EXCLUSIVE: How Saraki, Ekweremadu, other lawmakers smuggled 391 projects into budget of two agencies

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At least 391 projects were smuggled by Nigerian federal lawmakers into the 2018 budget of two federal government agencies, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report.

The agencies are the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA) and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN).

Mostly constituency projects, the 391 were part of the projects President Muhammadu Buhari accused the lawmakers of inserting into the 2018 budget.

The lawmakers, while perusing the document submitted by Mr Buhari in November 2017, increased the total budget from N8.6 trillion to N9.1 trillion.

The alteration didn’t stop at that, the National Assembly increased its budget by N14.5 billion, from N125 billion to N139.5 billion.

The lawmakers, still exercising their power over the budget document, inserted over 6,000 projects into the budgets of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

At least 391 of those projects were found in the budget of SMEDAN and BCDA.

Buhari, Lawmakers Trade Tackles

While signing the budget on June 20, President Buhari raised the alarm that Nigerian lawmakers had tampered with the document sent to them.

Mr Buhari accused them of cutting essential projects and inserting non-essential ones.

“As I mentioned during the presentation of the 2018 Appropriation Bill, we intend to use the 2018 Budget to consolidate the achievements of previous budgets and deliver on Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020.

“It is in this regard that I am concerned about some of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the budget proposals that I presented. The logic behind the Constitutional direction that budgets should be proposed by the Executive is that, it is the Executive that knows and defines its policies and projects.

“Unfortunately, that has not been given much regard in what has been sent to me. The National Assembly made cuts amounting to 347 billion Naira in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to 578 billion Naira.

“Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation. Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualized, designed and costed and will therefore be difficult to execute.

“Furthermore, many of these new projects introduced by the National Assembly have been added to the budgets of most MDAs with no consideration for institutional capacity to execute them or the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required,” a dissatisfied Mr Buhari said.

Mr Buhari said he signed the budget despite the irregularities so as not to further slow down the pace of the nation’s economic recovery which had already suffered from the delay in the budget passage by the lawmakers.

Swiftly, both houses responded to the allegations.

Aliyu Abdullahi, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, and Abdulrazak Namdas, his House of Representatives counterpart, addressing a joint press briefing on June 22, justified the inclusions.

“You may recall that when the National Assembly passed the 2018 budget, it gave reasons why the budget was increased and why certain projects and programmes had to be provisioned for. However, due to recent developments, it is once again necessary to let Nigerians know …the justification for our actions on the 2018 budget, which were based on our Constitutional responsibilities.

“Adjustments and reductions in the locations, costs and number of projects approved were made in order to address geo-political imbalances that came with the Executive proposal. The introduction of new projects was done to ensure the promotion of the principles of Federal …Character as contained in Section 14, subsection (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended which states that “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in …such manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria…” The number of projects had to be increased in order to give a sense of belonging to every geo-political zone of the country to ensure socio-economic justice, equity, fairness, and to command National loyalty,” they posited in a joint statement.

The two image makers said the national assembly’s move is in tandem with a recent court judgement which affirmed that the budget process is a ‘joint effort’ that must reflect the input of both the executive and the legislature — the latter being the closest representatives of the people.

While this argument continues, more details of the insertions have emerged.

BCDA’s 200 Projects

Documents currently under review by PREMIUM TIMES shows that at least 200 projects were inserted into the budget of BCDA as part of what Mr Buhari passed into law.

The projects were shared among senators and members of the House of Representatives with the principal officers having the lion share.

Senate President Bukola Saraki nominated 12 projects at N1.68 billion, most of which are to be executed in his Kwara Central constituency.

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