BY BAMIKOLE OMISORE
Anybody who read Sam Omatseye’s piece titled ‘The Road’ in The Nation newspaper edition of November 25, 2019, will easily understand the motive behind the effort, even from the first paragraph. It is simply a cheap image laundering attempt in favour of Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, the minister of works and housing who was recently caught on a wrong footing while trying to defend the state of the roads in Nigeria. While Mr. Fashola deserves the sympathy of ordinary Nigerians on the spin put on his statement about the state of federal roads, one may need to point out that he was just a victim of the same ugly method which his own sympathisers like Omatseye have repeatedly subjected other prominent Nigerians.
If Omatseye had whatever motivation to defend and help shore up Mr. Fashola’s image, he should at least be professional and ethical enough to state the truth and stop playing crude politics. His real motivation became obvious when in attacking former senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki and the eight senate, he made it look like only the senate has the constitutional responsibility to pass the national budget as he did not mention the house of representatives at all.
Will Omatseye be that ignorant that he will not know that budget passage is a responsibility of the entire national assembly comprising the senate and house of representatives? Of course, his interest was to take a shot at Saraki who his master in Bourdillon believes was the one who stopped him from being vice-president in 2015. His real interest was to attack the eight senate led by Saraki. And in that process, he created a big factual gap in his write-up.
Though Omatseye wanted his readers to believe Saraki and the eight senate were the reasons the federal roads in Nigeria are in their present state because the then legislators allegedly cut the vote for capital projects in the budget for the ministry of works in 2017, we challenge him and his sponsors to come out and state what is the percentage of budget performance or annual release to that ministry on capital projects since 2015? These figures will enable Nigerians to know that the budgetary figures approved by the legislature is never the issue. The release of funds provided for capital projects in the budget of the ministry is the key thing. We are bold to state that not once since 2015 did the federal government release up to 50 percent of the capital vote approved for the ministry of works, power and housing.
Figures obtained from the government show that in 2016, while the executive proposed N433, 400, 000, 000 as capital vote for the ministry of works, power and housing, N422, 964, 928, 495 was eventually passed by the national assembly. However, only N160, 425, 193, 949 which represents 38 percent was eventually released by the government. In 2017, the proposed capital vote for the ministry by the executive was N553, 713, 857, 113. The national assembly approved N434 431, 887, 448 but only N91, 832, 912, 259 representing 21 percent was released by the administration throughout the year.
In 2018, the proposed figure for the ministry was N555, 877, 594, 442 while the national assembly approved N682, 959, 550, 242 as capital vote. The release at the end of the year was N222, 823, 057, 223 which represents 33 percent. In 2019, only 34 percent of the capital vote of the budget of the ministry of works was released. And that was N133, 519, 401, 405 out of the N394, 906, 215, 852 approved by the legislature. The executive had initially proposed N408, 028, 437, 602 to the national assembly. Thus, in the first four years of the Buhari administration, the ministry of works, power and housing got a total of N608, 600, 564, 836 out of the N1, 326, 662, 017, 201 budgeted for its capital projects. And this represented less than 50 percent release. Here lies the main reason why the roads are what they are now. There is insufficient funds to cater for them.
These are figures that a writer of the caliber of Omatseye needs to familiarise himself with before making ignorance claims simply because he has an assignment to hit Saraki and make excuses for some of his own ‘friends’. Of course, it takes only a writer who is genuinely interested in informing the people to do a proper research and interrogate the derived figures for the purpose of making an objective analysis. But if the interest is just to attack a particular person or a select group, any prose beautified with some quotes from old literature books will do.
When commentators like Omatseye, either out of ignorance or mischief, want the general public to get the impression that the funds for constituency projects of legislators affect the capital votes of the ministry of works and housing, they are only misleading the people. The fund for constituency projects is usually on a separate line item outside the budget of MDAs. The constituency projects therefore do not in any way interfere with the funds allocated to the ministry of works and housing or any other MDA for that matter.
When the 2017 budget was being prepared, people like Omatseye attacked Dr. Saraki for proposing that the Lagos-Ibadan expressway was the most viable road in Nigeria and should be funded outside the budget so as to allow more funds to be allocated to other non-viable road projects and social service programmes. Today, the current idea of funding the very important Lagos-Ibadan expressway outside the budget, through the sovereign wealth fund, which Omatseye is now gloating about in his article is a return to the suggestion earlier made by Saraki.
Members of the national assembly as elected representatives of their various constituencies usually insist on equitable distribution of resources and development projects among the various zones. A good example of this was witnessed during the consideration of the 2017 appropriation when national assembly members from the north actually led a protest to President Muhammadu Buhari on the lopsidedness of the capital vote in the budget of the ministry of works, power and housing in favour of the south-west zone. They complained that the huge chunk of the budget of the ministry meant for road construction was devoted to roads in the south-west to the detriment of other zones, a development they noted, defeated the essence of a national budget. And the complainants actually got the sympathy of the president. And it will be wrong to conclude that as the legislators were fighting for the interest of their constituencies, they were being corrupt.
I know that Omatseye is his master’s voice. We also know his master will always seize or concoct any opportunity to throw darts at Saraki, the man, who, in his belief, stopped him from realizing his life ambition as early as 2015. It is clear that any write-up by an Omatseye is usually value-laden, except that the values are also usually self-serving, myopic and devious.
It is my prayers that Almighty God should preserve our lives and give us good health to witness the fact that without Saraki in the 9th national assembly the capital vote in the budget proposal of the ministry of works and housing for year 2020 will be approved 100 percent, that the releases will be 100 percent, that all federal roads will be reconstructed and they will all become motorable as we desire. This is my wish and we will be on the look out for all these.
However, on the road he took last Monday, Omatseye missed his destination.
Omisore is an aide to the former senate president.