Members of the House of Representatives have raised doubt about the Federal Government’s claim that it spent over N1.3trn on capital projects in the county in 2016.
Some lawmakers, who spoke exclusively with The PUNCH, said there was nothing to show that Nigerians felt the impact of the huge spending.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had disclosed last Monday that the government spent the money in 2016, adding that it was the “highest so far spent on capital projects in a single budget circle” in the country.
Osinbajo had spoken at a plenary of the 2017 Nigerian Bar Association National Conference in Lagos.
The Vice President had said, “The Federal Government spent about N1.3tn on capital projects in 2016, the highest in the history of the country.”
However, the Chairman, House Committee on Interior, Mr. Adams Jagaba, who said he doubted the figure, added that the impact of the money was barely felt in the economy.
Jagaba, a member of the All Progressives Congress from Kaduna State, said although he was part of the ruling party, such should not stop him from speaking his mind.
He said, “I can’t really say that there has been much impact from the money. What has been happening is that money is budgeted, but because of late releases, they are returned to the Federal Account.
“The late releases of capital allocations do not allow the executing government agencies to do many projects. In this way, there will hardly be any positive impact on the economy.”
He added that until the government started releasing budgeted funds early, they would remain as mere figures on paper.
Jagaba said, “The solution is for the executive to release capital allocations on time for procurement processes to start early. Look at the 2017 budget; they are just advertising the projects in August. The processing will take the next two to three months. The question is when will the projects start? How far will they go before we come to the end of the year and how will they or make any serious impact on the lives of Nigerians?
“With late releases of funds, I don’t think the desired results have been achieved. It may be on record that the government spent N1.3tn on projects, but was the money actually released or rolled over?”
Another legislator from Ebonyi State, Mr. Igariwey Iduma-Enwo, stated that Osinbajo’s statement was not clear on whether the money were projections or actual releases that were spent on projects.
“I am of the opinion that the claim must be taken with a pinch of salt because out of the humongous sum claimed to have been released, we are not told how much was actually cash-backed and utilised. Often, these two can be strange bedfellows,” he said.
Iduma-Enwo observed that in the South-East and South-South, the impact of the money was not felt, adding that all the federal roads in the zones were in a deplorable state.
He said, “My advice is twofold; I consider it a policy travesty for an administration that wishes to spend its way out of economic recession to lump three critical infrastructure-related ministries under one command. The merger of the ministries of power, works, and housing into one is a failure to recognise the importance of the sectors to the good health of the economy, and the magnitude of challenges confronting each of them. They should be unbundled without further delay in the national interest.
“The ministry of works may have to prioritise its projects; some of the major federal road projects in the South-East, such as the Enugu-Onisha and Port Harcourt-Enugu roads, have been ongoing for close to a decade.”
Another House member from Lagos State, Mr. Oghene Emma-Igoh, argued that rather than improving, the country’s infrastructure had deteriorated.
He pointed out that major roads had remained dilapidated and “dangerous”, in spite of the “N1.3tn injected into infrastructure development in 2016.”
Emma-Igoh stated, “Look at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and all the roads leading from the South to Abuja; look at the Lagos-Benin Road; the Kano-Kaduna Road; and the Lokoja-Okene Road.
“They spent N1.3tn and there is no improvement on these major roads? Has power supply improved or have we built more houses for Nigerians?
“Where did they spend the money? There are many projects that the government did not even make budgetary provisions for their execution, which means that they will be abandoned.”
The lawmaker added that the government should “bury its head in shame” instead of attempting to praise itself on spending N1.3tn on capital projects.
“It’s even a shame for them to beat their chests to say that they spent N1.3tn when there is no evidence,” he said.
A member from Edo State, Mr. Johnson Agbonayinma, held the view that N1.3trn was “too little” amount to celebrate, when compared with the magnitude of infrastructure decay in the country.
He explained, “This money is nothing in the real sense. The budget of Nigeria for a whole year is smaller than the budget of the New York Police Department. That is when you know that we are joking.
“We can’t see the impact of the N1.3tn, as federal roads are all in a very terrible state of disrepair.
“Where are the jobs for the youths? What have they done to stimulate the economy to produce jobs?
“The government needs to do more if Nigerians are to get real results. It is not enough to say the N1.3tn is the highest spent on capital projects in recent years.”
On his part, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, noted that while the government deserved commendation for spending on capital projects more than its predecessors, there was still much work to be done before celebration.
Namdas, a member of the APC from Adamawa State, said, “This government has improved on capital spending, especially when compared with previous administrations, however, there is room for improvement. There are major roads yearning for attention.
“So, if they spent N1.3tn in 2016, we are calling on them to surpass this figure in 2017. They should release more money to go beyond the 2016 performance.”
But a member from Edo State, Mr. Joseph Edionwele, called for caution, saying that the money went into mega projects, whose impact could not be felt immediately.
Edionwele said, “In trying to assess the impact of the N1.3tn capital project expenditure, we have to appreciate certain things: This money was spent across the federation; we are not talking about money put into a particular project in one state. It was for major capital projects like roads, railways, bridges and power projects in identified locations across the country.
“There is the likelihood that many people will not feel the impact yet, but that is not to say that the money was not spent.”