Many Nigerians who partook in a PREMIUM TIMES opinion poll have asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to release N37 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex.
This comes week after the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, announced that Mr Buhari has approved the sum to upgrade and rehabilitate some parts of the legislative complex.
While many who participated in the poll said the president should not release the sum, others said he should cut down the amount significantly before releasing it.
Already the said amount has triggered outrage amount individuals and civic groups across the country who either the believe the complex does not require renovation or the money budgeted is too much.
A total of 2,216 participants took part in the online poll which lasted for seven days.
The participants were asked a single question: ”Should President Buhari release N37 billion for renovation of the National Assembly?”
While 62.3 per cent of the respondents (1,380) said Mr. Buhari should not release the money, 5.6 per cent (124 respondents), said he should, since he already approved it.
Meanwhile, 32.1 per cent of the participants (712 votes) said he should cut down the amount significantly before releasing it.
At the time Mr Lawan disclosed the approval of N37 billion for renovation of National Assembly, he said the president approved the amount after the leadership of the National Assembly met with him and complained about the state of the legislative complex.
He also said no major renovation had been done on the National Assembly property for 20 years and many parts of the property had become dilapidated.
This announcement has triggered controversy among Nigerians who wonder why the legislative arm will require ₦37 billion for renovation.
Although the amount allocated for the renovation is embedded in the 2020 budget of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), some civic groups and over 500 Nigerians have filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court, Abuja to “restrain and stop President Muhammadu Buhari and Mrs Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning from releasing N37 billion allocated for the renovation of the National Assembly complex to the Federal Capital Development Agency and the National Assembly until an impact assessment of the spending is carried out”.
However, many do not know that ₦40.2 (40,238,899,499) billion was approved for the upgrading and rehabilitation of the complex in 2013 under the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
On December 11, 2013, the Federal Executive Council approved ₦40.2 billion for the upgrading of the National Assembly complex.
It was part of the approved contract for October – November 2013.
The contact titled “Award of Contract for the construction of the Phase III, Part III including the rehabilitation/upgrading of the two chambers of the National Assembly” was awarded to Julius Berger (Nigeria) Plc with the FCTA as its implementing agency.
It was expected to be completed within three years and four months. Had the project been carried out, it would have been completed early 2017 – and perhaps, little or no need for renovation.
It is not yet clear if funds were released for the 2013 approval. A Freedom of Information request sent to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation on the matter is yet to be replied to, same as another sent to the FCT minister.
A spokesperson for Julius Berger, which was to be awarded the contract, Akeem Taofeek, did not respond to calls and text messages placed through to him.
Apart from the 2013 approval, PREMIUM TIMES reported how the eight assembly management “spent” about N578 million on “refurbishing of meeting and committee rooms” notwithstanding the N250million paid to a DCN Nigeria Ltd for “general renovation of main building”.
It also awarded a N100 million contract to a Roadmap Consult & Global Link for “General drainage & sewage works” while N51 million was paid for the supply and installation of venetian window blinds. It was not clear where the blinds were installed.
This paper also found that the National Assembly spent ₦578 million on the refurbishing of meetings and committee rooms. And that ₦454 million was spent on office equipment, among others.
Although lawmakers of the new assembly have complained of wiring issues and malfunctioning of microphones and air conditioners in the chamber, this does not justify the approval of N37 billion for renovation, many believe.
Interestingly, some federal lawmakers have opposed the allocation as well.
First, it was Bamidele Salam (PDP, Osun), a member of the House of Representatives, who said the complex renovation is a misplacement of priority.
Then, Akin Alabi (APC, Oyo), another member of the House of Representatives, shared a similar view on Twitter.
“I see no reason why we should spend N37b renovating the National Assembly. Yes, we need an upgrade on some aspects like the electronic systems (sound system, voting system etc) as they are outdated but N37b? No. Let’s spend that on our schools and hospitals,” he said.
Another lawmaker, Ochilegor Idagbo (Cross River), said the complex needs no renovation that would cost the country N37 billion.
Mr Idagbo also said that such amount should be channelled into upgrading classrooms and hospitals to cater for the Nigerian people.
Armaya’u Abdulkadir (APC, Katsina) has also opposed the planned renovation.
In a statement, he said N37 billion is a huge sum that can transform thousands of lives if channelled into proper use.
He also said the only ‘renovation’ needed urgently at the assembly is an upgrade of its audio recording system.
Many have said the money could build world-class hospitals in some parts of the country, serve as special intervention funds for universities, build many schools, among others.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how such amount of money could construct roads across the country, construct at least two Primary Healthcare Centres in all the 774 local governments in the country and at least five classroom in all the states.
In its defence, the Senate has denied involvement in the proposed amount for renovation.
The Senate Spokesperson, Godiya Akwashiki, had in December 2019, said the National Assembly has nothing to do with the structure as it belongs to the Federal Capital Development Agency – which has knowledge of how much is needed for the renovation.
He said the leadership of the National Assembly had informed the FCDA when it noticed signs of collapse in the complex.
He also asked the civic groups to direct their grievances at the FCDA and not the National Assembly.