Once upon a time, the people of Nigeria, especially those of the Southern extraction rallied round the government of the dispensation for the construction of a working Lagos-Calabar railway line for very obvious reasons; but largely, for profitable commercial purposes. However, a succeeding government forgot to include the project in its 2016 budget. Thus, when President Muhammadu Buhari presented the estimates before the joint sitting of the National Assembly last year, there was no provision for a Lagos-Calabar rail line.
Enter Nigeria’s version of the proverbial tortoise whose name and antics must be mentioned in every mischievous plot in a country side story. The minister of transport and aviation and former governor of Rivers state, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi allegedly smuggled the project into the budget long after its constitutional presentation to the National Assembly kicking off the round of controversy that had pervaded the land until a few hours ago.
In the beginning
Last Monday, the Senate called on the Presidency to tell Nigerians the true state of the 2016 budget. In a statement signed by Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Sen. Aliyu Abdullahi, the Upper legislative House recounted efforts it made to get the budget passed wondering why mischief makers would suddenly to work to undermine their patriotic zeal. It therefore called for apology from the minister or he should resign for the deliberate lie he sold to Nigerians on the Lagos-Calabar rail project.
Hear him: “the National Assembly had bent backwards to produce a coherent document out of the excessively flawed and chaotic versions of the budget proposal submitted to it.
“While executive is mandated to prepare and lay before the National Assembly a proposed budget detailing projects to be executed, it should be made clear that the responsibility and power of appropriation lies with National Assembly.
“If the presidency expects us to return the budget proposal to them without any adjustments, then some people must be living in a different era and probably have not come to terms with democracy.
“We make bold to say, however, that the said Lagos-Calabar rail project was not included in the budget proposal presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“And, we challenge anyone who has any evidence to the contrary to present such to Nigerians.
“We have endured this with equanimity (calmness) in the overall interest of Nigerians even when the original submission was surreptitiously swapped.
“We ended up having two versions of the budget which was almost incomprehensible and heavily padded in a manner that betrays lack of coordination and gross incompetence.
“We refused to play to the gallery and instead helped the Executive to manage the hugely embarrassing situation it has brought upon itself, but enough is enough.
“This latest antic of this particular Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, is reckless, uncalled for and dangerously divisive.
“Apart from setting the people of the southern part of the country against their northern compatriots, it potentially sets the people against their lawmakers from the concerned constituencies and sets the lawmakers against themselves, this manner of reprehensible mischief has no place in a democracy.
“We hereby demand from Mr Amaechi a publicly tendered apology if he is not able to show evidence that the Lagos-Calabar road project was included in the budget. Otherwise, he should resign forthwith.”
But members of the House of Representatives were blunter in their allegations against Amaechi. The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdaz who specifically singled out the Lagos- Calabar rail project which he said Buhari never included in the budget.
He said: “the media is awash with story that the National Assembly has removed the Calabar- Lagos railway project from the budget. I want to make it very clear that we don’t have that in the presentation made by the president to the National Assembly so we couldn’t have removed what was not even inserted in the first place.
“It was the Minister of Transport that brought the Calabar- Lagos railway to be included in the budget, we want to state clearly that the budget is something that is proposed by the President, we do not receive budget from ministers.
“So, for somebody to say we actually removed the Calabar- Lagos railway project from the budget, I think someone is trying to spoil our good image.
” We want to state again that all that was sent to the National Assembly from the supplementary budget and others had a smooth sail, and it is on record that some people lost their job because of this budget, the executive has agreed that some people tempered with the budget.
“In the interest of this country, if the President discovered some things that he wants to be included he should send the budget back and we will take a look at it. But right now, there is no official notice to the National Assembly that the president will not sign the budget.”
As far as I am concerned, Amaechi remains one factor in the Buhari administration that has become the yardstick with which the public measure the seriousness and otherwise of the government. Unfortunately, he remains very unrepentant and unremorseful of his actions and inactions, deliberate or ignorant that has attracted the administration to the catalogue of bad names it currently attracts. For instance, when the Rivers governorship election was throwing up a lot of bad blood all over; when the state’s local government election was dogged by violence to the extent President Buhari was to so declare and when federal lawmakers allege harassment over the Lagos-Calabar rail project, with all pointing at only one man, a cabinet member and supposed leader of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC, the name Amaechi became a recurring decimal.
There is nothing wrong with the latter though if it was in commendable terms. Applying mischief to underscore one’s point or plot at every twist and turn stalls national development.
On the Lagos-Calabar rail, I consider it of crucial importance to the people of the Southern part of Nigeria. It’s economic and socio- political impact is invaluable. The people desire it just like the Kano – Lagos rail is desired by others. These two projects should be subjects of appropriation in 2016. That is a practical way out of this quagmire allegedly induced by Amaechi. It goes beyond whether or not the Minister of Transportation included it in the original version of the Budget. The people want a rail; they also desire better and completed International Airport in Omagwa, near Port Harcourt in Rivers State and not blame. It is time to face governance in the South and not trivialities. That’s the way progressive minds roll. We must move forward. This is the truth.
Little wonder the position of the Senate when it reconvened yesterday stands out as patriotic as ever.
Rising from its closed-door meeting, the lawmakers expressed their willingness to honour any amendment to the 2016 Budget presented via Supplementary Bill and not the weird attempt by the minister to include the Lagos-Calabar rail project into the already scrutinized Budget. Hear the Senate spokesman: “We know it is an important project and we are ready to honour it. “The way forward is that we have passed budget, and we are saying bring a supplementary appropriation bill.” That is in tandem with the spirit and letter of our national Constitution.
And since by virtue of Section 81 (4) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, the President is allowed to sign the budget and begin implementation of the other areas that constitute over 90 percent of the budget,’’ he must let real governance and development begin now while he considers the transmission of a Supplementary Budget that must contain provision for the Lagos-Calabar rail line to the National Assembly.