At least 34 ‘unapproved’ projects, costing N11, 507, 937, 773, has so far been funded by the Ministry of Finance this fiscal year, in breach of a presidential order that they should not be executed, PREMIUM TIMES and UDEME can report today.
The projects, spreading across ministries, are part of appropriated items the presidency requested the National Assembly to remove from the 2017 budget.
Documents reviewed by this newspaper show that the funding of these projects by the finance ministry is a direct flouting of an order by President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
The projects were among those federal lawmakers smuggled into the 2017 budgets, while deleting key infrastructural projects proposed by ministries.
The executive had insisted the projects could not be funded at the expense of key developmental projects and should be removed.
SMUGGLING PROJECTS INTO 2017 BUDGET
Controversy over these projects started after the passage of the 2017 budget when some ministers raised the alarm that lawmakers deleted their key signature projects and then channeled the funds allocated to them to frivolous projects from which they planned to enrich themselves.
Babatunde Fashola, the minister of power, works and housing, said it was unfair to the Executive arm for lawmakers to unilaterally and arbitrarily insert such projects after public hearings and defence sessions on the fiscal estimates had been finalised.
“What I have in my budget now is primary healthcare centres, boreholes,’’ he said at an interactive session with editors in Lagos. “That was the meeting we had with the Acting President (Osinbajo) and that was the reason why the budget was not signed on time.”
The Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, as well as his counterpart in the health ministry, Isaac Adewole, a professor, had similar complaints.
After accusations and counter accusations by the two arms of government, a meeting between the leadership of the National Assembly and the then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, was convened to resolve the issue.
Mr. Buhari was away in London for medical treatment at the time but he was in constant touch with his deputy over the matter, the presidency said at the time.
The meeting between the leadership of the National Assembly and the Executive, led by the then acting president, resolved that Mr. Osinbajo should proceed to sign the budget while also submitting a virement proposal to the National Assembly.
The lawmakers promised to favourably and urgently consider the request.
So, on July 18, 2017, Mr Osinbajo wrote to the National Assembly seeking the removal of projects inserted by lawmakers.
He also demanded that the frivolous projects be replaced with ‘some critical priority items.’
The letter reads, “You will recall that the 2017 appropriation bill was signed into law on 12 June 2017.
“However, prior to the signing, discussions and consultations were held between the executive and the leadership of the National Assembly on some critical priority items for which adequate provisions had not been made in the 2017 appropriation act.
“You would also recall that it was agreed that the executive should submit a virement proposal to the National Assembly for your consideration. The purpose of this letter, therefore, is to forward the virement proposal.”
The then acting president then requested that N136 billion worth of projects be vired from 15 ministries. The projects were majorly those the federal lawmakers unilaterally smuggled into the budget.
He then implored the National Assembly to urgently consider his proposal to support the administration’s efforts towards improving the well-being of citizens.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that after submitting the virement request, Mr. Osinbajo pressured the National Assembly for months. But it should became clear to the Presidency that the lawmakers had made up their minds to renege on the agreement reached.
In frustration, the presidency gave up on the virement request.
FINANCE MINISTRY FLOUTS ORDER, FUNDS PROJECTS
Mr Osinbajo’s letter was delivered to the National Assembly alongside a document tagged Schedule 2, containing mostly self-enriching projects smuggled into the budget of ministries by lawmakers.
Mrs. Adeosun was part of the Executive’s negotiation with the National Assembly on the matter, and was aware of the acting president’s letter to the lawmakers.
But, in what appears a betrayal of the presidency, the finance minister ignored the preference of her bosses and proceeded to collude with federal lawmakers to fund some of the frivolous projects that were the subject of Mr. Osinbajo’s virement request.
A review of documents indicating cash release by the ministry of finance revealed that Mrs Adeosun approved funding for at least 34 of the controversial projects.
The funding, running into N11.51billion cut across five ministries and the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment had 14 projects, at N2.58billion
All the projects were stuffed into the budget of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and cash released for same.
SMEDAN has in recent years provided itself as a fertile land for pushing illegal projects by federal lawmakers.
An examination of the capital allocation for SMEDAN between 2013 and 2017 indicates a geometric rise.
In 2013, SMEDAN had a budget of N960 million but this tripled to N2.7 billion the following year. The budgetary allocation stood at N778 million in 2015 and N1.8 billion in 2016.
Worthy of note is the agency’s budget for 2017. While SMEDAN proposed N2.18 billion for capital projects that year, the lawmakers increased it to N9.52 billion, more than the allocation for the previous six years.
The reasons for this are becoming gradually clear. First, the lawmakers lodged most of their constituency projects in the budget of the agency and secondly, that was made possible due to the nature of SMEDAN’s mandate.
The agency is saddled with the responsibility of promoting and facilitating developmental programmes, and support services to accelerate the development and modernization of MSME operations, especially in rural areas.
With this kind of mandate, the agency carries out projects like trainings, sensitisation, youth and women empowerment, supply of materials, among others. The non-quantitative nature of some of these projects makes them difficult to measure or track, thereby creating a colossus corruption ground for lawmakers.
For instance, one of the 14 projects — conditional grant scheme for micro-finance enterprises in six states of the federation — (with unique number SAMED21028088) was funded at N2 billion. Experts say such projects are difficult to track.
All other 13 projects concern training of women, youth or both.
Next is the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing. Despite the loud complaints by Mr Fashola, the finance ministry still proceeded to fund frivolous projects introduced into the budget of the ministry. Thirteen projects — at N2, 195, 693, 773 — was funded in the three-arm super ministry.
Eleven of them were for the construction of solar/motorised boreholes or rural electrification projects across constituencies. The remaining two projects were for drainage construction in Jigawa and Dawaki in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
At the Ministry of Communication, four projects were funded at N684 million. Three of the projects were to be executed in Oyo State for N664 million, while the remaining N20 million was earmarked for the construction of a community hall in Kebbi State.
Other agencies with at least one unapproved project funded are Ministry Science and Technology (N50 million), Ministry of Agriculture (N1billion) and the SGF (N5million).
Attempts by PREMIUM TIMES to get reactions from the Ministry of Finance during the course of this report were not successful. On Wednesday, Oluyinka Akintunde, an aide to Minister Adeosun, told this reporter that enquiries about the spending would be directed to the minister who he said was travelling abroad. But as at 4:30 PM on Friday, Mr Oluyinka was yet to revert.
The House of Representatives spokesperson, Abdulrasak Namdas, did not reply calls and text messages on Thursday after agreeing to have a meeting with this reporter the previous day. He was not in his office two times this reporter visited.
Similarly, Senate Spokesperson, Sabi Abdullahi, did not answer calls and text messages sent to him.
Laolu Akande, the spokesperson to Vice President Osinbajo, said the presidency was unaware that the finance ministry was funding projects opposed by his boss and President Buhari.
“This is news to us,” he said. “We will need further details to enable us to comment appropriately.”
PREMIUM TIMES had on April 25 reported how Mrs. Adeosun approved N120billion for the funding of self-enriching projects smuggled into the 2017 budgets by federal lawmakers.
Ten billion of the amount was specifically given to the lawmakers to purportedly offset some liabilities. The lawmakers then proceeded to spend a huge chunk of the largesse on exotic cars.
Contracts were also awarded to some unregistered companies from which some lawmakers were said to have received kickbacks.