By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor, Kingsley Omonobi & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—Despite strident denials by top officials of the National Assembly, it has been discovered that the legislators padded the 2016 budget to the tune of N481 billion.
Documents obtained by Vanguard showed that apart from padding the budget with the huge sum, forcing the Presidency to raise alarm over it, NASS also unilaterally jerked the votes meant for constituency projects from N60 billion to N100 billion.
But the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdul Jibrin, who was fired last week, had said the Speaker allowed 10 committee chairmen to insert projects worth N284 billion and washed his hands off the illegal action.
The House leadership, however, said Jubrin was fired for fixing the budget, a development he vehemently denied.
Vanguard found out from the document exclusively obtained from the National Assembly that the lawmakers ingeniously removed some key projects proposed by the executive or drastically reduced their costs and introduced many others not contemplated by the Presidency which prepared the budget.
Among the projects which votes were surreptitiously jerked up without the knowledge of the executive, were Nigerian railway modernization project: Lagos – Kano standard gauge rail line project, which cost was raised by N32.5 billion and the consultancy dredging and river training works (N609 million) under the Ministry of Transportation.
Others, according to the document, are the Code of Conduct Bureau which had N4.4billion added to its vote, provision of broadband Internet Service to National Assembly by Nigcomsat, N318 million, Training and Consultancy for Nigcomsat 2 Project, N3.5 billion etc, in the Ministry of Communications.
Most scandalous, according to the document, is the case of Ministry of Works, Power and Housing where 82 new projects, principally roads, with a total provision of about N50.63 billion, were inserted in the budget.
The Presidency, which reviewed the budget, said: “A large number of these projects are outside the mandate of the relevant Ministry (e.g. the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Ministry of Works, Power & Housing); or statutorily outside the FGN’s mandate (like intra-city and state road projects); or cannot be implemented as there are no designs or costings made for them.
“The amounts proposed for some MDAs’ projects were increased significantly without due consultations on implementation capacity or additional financing needs for the projects.
This amounts to tying down resources that could have been applied to more impactful projects in other areas.
“In addition, hundreds of new projects that have no relationship to the MDA’s were introduced and simply cannot be implemented. Among these are the construction of town halls, township street lights, procurement of transformers and tricycles under the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing and the building of classrooms under the Ministry of Agriculture etc,” the document revealed.
Also, the executive proposal of N4.06 billion for the provision for test kits, vaccines and anti-retroviral drugs under the Federal Ministry of Health was reduced to N1.01 billion.
“As a result of this reduction, there shall be vaccines stock-out by October 2016 and, among other things, the gains of polio eradication will be lost, and the government will be hampered in the battle against HIV.
“Very large cuts have been made to proposals for many important projects in several MDAs and the sums applied to fund hundreds of new projects.
“The Bill (2016 budget) cannot be implemented in its current form because some of the figures in the Bill passed do not correspond with the figures in the budget details accompanying the Bill.
“The aggregate expenditure as contained in the budget details as passed, is higher than that in the Appropriation Bill by about N481 billion, compared to the Appropriation Bill.
“The executive made provision for the sum of N60 billion to be used by members of the National Assembly in funding their constituency projects. This was increased by the National Assembly to N100 billion.
“It is, therefore, unclear why, in spite of this increase, the National Assembly felt it necessary to divert funds from line Ministries for their constituency projects, having already provided for same in the Service Wide votes.
“The amounts allocated to a number of important projects in a number of key ministries have been so reduced that they cannot be implemented. The savings from these reductions have been re-allocated to hundreds of new projects which have not been designed or costed and so cannot be implemented.
Giving specific details of the projects, which votes were slashed and the fund moved to other extraneous ones, the document revealed that some key allocations for programmes/projects under the Service-Wide Votes, SWV, were either reduced or removed outright, pointing out the dangers posed by such decisions.
For instance, the provision of N3 billion for adjustment to capital cost was removed, while the provision for “capital exigency” was reduced by about 56% from N12.5 billion to N5.5 billion. The executive fears the reduction may affect the ability to meet any unforeseen capital expenditure.
The provision for pensions & gratuity was reduced by about N12.06 billion, while that for Public Service Wage Adjustment, PSWA, was reduced by N14 billion.
Among others, allocations to the health sector for outstanding payments to health professionals (by N2bn), Internal Operations for the Armed Forces (by N3bn), and Operation Lafiya Dole (by N2bn) were also reduced. These reductions could potentially trigger industrial actions or pensioners’ protests and constrain the ongoing security operations in the North-East during the fiscal year, if not remedied.
The emergence of the document seems to have put paid to the claim by the NASS that it did not pad the budget, a claim dismissed by Jibrin.
Jibrin had said: “When the budget harmonization committee headed by Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun gave out 80% concession across board to the executive demands during the harmonization negotiation, it was agreed that the remaining 20% should go to the entire NASS. The deputy speaker excused himself that he wanted to go and consult with Mr Speaker.
“He came back after a few hours and in an unprecedented display of greed, presented to me a hand written note distributing the remaining 20% to only principal officers. 70% of the 20% was reserved for Mr Speaker and himself while the remaining 30% of the 20% goes to other principal officers.”
How Jibrin changed 2016 budget —Reps
Meamwhile, the House of Representatives, yesterday, alleged that Jibrin, single handedly changed the budget estimates presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly by adding N250 billion into it.
The House also accused the embattled former Appropriations Chairman of deliberate plot to blackmail the President during the budget process by inserting funds for the so called Muhammadu Buhari Film Village in his constituency in Kano State without the consent or solicitation of the President.
This is as the Chairman, House Committee on Health Services, Chike John Okafor, accused the embattled former appropriations committee chairman of tampering with the health budget by allegedly putting for himself N500 million health project in his constituency without the consent of the committee.
Briefing journalists in Abuja, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, accompanied by other committee members, explained that Jibrin was removed as a result of credibility problem he had brought to the House in particular and National Assembly as a whole.
He said: “His removal was based on sundry acts of misconduct, incompetence, total disregard for his colleagues and abuse of the budgetary process, Immaturity and lack of capacity to handle the Office of Chairman, Appropriations.”
Jibrin makes U-turn, demands police protection
Meantime, Jibrin, who disclosed at the weekend that Nigerian Police operatives were laying siege to his Abuja residence with a view to arresting him over budget padding revelations, has made a U-turn and is requesting police protection.
Vanguard gathered last Thursday, following his removal as Chairman of the Appropriation Committee and his threat to reveal dealings involving alleged padding of the budget by principal officers of the House, the Police at Force headquarters invited him to depose to a statement about his allegations.
After several invitations, including telephone conversations, Jibrin refused to answer the Police summons but instead relocated from his home to an unknown place to, according to him, avoid being arrested by the Police who allegedly laid siege to his house.