Senators flay Buhari government over unfinished projects

• Early jobs unrealistic, says Fashola, seeks N10tr infrastructure loan
• Aregbesola blames ignorance, mischief for criticism of his govt
• Submit ministerial list to EFCC, PDP urges lawmakers 

The performance of the President Muhammadu Buhari government in the last four years, especially on infrastructure, came under heavy criticism at the Senate yesterday.Many lawmakers rated government very low when former Works, Power and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola, currently a ministerial nominee, appeared before the chamber for screening.

They frowned on the inability of government to bring any project to completion during the period, despite a huge budgetary allocation for critical infrastructural needs.

Senators Francis Alimikhena and Adamu Aliero noted that “year in, year out,” there was no project commissioning by Fashola. They therefore wondered what difference he would bring on board if President Muhammadu Buhari deploys him to the same ministry.Former Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha complained bitterly about the performance of the Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOS). He described their emergence as a “political roundabout,” saying serious measures must be taken to address the problems of electricity distribution in the country.

In his submission, former Gombe State Governor Danjuma Goje declared that road projects in the last administration were “perpetually ongoing” even when expectations were high that some would soon be commissioned.Also, Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos Central), the wife of All Progressives Congress (APC) national leader, Bola Tinubu, shocked lawmakers when she disclosed that her constituency was not carried along by the Works, Power and Housing Ministry in the last four years.

She decried the lack of access to Fashola to secure employment opportunities for members of her constituency in the ministry. “I want you to put that in your agenda for the second term that we all need slots for employment for our constituents,” Tinubu appealed.Despite the nation’s N24.9 trillion debt, Fashola suggested that another N10 trillion should be borrowed to fund the infrastructural needs, to which Senate President

Ahmad Lawan replied: “Borrowing is an option. But is there a way to get another complementary means of solving the problem of infrastructure?”Fashola stated that funding gap in the budgetary allocation was responsible for the non-completion of the litany of projects across the country. According to him, the ministry had to make do with about 50 per cent budget. The challenge, he explained, is evidenced in the deficit incurred yearly.

The former Lagos State governor recalled his earlier suggestion to the Senate for innovative funding like Sukuk, which provided N100 billion to fund road projects across the six geopolitical zones in 2018.He said a possible funding opportunity for critical infrastructure could be accessed from Sukuk or a slight variation of its kind.

“I think there is some opportunity, and I made this presentation during the last 2019 budget presentation that one of the ways, I think, is to expand instruments like Sukuk.“Maybe it won’t be Sukuk this time but I think Nigeria can seek to leverage from the large pool of funds, with the ordinary people looking for secure investments. Some of them are not even in the banking sector.

“I propose that we should consider something like a N10 trillion infrastructure bond backed by parliamentary support and secured by the Federal Government with a reasonable coupon issued in tranches each year, as we need to fund infrastructure.”

Fashola also said such expansion of the funding vehicle should be “broken up into even very small denominations that people can invest as much as only N1,000. And those who want to invest in billions can do so.“In my view, if we don’t try this, we wouldn’t know whether it has worked. But I am convinced that we can do something along this line, based on the interest that I saw in Sukuk. In the N100 billion Sukuk for example, there were about 286 investors and the instrument was oversubscribed, which meant there was an appetite for it.”

Former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu noted: “As it is today, it is going to be difficult for us to achieve our maximum expectation in the road sector by yearly appropriation. We can use the Public Private Partnership (PPP) option to fast-
track the process and the private sector involved.”

But Fashola argued: “PPPs are complex. They take time to negotiate. Even here, in the Federal Government, we need to go through the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) to advertise. In a government that has four years to show results and in a country where there are high expectations for results, we must be more skillful on how we use them.”He explained further: “Let me also say that PPPs are not attractive for all projects. I have learned to distinguish between social projects like roads and commercial projects like airports and hospitals where there is a daily cash count. Those are easier for private investors to want to put their money into, than roads and the risk of construction.

“There are so many modules. One is to take funding through special instruments like the Sukuk. That was a sort of PPP, to use policies like the Nigerian Tax Credit Initiative Policy, which we are now using to build the Apapa-Oworonsoki Expressway which Larfarge has also used to build a factory in Calabar. “A couple of others are showing interest. I think at the time I left, there were about 28 roads on the shortlist for the committee set up to review and hopefully approve for implementation.”

Also, during his screening yesterday, former Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola received a rousing welcome as he reeled off the achievements of his administration.He said: “I must hasten to add that I and my administration faced lots of criticisms while in government, partly due to ignorance and partly due to mischief. One interesting topic of misrepresentation is salary and pensions payment. Yet, while many states were unable to pay a penny to workers for many months, it was never so in Osun.

“What we did was to devise a method of modulated salary and pensions payment by which the most vulnerable workers earned their full pay. This applied to workers on Levels 1-7, who accounted for about 72 per cent of the workforce. Those on Levels 8-12 earned 75 per cent of their salary and pensions, while only those on Levels 13-17 earned 50 per cent.

“I am happy to say that from July 2018, we commenced the payment of full salaries and pension to all workers before I left office and the practice continues till today. In eight years, we received a total gross allocation plus IGR of N332,928,683,766.46, of which we paid salaries, pensions and gratuities worth N209,375,950,193.71 representing 62.9 per cent of our total earnings on personnel cost alone.”

Senator Elisha Abbo Cliff told his colleagues how Aregbesola once gave him his entire salary for a month to contest an election and therefore called on the lawmakers to “allow this tribalised, honest Nigerian to take a bow and go.”

Meanwhile, there was an altercation between Lawan and Senator Dino Melaye (PDP, Kogi West) on the alleged corruption status of ministerial nominees. Melaye, who had risen to commend Buhari for appointing Goddy Jedy-Agba from Cross Rivers State, noted that the nominee is one of those who are not under investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Uncomfortable with the statement, Lawan quickly interrupted Melaye by hitting his gavel very loudly. He said: “All the nominees before us went through security clearance. And if anyone has any EFCC case, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides for innocence until proven guilty. So, none of our nominees is a convict.”Not satisfied with Lawan’s interjection, Melaye reiterated that some are undergoing investigations, stressing that he had not passed judgement.

Also, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) urged the Senate to give credibility to its ministerial screening by sending the names of the nominees to the EFCC.In a statement released by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, yesterday, the PDP said many of the nominees include individuals, who as former governors and ministers, wrecked their states and ministries and have serious allegations of corruption, abuse of office and theft of public funds hanging on their necks.

“Our party notes that the gathering of corrupt persons as cabinet ministers is a clear pointer to a scheme by the cabal in the presidency to further entrench corruption in our nation.“The Senate is therefore urged to stand with the people in resisting the manipulations of the Buhari presidency to ensure that only persons with clean records are cleared as ministers,” the PDP said.

But APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole praised Buhari for carrying all sections of the country along through his nominations. “I am very optimistic that these ministers coming, with all of us working together, the party, the executive, to which the ministers belong, and the National Assembly where we have an overwhelming majority, we have what it takes to take Nigeria to the next level,” he told reporters following his meeting with Buhari at the Presidential Villa.