Budget Splits Senate As Southern Senators Ask Buhari Not Sign Without Lagos-Calabar Rail Project
Senators from the southern part of Nigeria have asked President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold his assent to the 2016 budget if the Appropriation Committees of both chambers of the National Assembly refuse to include the Calabar-Lagos rail project in the 2016 appropriation bill.
The Senators had, on Tuesday, vowed not to revisit the budget or include the Lagos-Calabar rail project, threatening to take “necessary action” should Buhari refuse to sign the budget at passed.
But federal parliamentarians from the South-West and South-South geopolitical zones met at their caucus levels on Tuesday night and resolved to resist any attempt to deny their zones the important while the South-South senators met at an undisclosed location outside the National Assembly complex, the South-West senators met at the residence of Senator Gbenga Ashafa.
Senators, who attended the caucus meetings, confided in one of our correspondents that the call for a supplementary budget was an attempt to deny the south an opportunity to enjoy a viable rail project.
Confirming the position of the southern senators in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Wednesday, Senator Adesoji Akanbi said the All Progressives Congress caucus in the South-West was solidly behind the position of Ashafa, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, on the issue.
Akanbi added that the signing of the budget without the inclusion of the N60bn Calabar-Lagos rail project would not be in the interest of the people of the South-West.
He said, “Personally, I see no reason why the funds in the Ministry of Transportation should be moved completely to the Ministry of Works for the construction of roads which belong to state governments without engineering design.
“We are seeking the reversal of this decision because the Calabar-Lagos rail project is very viable and it cuts across states in the South-South and South-West and it would galvanise the social and economic activities of the affected regions.
“Apart from this, the project is a joint venture between Nigeria and Japan and it is time-bound. Any attempt to leave it out of the budget this year will affect the execution of the project.”
Akanbi noted that the argument of the appropriation committees that they could not accommodate the Calabar-Lagos rail project because it was not included in the budget presented by Buhari was not tenable because a supplementary provision was supplied.
The Oyo South senator explained that similar situation happened in the committee of solid minerals when the rents on some of the ministry’s properties were omitted in the budget presented.
He said the officials of the ministry were asked re-present a supplementary budget of N5m, which was instantly included by the committee and presented to the appropriation committee and consequently accommodated.
Akanbi said, “The situation is similar to what happened in the committee on Land Transport because the supplementary budget presented by the Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, is allowed in the parliamentary process.
“Why should the money in the transportation ministry be moved to the ministry of works and voted for the construction of roads that have no engineering design and does not even belong to the Federal Government?”
A Senator from the South-South, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Calabar-Lagos rail project was as important to the southerners just as the Kano rail project was important to the northerners.
He said, “The Federal Government deliberately wanted the Calabar-Lagos rail project in the budget to balance the northern and southern interests; so, nobody can remove it.”
A senator from the South-South geo-political zone, who did not want to be named because of his position in the upper chamber, also confirmed his caucus meeting on Tuesday evening.
He expressed surprise that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was not in the budget details sent to the executive.
He said, “Being a member of the appropriation committee, I can confirm that the project was in the budget submitted by the committee on land transport for inclusion into the main budget.”.