Lagos-Calabar Rail: Our Position —Budget Ministry

Nigerian President
President Muhammadu Buhari

THE Federal Government, through the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, has stated its position on the controversy trailing the 2016 budget, saying that the government had not completed the review process of the document sent to it by the National Assembly.

This came as the Senate, on Tuesday, insisted that it was no longer ready to adjust the 2016 budget it passed on March 23, adding that President Muhammadu Buhari should sign it and present a supplementary budget if the need be.

The ministry, in a statement by the media adviser to the minister, Akpandem James, said the process of reviewing the budget details was ongoing.

“In view of the recent controversies surrounding the 2016 budget, it has become necessary to state the following so as to set the facts straight:

“The details of the 2016 budget were received by the president on Thursday, April 7, 2016. Immediately this was received the president, desirous of signing the document into law as soon as possible, he directed that copies should be made available to heads of the various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government.

“Ministers were asked to go through the details and give their reactions as it affects their respective ministries, so as to guide the president and enable him to sign the Appropriation Bill into law.

“That process is still ongoing and no statement has been issued by the executive on the matter, apart from the one by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohamnmed, to confirm that details of the budget are being examined. No final decision has been taken by the president and no other statement whatsoever has been issued on the matter.

“With reference to the specific issue of the Calabar-Lagos rail project, we will like to state that the two railway projects, Lagos-Kano and the Calabar-Lagos, are very important projects of the present administration; and it was always the intention of the executive to have both projects reflected in the budget submitted to the National Assembly.

“However, it will be recalled that the Budget Office made a number of errors in the initial proposals of a number of ministries. These errors were all corrected by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the corrected versions were submitted to the relevant committees of the National Assembly. This included that of the Ministry of Transportation.

“The amended Ministry of Transportation budget was accepted by the relevant committees and that was the version defended by the Minister of Transportation and his team.

“It must be emphasised that the two rail projects are part of those for which the president is currently negotiating funding with the Chinese government.

“The N60 billion provided in the budget for the Lagos-Kano and Calabar-Lagos rail lines, respectively, is counterpart funding, to support the Chinese financing for the projects.

“These projects are part of the strategic implementation plan of the government which was disclosed by the Minister of Budget and National Planning at the National Economic Council (NEC) retreat in March 2016, in the presence of state governors.

“They were also mentioned by the Vice-President last week in Lagos at The Nation Newspaper’s First National Economic Forum.

“It is hoped that with this clarification, the raging controversy over the Calabar-Lagos rail project will be put to rest,” the statement read.

The Senate, however, said its members had completed their work on the budget, adding that the president could send in a supplementary budget if the executive observed any shortfall in the allocations.

Senate spokesman, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, who addressed newsmen on Tuesday, said the Senate had resolved at the closed session to stand by the statement issued on Monday.

According to him, the Senate was guided by constitutional provision in resolving that President Buhari should sign the passed budget into law and later come through supplementary budget to capture whatever projects that might have been omitted in the budget.

“Like you will recall, I issued a press statement yesterday (Monday) on behalf of the Senate to make our position very clear with respect to the issue of the budget and let me make it very clear that we issued that statement simply to clarify the situation and not to confront any authority nor to threaten anybody. We are a democratic institution and whatever we do, we remain guided by the grand norm of the country, which is the constitution.

“Today we have resumed plenary, having come back from our recess and, of course, we went into executive session which is the normal practice to welcome one another and discuss issues that we believe pertain to the burning issues on ground, in this case, the issue of the 2016 budget and the smooth workings of the Senate and the National Assembly.

“Now what we issued yesterday (Monday) remains our position. Today, all we did was to confirm what exactly are the true pictures of this situation and in my capacity as a spokesman of the Senate, I did not go to press with falsehood, I have to verify my facts, I have to get my facts and to speak on this facts; and I think we have made that point very clear and we would definitely remain guided by the tenents of the Nigerian Constitution as we do whatever we were supposed to do.

“One thing that is obvious is that yes, we have passed the budget. Nigerians are asking what’s next for us. What is important now is for the budget to be signed. The constitution has taken note of this kind of scenario where you may have omissions or shortfalls of allocations and Section 81 of the constitution is very clear on what you need to do, which is to sign the budget and then submit a supplementary appropriation.

“I want to assure you that the Senate is not unmindful of the cries of Nigerians that we said that, for example, the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not in the budget and does not in any way undermine the fact that it is a very, very important project for this nation to embark upon.

“The Senate is open. If the executive brings a supplementary appropriations with respect to these and any other issues that they feel very strongly about, we are ready and willing to consider such, but the most important point to note is that we want to remain guided by the provisions of the constitution,” he said.