The Senate on Friday justified its decision to cut the budget of some major projects of the federal government in the 2017 Appropriation Act.

The senate said projects like the Second Niger Bridge and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway were dropped from the budget because a counterpart funding arrangement for their construction had previously been entered with the private sector.

Besides, Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate spokesperson who signed the statement, said the lawmakers measured the country’s needs against available resources and concluded that it would be more prudent to channel public funds towards smaller projects that were necessary for the citizens but might not be commercially viable.

“What we reduced from Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in the 2017 budget estimates was spread on Oyo-Ogbomoso Road in the South-West, Enugu-Onitsha Road in the South-East, and two other critical roads in the North-East and North-West,” Mr. Abdullahi, an APC member from Niger North district, said.

“This was done to achieve equity,” he added.

The senator tackled the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, who recently said lawmakers trimmed funding for the Second Niger Bridge and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in order to hike their own budget.

The National Assembly’s budget surged by N10 billion to N125 billion in the 2017 budget, which was signed into law earlier this month.

Top administration officials sparred with lawmakers for months as they hashed out a compromise on some major areas of disagreements in the budget line items. The deadlock was believed responsible for the delay in signing the budget, which was jacked up from N7.28 to N7.44 trillion.

Although the deal included a provision that executive may request virements if the need arises, officials still continue to express concerns about the extent of changes introduced into the budget by the legislature.

Last week, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo drew strong criticism from Speaker Yakubu Dogara after he reportedly suggested that the power of the legislature to rework appropriation bills was limited.

The Speaker said the parliament has absolute constitutional powers to make changes to the budget, admonishing the acting president to seek a judicial interpretation if he sees any ambiguities.

“A declaration as to which of the arms has the power and rights, in as much as it is related to the interpretation of the law, is the function of the judiciary and not of the executive,” Mr. Dogara said.

But the administration dug its heels in, with Mr. Fashola reechoing the assertion that the legislature should not be making far-reaching amendments to budgets.

“I am not saying that the legislature cannot contribute to the budget, but I hold the view that it cannot increase the budget because they do not collect the revenue with which to run or implement the budget,” Mr. Fashola said last week.

He lamented that the lawmakers removed some signature infrastructure projects the administration planned to develop or complete before 2019 and replaced them with over 100 roads in rural areas.

“It is unconstitutional for the National Assembly to legislate on state roads,” he said.

Mr. Fashola said the budget for Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was slashed by more than two-thirds from N31 billion to N10 billion, even as contractors have demanded an outstanding payment of N15 billion.

“Also, the budget of the 2nd Niger bridge was reduced from N15bn to N10bn and about N3bn or so was removed from the Okene-Lokoja-Abuja Road budget,” he added. The Second Niger-Bridge

The Second Niger Bridge, which is under construction, was designed as a second bridge across the River Niger between Asaba in Delta State and Onitsha in
Anambra State.

The road and bridge together will be 11.9 kilometres long, and the bridge itself spanning 1.59 kilometres, according to Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority, which is the federal government department in charge of the project.

The design includes a toll plaza on the Asaba end. The bridge will have six lanes, three in each direction. The path of the road —right of way— will have an average width of 91.44 metres, but wider near the embankments and the toll plaza, the NSIA said.

In his statement, Mr. Abdullahi said the picture Mr. Fashola painted was “a deceit of the highest order.”

The lawmaker said the minister knew that the projects would not be completed in 2019 even if their respective funding were untouched.

“Just going by the last two years of funding where an average of N30b per annum was released, then the nation would have to wait for the next six years for completion of the work,” the senator said.

Mr. Abdullahi said the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway would have been due for completion this year had Mr. Fashola not cancelled a 2013 agreement the last administration signed with some private investors. Under the Private Finance Initiative, the government agreed to pay 30 percent of the contract sum while private investors finance the larger part. But the agreement was cancelled even though construction work on the expressway was 30 percent executed.

He said lawmakers “voted N40 billion” for the expressway, which is the busiest in the country, in 2016, only for the administration to release N26 billion and divert the rest.

“The rest N14 billion could have been allocated to other critical roads across the country,” Mr. Abdullahi said.

He accused Mr. Fashola of scheming for major projects for his ministry to enable him to supervise big contract awards.

“Mr. Fashola obviously wants the Federal Ministry of Works to have many construction projects it can award contracts for and that is why he would always oppose any attempt to allow the private sector financing initiatives through Public Private Partnerships,” he said.

“It is our view that the Federal Government cannot fund the reconstruction and maintenance of all the 34,000 kilometres of roads under its care. We are looking for private funds for some of these roads, particularly those with high potentials of attracting private investors.

“The National Assembly already has an agreement that if for example, the Private Finance Initiative does not materialise to provide the needed funds for the completion of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, just as in other areas where government has issues with the budget, the instruments of virement and supplementary budget can be used.

“This is as a result of our belief that it is one government and we all share the gains of the successes and pains of the failure,” he said.