The sharp drop in Federal Government’s revenue from crude oil sales has heightened fears among member of the House of Representatives over likely cuts in the N115bn budget of the National Assembly for this year.
Findings showed that the capital projects of the House for 2016, including a proposal to buy luxury cars worth over N3.6bn had become threatened.
The N6.06tn budget for this year came under serious funding challenges lately as attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta escalated.
From the budgetary 2.2 million barrels of crude per day, vandalism and attacks on oil pipelines by the Niger Delta Avengers have forced production output to dip to about 1.4mbpd.
Investigations by The PUNCH showed that the looming budget cuts, which could also affect the estimated N27.9m quarterly allowances of the 360 members, topped discussions at a closed-door meeting hurriedly convened by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, on Wednesday.
At the session, angry lawmakers reportedly expressed unhappiness over the poor releases of funds to Ministries, Departments and Agencies for second quarter projects, a development said to have been tied to dwindling oil revenue.
Findings also indicated that the “displeasing manner” the Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, and his Senate Counterpart, Senator Danjuma Goje, handled the 2016 budget, came up at the meeting.
“Members are not happy and the fact is not lost that they are no longer comfortable with Jibrin continuing as the chairman.
“The zonal intervention projects of members were distorted by the committee.
“There were cuts from their funds that could not be explained. The pressure remains on the Speaker that he should be relinquished of the position,” a senior legislative official said Investigations revealed that the meeting, which lasted over one and a half hours, also devoted time to the plan to procure 360 luxury cars for members.
The leadership of the House had initially resolved that Peugeot Automobile Nigeria Limited should supply 360 units of Peugeot 508 Salon series to members.
It was gathered that the unit price agreed on was N10m, bringing the total cost to N3.6bn.
However, while the House was facing fears that there might be no money to fund the N3.6bn, findings indicated that some members bluntly told Dogara at the session that they would not accept to ride in Peugeot 508. The members were said to have felt insulted that the leadership thought Toyota Land Cruiser Prado or other higher brands could not be bought for them because of the paucity of funds.
One source explained further, “There was disagreement at the meeting over the choice of cars to buy.
“Some members even pointed to the fact that senators had already bought Prado jeeps, why not the House?
“They also argued that ministers have up to three, four Prado jeeps in their convoys and could not understand why one jeep to a member was considered not affordable.”
But, Dogara was said to have laboured at the session, explaining that the real problem was lack of money to buy the cars that suited the preferences of members.
“He simply told them that there is no money. No money to buy anything outside Peugeot 508 cars,” the senior official added.
When contacted for comments, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, confirmed that the Speaker indeed met with members at an executive session on Wednesday. But, he declined to speak on the details of the deliberations on the grounds that issues discussed behind closed doors were for the ears of those at the closed doors only.
“That is why it is called executive session. Anything discussed there remains closed until we tell the public,” he added.
But, a separate source said the House would stick to the original plan to buy Peugeot 508 cars. It was gathered that Peugeot Automobile was expected to start delivering the cars from June 1. However, till date, no unit has been delivered, apparently due to the budget challenges.
On his part, the Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Leo Ogor, informed us that the meeting reviewed the threats posed to the economic survival of Nigeria by the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers.
He added, “We are looking at the overall impact on the national budget, it is not just about the National Assembly.
“We face a looming danger of all the states in the Federation not being able to pay salaries.
“So, the way to go about it is not to be confrontational. We are urging the militants to embrace dialogue. Every part of the economy is being affected; it is a serious matter.
“That was why we even moved a motion after the executive session, calling on the federal government to increase funding of the Presidential Amnesty Programme.”