……Talks of rift untrue-Spokesman
A showdown is dangling over the House of Representatives following alleged allotment of constituency projects to principal officers in the 2020 budget besides their share of votes allocated for projects in the Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP).
A member of the House, who declined to be named told Daily Sun that aside projects due to principal officers from ZIP, “they already have a number of projects included for them in the budget” before President Muhammadu Buhari presented estimates to a joint session of the National Assembly on October 8.
The development has not gone down well with members, especially ranking lawmakers, as they claimed it would further widen the gap between the projects allocated to principal officers and other members of the House.
There are 10 principal officers in the 360-man House, consisting of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, his deputy, Idris Wase; House Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; Chief Whip, Tahir Monguno; Deputy House Leader, Peter Akpatason and Deputy Chief Nkeiruka Onyejeocha. Others include Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu; Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu, Minority Whip, Gideon Gwani and his deputy, Segun Adekoya.
A total of N100 billion was budgeted for constituency projects of the 469 members of the two chambers of the National Assembly, with the House getting N60 billion.
Members are expected to nominate projects to be cited in their respective constituencies to the tune of the sum alloted to them, with the principal officers getting more.
These projects are expected to be included in the Appropriation Bill by the National Assembly before the bill is passed and sent to the president for his assent.
However, Daily Sun gathered that on the average, lawmakers from states with nine federal constituencies will get N110 million each for their constituency projects, while those from states with less constituencies are expected to get more.
Some of the projects allegedly allotted to principal officers in the 2020 budget include the construction of N150 million solar mini grid project to be cited in Gbajabiamila’s home state, Lagos. The project is domiciled in the National Rural Electrification Agency. There is equally a N100 million solar powered street lights projects, domiciled in the Ministry of Science and Technology, to be cited in Wase Federal Constituency of Plateau State, where the deputy speaker represents and 19 other locations in the state as well as a N300 million project for the electrification of selected locations in Plateau State.
In Monguno/Marte/Nganzai federal constituency of Borno State, where the Chief Whip represents, there is a N450 million project for the provision of solar powered street light domiciled in the Ministry of Science and Technology.
In Akpatason’s Akoko Edo federal constituency in Edo State, there is a N200 million project domiciled in the Ministry of Agriculture for developing and evidence-based contextual value chain for cassava with skill development. There is also another N200 million project domiciled in the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology for the supply of vehicles, tricycles, motorcycles in Akoko Edo among others.
In Isuikwuato/Umunneochi federal constituency of Abia State, where Onyejeocha represents, there is a N100 million project for the construction of Ogwueme Isuochi rural road.
A member of the House Committee on Appropriations told Daily Sun that he was not aware projects were allotted to principal officers in the budget, before it was laid before the parliament.
He noted that it was after the Appropriations Committee concluded collation of the budget defence reports from the various standing committees that it would be clear who got what project.
Regardless, the lawmaker, who confirmed that members have been “restive” over sundry issues, noted that it would be disappointing if it turned out to be true that principal officers already have projects included for them in the budget before it was presented to the National Assembly.
“These are the things that cause problem in the House; when members begin to see that they are being shortchanged,” he stated.
But Chairman of the Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, denied knowledge of projects for principal officers.
“I am hearing this for the first time,” he said in a WhatsApp message.
The lawmaker, who said he was out of the country, promised to evaluate events in the House and get back to Daily Sun, when he returned from his trip. But after a few hours, Kalu, in another WhatsApp message, insisted that the alleged allocation to principal officers was fake news.
“My investigation, after your inquiry, revealed the issue as alleged was untraceable to any act of of the leadership of the House as none of the principal officers, both in majority and minority, was able to confirm this.”
However, Daily Sun gathered that to placate aggrieved members, the House leadership may have decided to give up whatever is due to them in ZIP so that it could be shared among members, to increase their own share of constituency projects.
Meanwhile, Kalu has maintained that there was no crack among principal officers or members of the House.
Kalu, in a statement, yesterday, stated that recent media reports about existence of division in the Green Chamber were unfounded.
He said the reports, which were based on screen shot of an argument between members of the House on a WhatsApp platform administered by an aide in the office of the Speaker, does portray the situation of things in the House.
The House spokesman noted that the ninth House remains the most united in the history of the Green chamber in recent times.
Kalu said though there were bound to be one or two dissenting voices, that that did not translate to division in the lower chamber of the National Assembly.