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By NBF News
Listen to article President of the Senate, David Mark, 'coolly' marked a caveat, when he sparred with his predecessor, Anyim Pius Anyim, on the role the National Assembly would play in the centenary celebration that comes up next year January. UCHENNA AWOM writes that the caveat signals unending questions that could mar a smooth preparation and funding for the project.

Could it be that the Presidency and the Senate are trading the war path over the uncertain role the National Assembly could play in the centenary celebration early next year? Is a discord brewing between these two arms of government? Well, at the last count, it looks tepid to make an outright conjecture that there is a major disagreement.

But the body movement of the National Assembly leadership as espoused by its chairman and President of the Senate, David Mark, suggested that all may not be well going into the preparations for the centenary celebration. Perhaps, that is where that inklings end for now, but what is obvious, is that the Federal Government may not have exhibited clear finesse before coming to brief the Senators on the activities lined up for the celebration, hence the open altercation that somehow pitched Mark against the federal government team led by one of his predecessors in office, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, who is now the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

The disagreement stemmed from the disclosure by Anyim, that the celebration project and other associated events would be solely funded by the private sector.

He had led other members of the 17-man centenary committee to brief the senate as requested by President Goodluck Jonathan.

In his presentation, he said; 'there would be no government funding for the celebration at every level and stage of the celebration. The entire funding would be private-sector driven'.

He however noted that the only contributions by government would be land and possibly the rent for the venues and fuelling of vehicles and that proceeds from the lottery programme could be channelled into the project.

However, Mark who led other senators to the briefing could not wait to respond in the negative, apparently sensing the seeming slight by the government. He thundered that since the process is private sector driven there was no need for the briefing as the Senate has no role in the project.

He further expressed concern that they should be dragged into a commitment on the impression that private sector would fund the process only to discover that public funds were used in the project also.

'If this whole project is private sector driven and government has no commitment at all except for land or land swap arrangement as you say, truly then we have no reason for this briefing. Where do we participate or come in. It is a private sector affair. If the idea is to keep us abreast then there is no need for briefing.

'My worry however, is that let it not appear that we have been committed and financial spending from government now gets involved. You said that youths will be coming from different states to Abuja, who will pay them and house them?, he asked.

'If it is truly private sector driven then we should conclude as quickly as possible. If there are suggestions we can make suggestions.' Mark said. The President of the senate was quite effusive, and of course, his position was apt given the creeping distrust between both arms of government, which was occasioned by the seeming secrecy with which the executive handles state finances. The 'official' treachery of the executive at all level in Nigeria is not lost on Mark and his colleagues. He must be aware that the federal government must have been on a wide chase for public opinion. Perhaps because they want to ride on the crest of the people's support to railroad the project irrespective of the cost, but use the talk of a private-sector driven thing as a cover.

The lawmakers, may be, have also decided not to buy into the finery of such 'gift', knowing that the federal government has overtime, shielded the real financial status of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other agencies of its ilk.  What is obvious, going by Mark's speech was that the lawmakers were uncomfortable with the zero budgets meaning zero cost, even of its cost estimate for the celebration.

Could it not have been morally imperative for the Federal Government to announce the cost and then explain the source of funding?  If they had announced that the 100years celebration would cost, may be about N50billion going by the programmes and projects lined up to commemorate the event, it would have helped to douse the doubt. Though they will still have received flacks as they do now, but that could have been mitigated with the announcement that the cost would completely be picked by the private sector.

May be the fear of public outcry over the cost, goaded the Federal government to concoct the idea of flying the private sector kite. It sounds cherubic that Nigeria's federal government will embark on such unprecedented cost-intensive project without appropriation. It was indeed a rebound official deceit too hard to stomach by the federal lawmakers and Mark made it very, very clear.

Nonetheless, Anyim mounted a ferocious defence of the Federal Government and reiterated that the project would be private sector driven adding that, 'at no time would government money come into it'. He however, noted that funds generated from the lottery programme could be used to fund some parts of the project. Maybe, somebody should remind Anyim to shed light on the status of lottery funds. Nigerians will be better off knowing that lottery fund does not belong to the federation account and therefore not subject to appropriation law.

If the federal government is looking the way of lottery funds as fall back fund for the project, then; what is the talk about the project being funded 'solely by the private sector? Who organises the lottery, federal government or private sector? If it is the federal government that will organise the lottery, it therefore means that the proceeds will first head to the federation account before any decision on it could be made. Unless, if Anyim is saying that they (FG) have given themselves blank cheque, to spend freely without the approval of the National Assembly on the fund that belongs to the federation. The position of the constitution as at today is that the federal government cannot spend out of the federation account without appropriation by the National Assembly. Nigeria is a federation and not a unitary state. Perhaps that informed the outburst of Mark and his objection to the briefing.

However, the SGF underscored the importance of the briefing, saying it was very critical as the centenary celebration entails a huge landmark for the country. He said, 'the briefing is critical and it is not just about money. Unless you want us to only come here when we have to discuss issues that have to do with money.'

Historical Dimension of Celebration
The second argument that cropped up during the briefing, was which location best suits the historical dimension of the celebrations?

Senators Smart Adeyemi and Atai Aidoko, both from Kogi state, questioned why Lokoja, which is regarded as the capital of the country at the time of the amalgamation, was not given much prominence in the programme. Senator Adeyemi further suggested that a national conference centre be built in Lokoja.  A peep into the centenary project concept document shows that practically, Lokoja was left with no prominent role to play. The city was lumped alongside others spread in all the six-geopolitical zones of the country as beneficiaries of the projects to be constructed in commemoration of the ceremony.

Anyim tactically evaded the argument and instead, went ahead to paint a flowery picture of the project and its significance in Nigeria's evolutionary history. He said the celebration was significant because, 'if we cannot underscore the essence and advantages of our unity, it means we plan to promote disintegration.'

'We must use the occasion of the centenary to affirm to ourselves that Nigeria is not an accident. Indeed, in the words of Lord Luggard on the occasion of the amalgamation, 'Nigeria is the product of a long and matured consideration''.

He rolled out some of the major events to mark the centenary to include; a new Abuja city gate; Abuja Centenary City; Unity Squares in every state capital; medical diagnostic centers, one in each geo-political zone; ICT centers in all universities that are yet to have one in each geo political zone; science laboratories in six universities, one in each geo-political zone.

Others include, police crime laboratories, one in each geo-political zone; building/renovation of sports facilities, one in each of the federal universities in the country, renovating and naming/renaming of colonial sites in the country, renovation and upgrade of the National War Museum in Umuahia, Museum of colonial history in Lokoja and Aba, and the national Museum inside old residency in Calabar, and dialysis centers, one in each geo-political zone.

Good as it seems, but yet the beat goes on.