected to have hidden agenda under the guise of oversight functions, cautioning that, “if Nigerians do not rise to stop the federal lawmakers from pulling the country back every time they are called upon to handle the budget issues with patriotism, the country would be worse for it.
In the same vein, a human rights group, Yoruba Radical Assembly (YRA), urged the lawmakers to be guided by the interest of the electorates in the discharge of their constitutional duties.
The group, in a statement signed by its national coordinator, Ogbeni Kunle Adeosun, expressed displeasure over the embarrassment suffered by Fashola in the hands of the legislators when defending his ministry’s budget, wondering how he could be subjected to such an embarrassment from those who should commend him for a work well done.
It could be recalled that the House of Representatives in July also summoned Fashola to appear before it over his comments on the National Assembly.
Fashola, at that time had alleged that the lawmakers inserted projects outside the purview of his ministry in its budget in the 2017 Appropriation Act.
Apart from that, he also accused them of slashing N21 billion off the N31 billion proposed for the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway.
But the lawmakers accused him of inciting the people against them.
With the foregoing, it is evident that the ministry may be one of those that may have it tough in getting its budget approved by the lawmakers.
While the lawmakers and the minister continue in the face-off, the work of the ministry will definitely slow down and the masses who suppose to benefit from the work of the ministry will be the ones to bear the consequences.
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