National Assembly under fire over budget alterations

• S’East senators probe slash in Enugu airport allocation
• Rights group, Ijaw youths flay lawmakers
• Respect separation of powers, Melaye, Fayose warn president

Some Nigerians have criticised the National Assembly for changes made to the 2018 budget, signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday.The president during the event said the legislators “made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.He described many of the projects affected by the cut as ‘critical,” saying it “may be difficult, if not impossible,” to implement them with the reduced allocation.

Reacting, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) expressed anger over the lawmakers’ action, saying: “It is very glaring that members of the National Assembly are proving beyond any reasonable doubt that they are enemies of the people. They are holding the nation to ransom.”The group in a statement by its director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, described the legislators’ move as a “deliberate attempt to sabotage the Federal Government’s efforts at speeding up developmental projects in critical areas.”

It said: “This is very significant as we approach the 2019 general elections. Good performance in those areas and completion of the projects were being touted as likely to skew votes in the direction of President Buhari, while failure to finish them are most likely to ignite anger among the electorate in the affected areas.”Declaring that “the eighth National Assembly is the worst in the history of our nation,” MURIC said the fact that the legislators jacked up their own budget by N14.5 billion “shows that the members are only out to feather their own nests.”

And from within the ranks of the legislators themselves, the South East Senate Caucus declared it would investigate the cut in allocation for the Enugu airport terminal.In a statement signed by its chairman, Senator Ehinnaya Abaribe, the group said it was stunned to hear that a N2b allocation, upheld by the aviation committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, was slashed to a mere N500 million.

“We are committed and determined to find out who made the cut,” the group said.It disclosed it had already summoned an emergency meeting of South East lawmakers to unravel at what point the cut was done and by whom.Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, in a statement, however, said the National Assembly remained committed to the early completion of the airport. He said his findings showed that the cut took place at the level of committees. He expressed hope that the affected committees would make necessary explanations soon.

The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) also criticised the National Assembly for reducing the budget estimate for the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State, the East West Road and other key projects in the budget.The Federal Government had allocated N5 billion for the take-off of the institution. This was, however, slashed to N3.4 billion by the National Assembly.

IYC president, Eric Omare, said the action was insensitive to the country’s development and a display of utter selfishness. But Dino Melaye, the senator representing Kogi West, defended the decision of his colleagues. In a statement, he said: “The National Assembly is not just expected to rubber-stamp whatever bill the president presents, accusing Buhari of “trying to whip up sentiments against the National Assembly again by alleging that the 2018 budget was padded.”

On his part, the lawmaker representing Yobe East, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, declared: “We hardly have 80 per cent implementation. So, what does it really matter if certain things were inserted? Let him consult the right people and at the right time and decide which ones he really wants to implement.”Besides, in a statement by his spokesman, Lere Olayinka, Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose said Buhari had become a “blame specialist,” noting: “Trying to use the National Assembly as the scapegoat for his failure is a disservice to the principle of separation of powers, checks and balances.”

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