The ₦37 billion voted in the 2020 federal budget signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari last week for renovation of the National Assembly complex is wasteful, scandalous and totally out of tune with current realities. Details of the spending were first given on Monday last week by Senate President Dr Ahmed Lawan. He said President Buhari signed in to the project after lawmakers met with him to explain the poor condition of the legislature’s building.
The fund for the renovation of the National Assembly building is not part of ₦128 billion voted for the federal legislature next year. Interestingly, the N37 billion is tucked under the capital spending of the Federal Capital Development Administration (FCDA) which has an overall capital expenditure of ₦62.4 billion. This means that more than half the FCDA’s capital expenditure for next year that should address Abuja’s infrastructural challenges will go to fixing only the National Assembly building.
Senate President Lawan tried to justify the project tby saying no major renovation had been done on the National Assembly building for 20 years and that many parts of it have become dilapidated. While monies may not have been specifically assigned for “renovation” of the building, the National Assembly has received multiple funding for improved infrastructure since 1999. In 2013, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a contract of N40.2 billion for the “construction of Phase III, Part III of the National Assembly complex and the upgrading of the assembly’s two chambers.”
Additionally, in the 2017 National Assembly budget, ₦N1.25 billion was budgeted for the purchase of security equipment by the Senate. Apart from this, ₦440 million was allocated for the same purpose under capital expenditure for the National Assembly office. Also, at the peak of the scandal between the Eighth Assembly and former Minister of Finance Mrs Kemi Adeosun, N₦454 million was spent on office equipment and another ₦N109 million was paid to another firm for “ICT supply of equipment” at the National Assembly. The truth is that National Assembly budgets over the years have been replete with opaque projects that had no bearing on the well-being of the ordinary Nigerian.
Expectedly, there has been a nationwide outrage over the allocation of N37 billion for renovation of the complex. The money allocated for this renovation of one building is more than what was allocated for repairing federal roads across the country. For example, only N36.6 billion was allocated for capital projects for the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency [FERMA] to repair broken federal roads across Nigeria.
The federal government should under no circumstances spend N37 billion to renovate a building when the same government is complaining of difficulty in paying the new minimum wage. It is a wrong step and misplacement of priority in a country listed as the poverty capital of the world. And to spend such funds when roads and hospitals are crying for attention shows that National Assembly members and their leaders have neither sympathy nor empathy to the suffering of Nigerians.
The country is still struggling to get its economy back on track after the last recession. Critical funds should be spent on infrastructure projects and social services that aid economic recovery, not the sitting rooms and offices of 109 Senators and 360 House of Representatives members. Rather than renovate the building with such outrageous sums, President Buhari should order the virement of the money to education and health projects. This is because the national economy gains the best traction when the people are healthier and better educated.
It is possible that President Buhari signed on to the outlandish renovation sum because of the loyalty of the current National Assembly leadership to him and his policy direction. In that case, if this is the price to be paid by the nation for that loyalty, then it is an absurd price for Nigerians to pay. It is such misplacement of priorities that continue to shackle the national economy and society.