Members of the House of Representatives are unperturbed by the criticisms that have so far trailed the approval of N37 billion for the renovation of National Assembly complex, saying the planned project was inevitable at this time.
Justifying the approved N37 billion expenditure, the lawmakers said that the building was collapsing and therefore needed urgent attention. Some members spoke on the heels of the deafening public outcry against the approval which described the amount earmarked for the renovations as being too exorbitant and scandalous.
It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari has already given a nod for the release of the money contained in the budget of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA which oversees the maintenance of the edifice. The complex, it was, learnt gulped N7 billion as a virgin structure, constructed some 20 years ago, but in 2019, N37 billion had been approved for its renovation.
The project is coming at a time other basic national infrastructures and appurtenances such as roads are in their dilapidated states and have never received such amount money in the nation’s annual fiscal plan in one fell swoop. A similar situation is also recorded in many sectors of the economy to which education belongs. Besides, the federal government is presently seeking the endorsement of the National Assembly to borrow a whopping $29 billion abroad.
Most Nigerians are of the opinion that the money was too way much for the renovation of a single structure when poverty still reigns supreme in the land. To this end, they see the renovation project as a waste of national resources.
N37 BILLION, NOT ENOUGH-NASS DIRECTOR, INFORMATION
But the Director of Information, National Assembly, Rawlings Agada has said the sum of N37 billion was even a far cry from the needed amount to complete the work at the complex. Speaking with some journalists in Abuja, Agada said the complex was in shambles, stressing that the national assembly dome had been leaking for many years.
He said: “That National Assembly needed 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 added that the leadership of the National Assembly took note of that pursuant to the concerns raised by the management.
“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”, he said. Agada’s position was no different from the submissions of other lawmakers who spoke exclusively to Vanguard on the issue yesterday.
A BUILDING COLLAPSING ON US-REPS SPOKESMAN
The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Benjamin Kalu representing Bende Federal constituency of Abia State (APC) who spoke to Vanguard extensively felt disappointed that Nigerians were not in support of the renovations. He said that the building was collapsing and needed urgent attention. According to House spokesman, the legislative chambers, the toilet systems and the air conditioners in the offices were all in sham.
He said “Look, this building is collapsing. It is collapsing. I am sure there are other things that need money. But also, where legislators make laws also need attention. Would you like the building to collapse on 360 people coming from 360 constituencies just because you are looking at the size of the money? We are not the one issuing the contract. The people who are going to issue the contract will know whether that amount it much or small, how of this amount that is going to be appropriated because we don’t know.
“Usually, most of these projects get 30 to 40 per cent and then, it is tolled over the next year for completion. Some of the projects are rolled over for 3 years for completion. Some of them are done in phase 1, 2, 3 and 4. Why are we sounding as if we are going to the national purse to just carry money out of that?
“I am not the contractor but what I know is that that place is not functioning well and some places are leaking. Some facilities have failed. If you sit inside the chamber and look up, you will see where the watermarks are. Very soon, it will start cracking and you know there is no pillar holding that thing from the centre. They are all suspended by the side. It needs urgent attention yo avoid a calamitous situation. It needs urgent attention whether or not the amount is sufficient or adequate is not even my own concern. My own concern is it needs attention. Whether they use one or two Kobo to do it, the truth is that national assembly needs attention.
“The last time, people came for budget defence; they were using hand fan to fan themselves because they ACs have failed. Most of them who wanted to go to the toilet went to their private ministries to go to the toilet and come back because the toilets are not functioning. As I speak to you now, my ACs will on today and stop tomorrow. And when it works, it will be dripping water everywhere. The office I am occupying now is the third one I will be occupying because the first office had a smell from the toilet coming into my office. The second one had the same problem. So, when they flush the toilet, the smell welcomes into your room. Are we going to keep quiet until the whole building collapses?
Renovation is FCDA project/may be done in phases Kalu, however, told Nigerians that the money was not going to be shared by the lawmakers as it is subsumed in the budget of the Federal Capital Territory Development Agency, FCDA, which maintains the buildings. While agreeing that the amount was high, the lawmaker said that the project may be done in phases which mean that the money was not going to be released in one fell swoop.
“Is it (National Assembly building) not under the management of the FCDA? Is it not in their budget? Nope, we legislate for the FCDA as allowed by the constitution. It is within their budget. So, we are we crying? The amount when you look at it from the point of the size, it sounds a lot. How much did the UK Parliament used in renovating their Parliament? Have you done research? Find our how much they used and how old that building is. “What I want Nigerians to understand is that there is no law that says that the renovations must be taken at the same time. No project in Nigeria has received 100 per cent funding from the initial time. I am sure during implementation; it is going to be done in phases.
“My point really is that, yes, everybody agrees the figure is high but the issue remains that during implementation, is it going to come out at once? It is going to go in phases and Nigerians should remember this is a national symbol. National Assembly is one of the iconic buildings for the federation and like I was saying, I am not a contractor, I don’t know whether the money is enough or not but the most important thing is that that place needs urgent attention. I have told you the reasons. All these places have an issue and you need money to fix it. If you enter the chamber and look up, you will the watermarks which shows that it is leaking. This is not good for our Parliament. We also visit other nations Parliament.” Executive, Judiciary spend more money on facilities maintenance than Legislature Referring to the complex as a national symbol, the House spokesman said that its present state is rather embarrassing. He also made the comparison to other arms of government such as the Executive and the Judiciary in terms of their expenditures on maintenance of various facilities, saying that their cost far outweighs that of the legislature.
He said: “This is an embarrassment. That’s a national symbol. That building is a national symbol. It is not just like any building and it houses one arm of the government. Other arms of government have their building scattered all over Nigeria. For the judiciary, how many courts do we have in Nigeria scattered all over in jurisdictions? Ministries have their buildings, offices everywhere.
“This is one arm of government, not a department of government. And we are only the arm of government that is situated at one place. The Executive has their buildings spread across the federation, various departments and agencies and all of them have a maintenance cost on an annual basis. The Judiciary the same. There are courts in almost all jurisdictions. They do maintenance on an annual basis. This is the only building that we have. You won’t see national assembly building in Abia or Sokoto or Zamfara. It is only in one place. Judiciary is in Abia, Sokoto and Zamfara and Kano and Kaduna. In hr Executive, the MDAs are in those places and those buildings accommodate the people who work for them. They are maintained to be able to serve them. This is the only place that we have and it is cracking.”
Kalu was not alone in his line of thought. Another lawmaker who spoke to Vanguard on the issue bemoaned the state of the infrastructure. The lawmaker, a fourth timer from one of the south State who however craved anonymity said that he was privy to know that initial quotation of the expected contractor was higher than the eventual N37 billion. He said that Nigerians were misplacing their anger and criticism on the proposed renovations. E-Voting system, E- Parliament, E-Libary maybe I stalled during renovations According to him, the building needed a complete overhaul to be preserved for posterity.
He said: “Many of the things are not functional. The exists are not good. The toilet system, everything about that national assembly is bad. Even the chamber is completely out of place. Are the ACs working? Even that dome is bad. Are we waiting for it to collapse on us before we act? Let’s face facts. What you used in building, let’s say N7 billion used in building it says 30 years ago, will be the same now?
“Probably, they might install E-Voting system, E- Parliament, E-Libary. Most of these things are the things they are probably envisaging to put now. I don’t think Nigerians are criticizing rightly. “I am aware that Julius Berger is even asking more than amount (N37 billion). When JB quoted, it was more than than. For the president to be convinced to that extent, you know that a lot was shown to him. There are many things. You also not have gone to management sectors. We have been using those seats for the last 12 years.
“I think it is a complete overhaul they want to do. To me, even with the little I know about NILDS on that complex JB is building, you have to choose between doing the right thing or a haphazard job so that in another 5, you will do it again. When JB handles an issue, it takes time before it goes down. But when other organizations probably come, you do it haphazardly because they are managing money. “When you know the cost of building from Julius Berger, you will not say that the cost of what they want to go there is too much. I can tell you that. I think it is reasonable. Everybody complains about the things that concern national assembly. They don’t even want us to get a transport allowance to go to our village.” Executive branches buying land cruisers The ranking lawmaker who of the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, who is also a Committee Chairman also asked Journalists to investigate the whopping sums of money used by many of the agencies under the executive arm of government to purchase utility vehicles for their heads. “Now, have you people taken a close audit on the parastatals that buy Land Cruisers for their DGs and probably their Commissioners that are appointed into those officers? Are those commissioners bigger than us? Up till now, National Assembly members have no vehicles yet. And nobody asks questions about this executive branch were all sort of money is being to use to buy all sorts of things but it’s only when it concerns to the national assembly that you do investigative journalism.
“It is surprising; as if money wants to enter into somebody’s account. It doesn’t. I know how we struggle to live in the National assembly and go to our places. They are still plenty of demands as if we are ministers. Ministers don’t do anything but people hold us accountable in everything we do. What critics must know “People should be able to understand that legislative branch shouldn’t be destroyed and the edifice that is built should be maintained for the next 50 year by injecting this kind of money because the people who are doing it today are not the ones to enjoy the edifice. It is our children who will become members of the House of Representatives in the future. It might also be your kids that may win that position and enjoy what we have worked for because some people did it for us to come and occupy there today. We also have to maintain the place for the future generation in the next 30 to 40 years to stay and enjoy the place.
“A lot had gone wrong in the national assembly. If I wasn’t an insider, I wouldn’t know how much Julius Berger charges. It is too expensive to be used. If you use other companies they won’t do it well. When Julius Berger was maintaining that place, you won’t perceive any smell. You won’t hear that ACs breakdown. You can’t perceive any odour. They had their staff”, he said.
SERAP, BUDGIT, OTHERS FILE COURT ACTION AGAINST BUHARI, FINANCE MINISTER, LAWAN, GBAJABIAMILA TO STOP FUND RELEASES
Meanwhile, the public outcry that trailed the approval has prompted the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, BudgIT, Enough is Enough (EiE) and 583 concerned Nigerians to file lawsuit at the Federal High Court, Abuja to “restrain and stop President Muhammadu Buhari and Mrs Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning from releasing the funds.
The groups are also seeking an order to “restrain, prevent and stop” the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila and the Federal Capital Development Agency, FCDA from demanding or collecting the funds. It is seeking a thorough impact assessment test on the complex before any spending can be carried out. SERAP’s Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, disclosed this in a statement released on Sunday in Lagos.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1633/2019, filed by Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, last week at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the groups according to the statement stated thus: “The National Assembly complex should be a safe and conducive environment for those who work there. But spending ₦37 billion to renovate the place is not commensurate with the constitutional commitments to public services and goods; decreasing public revenues and increasing level of debts as well as the poor economic and social realities in the country.
“Spending N37 billion to renovate the National Assembly complex is the self-serving, wrongful, illegal and unconstitutional expenditure of public funds, as it means less money for educating millions of out-of-school Nigerian children, providing access to clean water and healthcare to Nigerians including the elderly, or repairing the country’s roads and bridges”.