The Nigerian House of Representatives is said to be divided over the Federal Government’s approval of N37bn for the renovation of the National Assembly Complex in Abuja.
The Buhari-led federal government has come under intense criticism for approving the money included in the budget of the Federal Capital Development Authority despite many of the citizens living in extreme poverty.
It was gathered that some of the legislators who had openly spoken against the FG’s decision had incurred the wrath of their colleagues backing the government.
The National Assembly complex was originally constructed at a cost of N10.7bn ahead of the return to democracy in 1999. The Olusegun Obasanjo administration later expanded the complex to create more offices for lawmakers.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said the complex, built about 20 years ago, had dilapidated.
The National Assembly management has also defended the decision to expend N37bn on the renovation of the complex.
However, the lawmaker representing Ede North/Ede South/Egbedore/Ejigbo Federal Constituency of Osun State in the House, Mr Bamidele Salam, had on his Facebook page argued that the money could have been used to boost small and medium-scale enterprises, Saturday Punch reports.
The Peoples Democratic Party member further argued that the money could also have been spent on health, education and infrastructure.
Another PDP lawmaker representing Bekwarra/Obanliku/Obudu Federal Constituency, Cross River State, Mr Ochilegor Idagbo, said via his Twitter handle, @HonLegor, “As a member of @nassnigeria, I don’t believe that the complex needs any renovation that would cost the country N37bn. We need more upgraded classrooms and hospitals to cater for the Nigerian people.”
Idagbo indicated that more lawmakers were opposed to the plan.
He wrote, “It is my belief that my fellow Rep members, @akinalabi and @IfeanyimomahMHR, are of same school of thought and we will together ensure that the needful is done when the matter is tabled on the floor of the @NGRHouse.”
In his response to a series of criticisms by the Twitter followers, Idagbo, said, “It will be handled. I can assure you that not all members of the @nassnigeria believe that the complex needs that amount for renovation.”
In another tweet, the lawmaker said, “We will do our best to help push and project the right things for the Nigerian people.”
The lawmaker representing Egbeda/Ona Ara Federal Constituency, Oyo State, Mr Akin Alabi, via his Twitter handle, @akinalabi, also expressed his disagreement with the renovation plans.
Alabi, a member of the All Progressives Congress, tweeted, “I see no reason why we should spend N37bn on the renovation of the National Assembly. Yes, we need to upgrade some aspects like the electronic systems (sound system, voting system, etc) as they are outdated but N37bn? No. Let’s spend that on our schools and hospitals.”
His follower on Twitter, Alex Agbo (@AlexAgbo23), said, “I hope your guys at the National Assembly won’t conspire against you.”
Responding, Alabi said, “One can’t live his life perpetually in fear.”
Another follower of Alabi, Nelson Marshal @marshal4dtop, also asked why the lawmakers were criticising the project after it got their approval.
He tweeted, “I appreciate the fact that some of the members are coming out to say this. But what I don’t understand is why they are just saying this now. Did they reject it when it was brought to the House before approval by the President?”
Alabi, however said, “It was not brought to the House.”
One of the lawmaker, who was asked about the feedback from the leadership and members of the House after his declaration, said he received mixed reactions, some of which were threats.
The legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “(The warning was) not by the leadership, but a few colleagues felt I should not have expressed that opinion. Some felt those opinions were against the solidarity of the House and one funny colleague was even suggesting that I be referred to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges.”
The committee, which also exists in the Senate, serves as the disciplinary panel for lawmakers and usually recommends sanctions including suspensions.
The lawmaker stated, “In all this, I must say that neither the Speaker (Femi Gbajabiamila) nor the Deputy Speaker (Ahmed Wase), felt I had done anything wrong by expressing the opinion of my constituents. Other principal officers have not criticised me.
“But many of my colleagues called to share my sentiments. Some even posted the same opinion on their social media accounts.
“So, it is normal that in an environment like that, you will have divergence of perspectives on issues. It is only strange that anyone will suggest that a legislator should not express an opinion on a matter once it is decided upon.”
In his response to our correspondent’s enquiry, Idagbo stated that nobody could silence him in the House.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Benjamin Kalu, could not be reached for comments on the matter on Saturday. Calls made to his mobile did not connect while he had yet to reply to the text messages sent to him as of the time of filing this report.