Five months after the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo wrote to the National Assembly to correct the grave mistake it made when it refused to appropriate funds in the 2017 budget for the completion of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway rehabilitation, there are no signs yet that the two chambers are ready or even prepared to do the right thing.
On July 18, the then acting president had written to the National Assembly leadership, drawing their attention to the agreement made in the aftermath of the stalemate which ensued when the lawmakers, for reasons best known to them, slashed allocations on a number of major projects proposed by the executive. In the specific case of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the allocation was slashed from N31bn to N10bn even at a time the contractors had an outstanding payment of N15 billion for the work already done.
Under the agreement, the executive was to submit a virement proposal to the National Assembly for their consideration.
When asked about the status of the request for virement from the executive early in this week, a member of the Committee on Appropriation, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa was quoted by a leading newspaper as saying that “events had overtaken the process”, adding that “the 2018 budget was already being prepared and would soon be passed, leaving the 2017 Appropriation Act expired”.
“How can somebody even be talking of virement now when we have treated MTEF/FSP (Medium Term Expenditure Framework/Fiscal Strategy Paper) and the processing of the 2018 budget is on?” he was reported to have asked.
A similar note would be echoed by chairman, House Committee on Works, Toby Okechukwu when he averred that the virement is no longer important: “How can we be talking of 2017 virement again now that we are on 2018 budget? The issue now is 2018 budget”, he
We are certainly not surprised that things turned out this way. Clearly, the signs had been there all along, that the National Assembly had no interest in rehabilitating that vital corridor on which the entire economy depends, the sole artery connecting the nation’s port to the hinterland, whether north or east.
It started with the story by the lawmakers of an alleged counterpart funding said to have been entered with an unnamed private sector entity for its construction even when this appears to be known only to the lawmakers. We also heard – again from the senators – that it would be more prudent to channel public funds towards smaller projects that were necessary for the citizens but might not be commercially viable – a euphemism for their constituency projects.
Then came the heinous rationalisation by Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate’s spokesperson that what was “reduced from Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in the 2017 budget estimates was spread on Oyo-Ogbomoso Road in the South-West…to achieve equity,”
Not once did Nigerians hear a cautionary voice drawing attention to the billions of naira already spent on the project and hence the wisdom in bringing it to a final completion, or even the strategic importance of the road to the country as a whole.
That the lawmakers could leave the acting president’s letter – whose subject matter was brokered through an agreement – for nearly five months unattended to is not only the height of criminal abdication, it is as shameful as it is dishonourable. But even worse is that the lawmakers would dare to use the consideration of 2018 Budget to rationalise their ignoble dereliction.
We do not however consider it too late in the day for the National Assembly to redeem itself. To the extent that a framework on the understanding already exists to get the job moving, it seems to us as simple as working together with the executive to push things forward – either by treating it as a separate item or as a component of the 2018 budget. After all, what counts is not so much the nomenclature but the delivery of the project.