A controversy concerning the Lagos-Calabar Coastal railway project is threatening to ignite a new battle between the executive and legislative arms of the government over the 2016 Appropriation Bill.
SaharaReporters spoke to several players in the controversy and discovered that the federal government did not initially include the project in the budget proposals.
The Minister for Budget and Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, told our reporter at the weekend that the government included the project in the 'amended budget' and passed it to the Standing Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Also, a presidency source who did not want to be named said after the federal government had included Lagos-Calabar in its proposal, the Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi was sent to meet with the Senate Committees on Land Transport and Appropriations.
The Senate Committee on Land Transportation is headed by Gbenga Ashafa from Ogun State while Senator Danjuma Goje heads the Committee on Appropriations. Mr. Goje was said to have been lukewarm towards the rail project, asking instead to meet Amaechi privately at home. It was not clear if he eventually met with Amaechi.
The House chairman on Appropriations, Jibrin Abdulmunin told SaharaReporters emphatically that the federal government did not include Lagos-Calabar rail in 2016 budget, and that he found himself saddled with handling the final outcome of the budget appropriations after the standing committees handed their recommendations to him.
He asserted that neither the Goje-led Senate Appropriations Committee nor Senator Ashafa’s Committee on Land Transportation sent any recommendations to his committee to include the Lagos-Calabar rail in the budget. In tweets in response to claims by members of the federal executive that National Assembly deliberately removed the project from the budget, Jibrin stated that they “found N54b floating” in the Ministry of Transportation budget and decided to allocate it to Lagos-Kano rail, an airport security project, and the rest given to the Baro Inland Port project in Niger state.
Also at the weekend, the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, released a series of text messages apparently targeted at Saharareporters affirming that the executive did not include the Lagos-Calabar rail in the budget.
Further investigations by SaharaReporters however showed that the Standing Committees did receive an amended budget that included the project. Senator Gbenga Ashafa who initially sent his legislative aide to brief SaharaReporters later spoke to us by phone confirming that the Senate Committees received an amended budget asking to have the Lagos-Calabar Railway rail included in the budget. He said he even jokingly asked where the Lagos end would terminate.
The Senator later issued a press statement in which he affirmed what he had earlier told SaharaReporters.
In the course of our investigations, we subsequently obtained a text message sent by Abdulmunin Jubril, the House of Representatives Chairman on Appropriations, in which he provided an update to leaders of all the Standing Committee leaders, and asking them to stand by him in case the executive fought back because he had included and removed some items from the budget.
SaharaReporters gathered that the modernization of the Nigerian railway will cost the Chinese government EXIM bank the sum of N5 trillion, with the Nigerian government providing N800billion in counterpart funding. Senator Goje is said to be opposed to starting the Lagos-Calabar project, favoring instead the completion of the Lagos-Kano rail line.
Senator Udoma later told SaharaReporters that meetings are ongoing to resolve all the differences over the budget between the executive and the legislative arms before President Buhari returns from his official trip to China this week.
It is unclear why there are arguments in principle over either of the projects. The contract for the Lagos-Kano rail line was signed between Nigeria and China in July 2012, and is supposed to be in its final stages. In August 2015, however, President Buhari indicated that the project may have been compromised, with some of the funds diverted to other projects, and asked the Ministry of Finance to explain to him why only $400m remained of the loan amount.
As for the Lagos-Calabar rail, the contract, worth a whopping $11.97 billion, was signed in November 2014, to be executed by the China Railway Construction Corp. Ltd. (CRCC).
In November 2013, CRCC had also signed a contract with the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to build a $1.07 billion road.
Analysts say these are the contracts and projects that both the federal executive and the legislature ought to be investigating, and not treated as if they are being funded solely by Nigeria, or as if they are new projects.