The four top leaders of the National Assembly have snubbed a set of government-provided homes that have already gulped more than a billion naira in construction, asking instead for new houses at a more secure location.
The Federal Capital Territory Administration said weekend that the construction of four posh homes for Senate president, David Mark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, and their deputies, Ike Ekweremadu and Emeka Ihedioha respectively, has been suspended after they rejected the location of the buildings, citing insecurity.
Authorities will now convert the structures to guest houses for the four lawmakers, the FCDA said.
Speaking weekend, FCT minister, Bala Mohammed, who was represented by the FCDA Director of Public Building, Bernard Lot, said work was ongoing at the project before the lawmakers made it clear they will not accept the houses.
“You will recall that we had started that project, and there is a contractor carrying out the road work. You can actually access the place because the contractor has actually commenced work and has also done reasonably well on that,” Mr. Lot told journalists.
“But that too was affected by budgetary provisions. You know government has dwindling resources, but there is an issue there because development is not taking place fast in that area. And so the principal officers of the National Assembly have said that they don’t want that place because of the current security situation in the country.”
An ambitious plan by the FCTA to complete the lavish homes for the principal officers of the National Assembly, was already controversial, as the four lawmakers currently reside in houses constructed by the government, which they later bought for themselves under a contentious monetization policy.
Since the inception of the project in 2010, a minimum of N1.5 billion in appropriation have been made annually for the work. But the FCT minister said only a fraction of the amount was released to complete the project located at a new extension of Maitama district, called Goodluck Jonathan district.
The district is right behind the Lungi barracks in Abuja.
But despite the security, the lawmakers said they needed a safer location with the current situation in the country, and already one has been selected for them in the Three Arms Zone in the city centre.
The FCTA said the request has been granted with the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan, for the project to be started anew, this time within the Three Arms Zone, supposedly Nigeria’s most secure area, where the president himself lives.
“Though it is behind the army barracks, we cannot isolate them there, and government in its own wisdom has said that since they don’t want it, the authorities have decided to convert the buildings to guest houses and scale down the initial cost of the project. That is what we are doing now. We are scaling down the cost of the project to serve as guest houses to the principal officers of the National Assembly,” Mr. Lot said.
“As for their new residences, you are all aware that we have already cleared a new site located in the Three Arms Zone in the Central Area. The President has already given his anticipatory approval and the contractor has been asked to commence work on the project.”
The initial project involved opening up the previously fallow area, building new roads and facilities, and constructing four choice homes for the lawmakers.
The area was to also be made available for all classes of Nigerians, and the contract for the entire new district was N44 billion, Mr. Bala had said last November.
But PREMIUM TIMES has long confirmed in a previous investigation that the exclusive area is far out of the reach of ordinary Nigerians, with plots going for between N250 million and N400 million.
As of July 2013 when PREMIUM TIMES reporters visited the district, the area was under tight security and construction works were still ongoing.
The legislators currently live alongside other senators and members of the House of Representatives at the Apo Legislative quarters in Abuja.
In 2011, the FCT minister, Mr. Mohammed, himself a former senator, told the National Assembly the Apo area was insecure for the top lawmakers and said the government could not guarantee the safety of the four officers, hence the need for new houses.
“The National Assembly is the highest democratic body we have apart from the presidency. And the National Assembly complex at Apo has been sold out to the public. The place is being inhabited by all sorts of people. Leaving them there will expose them to the vagaries of the society. And anybody can be a principal officer; so whoever is there and you leave him there, you are not being fair to him,” Mr Mohammed had said.
“Our decision is taken out of a sheer sense of responsibility. But with responsibility comes the issue of security, the issue of the latitude and leverage which officers holding certain offices must have.”
The chosen new location was the Maitama extension.
Mr. Lot said weekend the lawmakers’ homes, costing N3 billion, and handled by Julius Berger, had been discontinued.
The FCT authorities said the project was delayed due to shortage of funds.
In 2011, Mr. Bala said while N324 million was appropriated, only N146 million had been expended, leaving a balance of N178 million.
The FCT is also constructing a multibillion naira new home for Vice President Namadi Sambo. The initial cost for the project was N9 billion, but was raised to N16 billion by the FCDA, a move that was blocked by the National Assembly.
Mr. Bala said the project was also affected by shortage of funds.
“For a whole year (2012), there was no budget for that project but under 2013, we had an appropriation and the contractor is working. We had a cause to seek a variation on the contract to implement the second phase of the project. But it was stood down on the grounds that no project will have a variation above 15 per cent,” he said.
“So, we are having an implementation strategy to ensure that we complete that project on time, including the very essential aspects of the work, including the holding, gatehouse, bedroom, storage, among others.”
He said work was however ongoing.
Nigeria is constructing these new multi-billion naira posh homes for its five officials, who are already accommodated in comfortable government buildings, at a time that poverty appears to be growing in the country, with majority of its people living on less than a dollar a day.