The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, on Friday, apologised to members of the National Assembly over his comments, following his post-budget row with members of the House of Representatives.
“If my statements caused any discontentment; that was not my intention. I certainly apologise for it (sic),” he told a panel of the House of Representatives in Abuja.
Fashola said he had no intention to insult the lawmakers as it had been portrayed to the public.
The former Lagos State governor said the apology did not change his position that distortions in budgets could negatively affect the development of infrastructure in a country like Nigeria.
The minister had described legislators as having “stark and worrisome knowledge of the budget process” after the National Assembly cut the N31bn proposed for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to N10bn in the 2017 budget.
He had also said the budget of the Second Niger Bridge was reduced to N10bn from N15bn.
Members of the House of Representatives had taken exception to the comments and asked the minister to appear before an ad hoc committee.
Fashola responded to the request and appeared before the panel on Friday.
The panel was chaired by a member of the All Progressives Congress from Kano State, Mr. Aliyu Madaki.
The minister explained that his comments were not targeted at the entire National Assembly, but rather, specific replies to statements made by the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas.
He recalled that Namdas had told the public that N6bn was released for the Second Niger Bridge in 2016, but that the money was returned.
The minister noted that he expected Namdas to know that there was a difference between appropriation and actual release of funds.
“The spokesman said money was released in 2016 but that it was refunded because no kobo was spent.
“The truth is that no money was released to us. We didn’t get money for the project. I had to respond to him because people were calling me to ask why we returned the money.
“There is a distinction between the money budgeted and the actual release of the money,” he said.
But, when members insisted that by replying Namdas the way he did, the minister had “disparaged” the entire House, the minister agreed to withdraw the comments in the interest of peace.
However, Fashola took the time to speak on why he was displeased with the budget cuts, particularly those of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge, which he said were among the 44 top priority projects of the Federal Government.
He disclosed that the ministry got an allocation of about N422bn in 2016, broken down into three: N260bn (Works); N71bn (Housing); and N91.7bn (Power).
Out of the money, he revealed that only N268bn or 63 per cent was released to the ministry.
For the works done on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in 2016, the minister said there was already a debt of N13.1bn owed to contractors.
He said, “We proposed N31bn in 2017, but the National Assembly appropriated only N10bn. This is to say over 60 per cent of the money was taken away.
“If we have N13.1bn debt and all the money we have is N10bn, how do we work on the road in 2017?
“That was the context within which I spoke. Some contractors already wrote me to say they would pull out because they saw there wasn’t much for them in the budget.”
He further stated that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was one of three priority projects personally identified by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Fashola also recalled how Motorways Assets came into the picture as a fallout of the dispute between the government and Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited over a Public Private Partnership funding agreement that didn’t work.
The former Lagos State governor said it was his belief that the PPP arrangement was not working; therefore, he was compelled to advise the government to take over the road.
“I advised the government to take over the road. That was why we proposed N60bn in the budget (2016), since they assured us the work could be done in two years,” he said.
However, he informed the committee that only N41bn was released to work on the road to bring it to the current shape.
“I am ready to surrender the road to any private person who can do it. I am not opposed to it. If they bring it (money), we seek parliamentary approval,” Fashola said.
The minister was questioned by several lawmakers, including Mr. Edward Pwajok; Mr. Ben Nwankwo; Mr. Sadiq Ibrahim; and Mr. Mohammad Sani-Abdu.
The event gave the minister and the lawmakers the opportunity to reconcile their differences as they laughed and shook hands after the meeting.