Calabar-Lagos rail line: We won't revisit project – Senate tells Buhari as FG defends Amaechi

By The Citizen

In what appears to be a rebuttal to the National Assembly's submission, Monday, that the N60 billion Calabar-Lagos railway project was not captured in the 2016 budget, the Federal Government has insisted that the project was duly submitted and accepted by the lawmakers for approval.

This came on a day the Senate said the protest of the executive would not make it revisit the budget passed two weeks ago, asking President Muhammadu Buhari to submit a supplementary budget.

Members of the House of Representatives, however, kept sealed lips on the matter, yesterday, But in a statement by the Media Adviser to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Mr. James Akpandem, yesterday, the federal government insisted that the relevant committees of the parliament received the document.

The statement read in full:  'In view of the recent controversies surrounding the 2016 budget, it has become necessary to state the following 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, 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 to guide the President and enable him sign the Appropriation Bill into law.

'That process is still on-going 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 emphasized that the two rail projects are part of those for which the President is currently negotiating funding with the Chinese government.

'The N60bn 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 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.'

No going back — Senate
Meanwhile, the Senate,yesterday,said  that in spite of protest by the executive over alleged non-inclusion of the N60 billion Lagos-Calabar coastal rail project in the 2016 budget, it would not revisit the budget.

Instead, the Red Chamber asked President Muhammadu Buhari to prepare a detailed supplementary budget capturing the project and submit before it for consideration.

The Senate, which took the decision during its closed-door session, shortly after resumption of plenary, insisted that the President must sign the budget as passed, thus giving indication that the legislature might override the President if he vetoed the bill as passed by NASS.

The closed-door session where the resolution was taken, was clouded in heated arguments as some senators of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, insisted on capturing the Lagos-Calabar rail project in the budget, while those from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stood firm that the President must assent the budget and later submit the project in a supplementary budget.

Vanguard gathered that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who presided over the one-hour long session, upheld the latter due to overwhelming support for it.

Addressing newsmen later, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdullahi Sabi, said senators during the closed session resolved that the President should assent to the budget as passed and include things left out in the main budget in a supplementary budget.

He insisted that the project, contrary to the position of the executive that it was captured in the budget, was not included and asked the executive to stop instigating Nigerians against the legislature which, according to him, has done so much in the budget to ensure dividends of democracy were speedily delivered to them.

He said: 'I know very well that the last one week has been full of the language you guys have already crafted 'controversy', even though for us, there is no controversy.

'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 or threaten anybody.

'We are a democratic institution and whatever we do, we remain guided by the grund 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) remained our position. Today, all we did was to confirm what exactly are the true pictures of these situations and in my capacity as 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 tenets of the Nigerian Constitution as we did whatever we were supposed to do.

'Now, one thing that is obvious is that yes, we have passed the budget, Nigerians are asking what 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, for example, that the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not in the budget does not in any way undermine the fact that it is a very, very important project for this nation to embark on.

'So, the National Assembly, the Senate is open if the executive brings a supplementary appropriation with respect to these and any other issue 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.

'I think if we do that, all these raging controversies will be off our back and we can all concentrate and begin the process of implementing the 2016 budget so that those dividends of democracy -  youth unemployment issue, the empowerment of women, the social intervention programme, the infrastructure programmes, the agricultural programmes - are treated.

'The rains are already here and all the other projects that we know will kick-start the Nigerian economy can begin to be implemented.'

He said having passed the budget, 'we are moving into the second phase of our responsibility, which is oversight.

'So we want to appeal to Nigerians that the Senate is committed to doing its work diligently.  It is committed to listening to the yearning of Nigerians and to do what is right.'

However, members of the House of Representatives kept sealed lips on the controversy yesterday. It was expected that the matter would have been discussed at plenary, especially as it concerned the bashing the National Assembly has received since the information of alleged 'removal' of the project was made public, but none of the lawmakers raised the issue.

Even when the chairman of Appropriation Committee, Abdulmunin Jibrin, on two occasions approached the speaker, Yakabu Dogara, on the need for the issue to be raised, nothing was said about it. Vanguard