Senators from the south-south region of Nigeria have expressed dissatisfaction over the obnoxious exclusion of the Calabar-Lagos rail project from the 2016 budget, and have, hence asked President Muhammadu Buhari to hold his assent on the budget until the Appropriation Committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives includes it in the overall budget
This is coming amid reports that the presidency had returned the document to the National Assembly asking the federal parliament to include the project in the 2016 budget already passed.
On the contrary, the legislators are insisting on having the President sign the budget, while he should communicate his desire in a supplementary appropriation to be made available to them.
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 people, the viable project.
While the South South-South East senators met at undisclosed locations outside the National Assembly complex, the South West senators met at the residence of Senator Gbenga Ashafa.
Senators who attended the caucus meetings had disclosed that the call for the 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 in Abuja yesterday, one of those in attendance said the APC caucus in the south west are solidly behind the position of the Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, Gbenga Ashafa, over the issue.
He said the signing of the budget now 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 Transport should be moved completely to the Ministry of Works for the construction of roads which belongs to state governments without engineering design.
“We are seeking the reversion of this decision because the Calabar–Lagos rail project is very viable and it cut across states in the South -South and South West and it would galvanize 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 to go and 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 had no engineering design and does not even belong to the federal government?
“A senator from the South-South geo – political zone, who craved anonymity, said the Calabar – Lagos rail project was as important to the southerners just as the Kano rail project is as 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 interest, so nobody can remove it.