Abuja – Senate President Bukola Saraki has accused governors on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), as well as ministers in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration of sponsoring protests against the National Assembly.
Saraki stated this while reacting to calls by some protesters who stormed the National Assembly complex on Tuesday demanding that he (Saraki), and House Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, resign for allegedly padding budgets in the name of constituency projects that cannot be verified anywhere in their various constituencies.
Embittered by the assertions, Saraki said, “I think it is important that we continue to educate the public on the importance of these constituency projects and also correct any misinformation – that is going into the hands of lawmakers but instead these are projects facilitated to ensure that there is a federal presence in every part of the country.
“Before now there was no measure to ensure equitable representation of such projects in this country. The projects enable unity, equity and justice because if you have a constituency that you cannot find Federal Government projects then there is injustice.
“Without it, you will find out that only heads of agencies put projects in their own areas – how can you justify constituencies without projects?” Saraki queried.
Therefore, those who allowed themselves to be used to protest against what he insisted benefit them, the Senate president has words for them and their alleged sponsors.
“For Nigerians being used – people are taking advantage of the poverty in the country and what is saddening about it is that those who are doing this are those who are part of government.
“This does not help the unity of the arms of government. Mr. President needs to investigate this and call to order – there is no secret in this, if you go out there those boys will tell you where they are collecting the money from, the minister is giving them the money, the governor that is giving them the money and these are governors, ministers in the same ruling party.
“So, I really don’t understand how this will promote unity with these kind of things. There is need for these kind of activities to stop. If they keep weakening this institution, it will hurt us down the line when we need it.
“Those showing rascality, irresponsibility should be called to order because they are taking advantage of these young ones. If there is something wrong with the implementation, it is the executive, we don’t award the contract, we don’t release the money. Those behind the protest should desist, we know who you are, it is not in the interest of the unity of this country”, he said.
In his own remarks, Saraki’s deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, said what happened on Tuesday was another attempt by some group of people to set Nigerians against the National Assembly.
Ekweremadu noted that before constituency projects, it was very difficult for any member of the National Assembly to point to one project that he or she attracted to his or her constituency.
“Anyone inciting Nigerians against this budget is an enemy of Nigeria and the unfortunate thing is that the same Nigerians that are being paid one or two thousand naira to protest are the same ones who make use of those boreholes but unfortunately they don’t know. Ignorance is the problem of the people that are being used”, he said.
Other lawmakers who spoke urged the executive arm to come clean by telling Nigerians that the National Assembly has no business in the award, payment and execution of constituency project contracts as erroneously thought by the public.
Protesters Storm N/Assembly, Demand Resignation Saraki, Dogara
Earlier, hundreds of protesters, under the aegis of National Convener of Citizens’ Action to Take Back Nigeria (CATBAN), called on Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, to step down.
The protesters, who arrived in 11 luxury busses, popularly known as ‘El-Rufai bus, stormed the National Assembly complex in various vehicles, and were seen displaying banners, calling for scrapping of constituency projects.
They carried placards which read, ‘Constituency project is now corruption, it must stop’; ‘Nigerians are not represented in the sharing of the loot via constituency projects’; ‘National Assembly not for armed runners’, among others.
Security personnel shut the main gate to the complex to prevent the protesters from entering the premises while the protesters tried to force their way in.
As a result, visitors and workers were denied entry through the gate and they had to seek alternative routes.
Ibrahim Garba Wala, National Convener of the group, while addressing newsmen, accused the lawmakers of using constituency projects to siphon funds meant for Nigerians.
Wala said concerns raised by President Muhammadu Buhari while signing the 2018 budget showed that the National Assembly was “stealing the common patrimony of the people through constituency projects.”
According to him, the concerns are indications that Saraki and Dogara lacked credibility and moral capacity, as such should resign.
“The president told Nigerians that our federal legislators connived among themselves and removed priority developmental projects carefully prepared by the Federal Government to impact on the lives of the citizenry.
“The National Assembly made cut of N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6, 403 private projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.
“As a civil society organisation, we feel pained that this year’s budget followed the regular path of stealing in the guise of bogus constituency projects.
“In spite of the wishy-washy response of the National Assembly justifying its distortion of the 2018 budget, there is ample evidence to show that they shortchanged their constituents who elected them to make laws for the good governance of the country,” he said.
He expressed concern that, “with an additional sum of N170 billion for constituency projects, together with the sum of N100 billion already provided for in the budget, the National Assembly still went ahead to cut allocations to important national projects.
“The cut was aimed at distorting the budget in order to further increase their allocation for constituency projects.
“This to us is a grave offence against the sensibilities of Nigerians.”
The convener said, “This is one big scandal that brings to light how the nation’s annual budgets have been padded over the years to the disadvantage of 180 million Nigerians.”
He called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) to investigate the matter.
He stressed that it was necessary for such action to be taken to save the National Assembly from public ridicule.
The protest turned rowdy when protesters became impatient following concerns that the leadership of the National Assembly did not deem it fit to address them.
Some of the protesters were seen trying to climb the main gate, while others were seen shaking the gate vigorously to force their way into the premises.
They were, however, stopped when police officers manning the gate, released teargas into the air.
The president had while signing the 2018 budget said “the logic behind the constitutional directive that budgets should be proposed by the executive is that it is the executive that knows and defines its policies and projects.
“Unfortunately, that has not been given much regard in what has been sent to me.
“The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.
“Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.
“Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and cost ascertained and will therefore, be difficult to execute.
“Furthermore, many of these new projects introduced by the National Assembly have been added to budgets of most MDAs with no consideration for institutional capacity to execute them or the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.”
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